Win How to Ruin a Queen by Jonathan Beckman

Scandalous tales of royals behaving badly are so much more enjoyable when we're not paying for it with our taxes. In 1780s France you couldn't get more scandalous than the Diamond Necklace Affair, which started as the cunning plan of a dispossessed noblewoman and ended up threatening to bring down Marie Antoinette and arguably hastening the onset the French Revolution.

Literary Review's Jonathan Beckman has brought this turbulent moment to life in what Marcus Tanner in the Independent called a "rollicking whodunit". John Preston in his Spectator review praised its "fruity" prose: "It’s a hell of a tale and Jonathan Beckman gives it all the verve and swagger it deserves". The Mail thought he'd "tunnelled into the warren of misinformation like a badger digger." And, quelle surprise, even the Literary Review liked it: Anne Somerset said it was "an engaging and finely researched study of an affair that, despite having the plot of a frothy operetta, was of genuine historical significance.”

To enter the competition, please tell us for whom the necklace was originally commissioned (clue here).  Entries to by Friday 20 June.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey
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"Emma Healey’s ambitious novel is written in Maud’s voice, and it vividly conveys the frustration of an intelligent woman whose memory has become fragmentary.” Joan Smith, The Sunday Times VS “The drawback for me as a reader was the device that holds the whole thing together: Maud’s lack of memory ... I eventually found this device frustrating rather than thrilling.” Viv Groskop, The Guardian
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
Reviews | Buy | Comment |
"An extraordinary, exacting collection of essays... It’s hard to imagine a stronger, more thoughtful voice emerging this year." Olivia Laing, New York Times VS "For all her exacting attitude to her own place in the stories she tells, and her clear indebtedness (along with everyone else) to David Foster Wallace, Jamison gives in at times to dismayingly vague, cod-poetic or plain overfamiliar formulations." Brian Dillon, The Guardian

i) A savaging in the Literary Review probably mattered less to Tristram Hunt than Michael Gove politely pointing out he'd got the date of the Corn Laws wrong, but Piers Brendon's review of Ten Cities that Made an Empire must still have been a painful read: 

"The work as a whole is patchy and jejune. To be sure, the Shadow Minister for Education demonstrates that he knows more about history than Michael Gove, though this is hardly a signal achievement… the book smacks more of travelogue than archival research. It is pitted with little mistakes… Finally there is the matter of Hunt’s prose… generally he writes like an uninspired academic-turned-politician, using phrases such as ‘meaningful interaction’ and saying enormity when he means immensity. In her romantic way Jan Morris would have made this story sing. Tristram Hunt makes it croak." 

Read all reviews for Ten Cities that Made an Empire

Hatchet Job Special continues below...

This issue of the Digest has been sponsored by the online wine merchant Red Squirrel Wine. Thanks, guys!
The Silkwood by JK Rowling
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“Has Rowling digested all her experiences in the literary world into something precious? It’s certainly a damn good read. The plot is much more smoothly constructed than in The Cuckoo’s Calling, with Rowling giving her characters room to breathe while still taking a Christie-like delight in the cunning sowing of clues.” Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph
The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman
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“Rachman’s thriller-like unpeeling of the dark depths of the bad guys is leavened by an infectious affection for the good guys and is combined with a rare gift for making philosophy accessible without dulling its force." Melissa Katsoulis, The Times VS " The inhabitants of this novel are often weirdos with wacky trajectories to whom the reader can never really relate.” Fayer Nayeri, The Independent
Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken
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“As one would expect from the author of the superb novel The Giant’s House, this is far from a bleak book. Jewelled and barbed with the beauty and brutality of real life, these are sentences of perfect weight and understanding. There are no fillers here, no stories that disappoint: the nine coalesce into something rare and understatedly breathtaking. Like the missing who haunt these stories, Thunderstruck is unforgettable.” Stuart Evers, The Observer
Best of the rest
Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth, The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu, In the Approaches by Nicola Barker
Pick of the paperbacks: 
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera, Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant
Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel
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"...this is not the cloying “regardez-moi maman” nature writing, all clever adjectives and swooning synaesthesia. JLS’s tone is level, involved, humorous and even self-deprecating." Angus Clarke, The Times VS "[It] sounds in places as though Lewis-Stempel is auditioning to be agricultural story editor on The Archers." Tim Dee, The Guardian
The House is Full of Yogis by Will Hodgkinson
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"Howlingly entertaining... My Family and Other Middle-Class Animals let loose in the jungle of Thatcher’s suburban Britain." Helen Davies, The Sunday Times VS "...little more than a series of well-told family anecdotes and snapshots of awkward encounters with girls" Ben East, The Observer
Littlejohn's Lost World by Richard Littlejohn
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"Those who think he is a tabloid motormouth or a coarse pub bore with barely concealed Ukip credentials must think again. Littlejohn has a sharp, anarchic intelligence, underpinned with an aching nostalgia." Roger Lewis, The Times VS "To study to see how the least promising-looking memory can be endowed with meaning, once contrasted with an inglorious present." Catherine Bennett, The Observer
Pick of the paperbacks:
One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson, The War that Ended Peace by Margaret Macmillan


ii) As a proud member of the ineffably bien-pensant metro-left elite, David Aaronivitch surprised no one with his stinking review of Rod Liddle's cri-de-coeur, Selfish, Whining Monkeys:

"Never mind the bombast, Liddle’s pessimism about the rest of us is actually pessimism about himself. His Golden Age is bleak, his best is blown, his future is death. A panic attack is mistaken for a heart attack. The grey in his hair can no longer be disguised by Grecian 2000. He longs to be 16 and rebellious again, but doesn’t seem to have had a new idea for a decade. Now all he can do is rage, rage against the dyeing of the white."

Read all reviews for Selfish, Whining Monkeys

iii) James Kidd says he's usually Stephen King's number one fan, but recently King has bought him only misery. Not so much a hatchet job, this Independent On Sunday review of Dr Mercedes is the literary equivalent of smashing someone on the head with a heavy typewriter:

"Whatever mystery and velocity this game of cat-and-mouse generates is hampered by King’s exhaustive establishment of his fictional world. This basically means endless brand names, overlong explanations of everything from reality television to modern car-locks, character studies that add unearned poignancy (the sudden mention of Holly Gibney’s teenage struggles) and conversational longueurs that Karl Ove Knausgaard would dismiss as tedious. The real drawback, however, is King’s prose."

Read all reviews for Dr Mercedes





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