Read on for reviews of new novels by Irvine Welsh, Richard Powers and Teju Cole; Richard Benson's The Valley (Radio 4 Book of the Week); blogs-to-books Everyday Sexism and The Vagenda; a Pin-Up with a crush on William Burroughs; Andrew Motion and Orlando Figes on the Literary Calendar; Edward St Aubyn gets a taste of his own medicine; and our Author Pitch, a memoir by a Finnish-Canadian farmer-academic.
Win the shortlist for the RSL Ondaatje Prize

One of the most prestigious and inventive awards on the literary calendar has to be the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize, given each year to the work of poetry, fiction or non-fiction that best evokes the spirit of a place. Past winners have included Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes and Graham Robb's The Discovery of France (an Omnivore favourite). Last year's £10,000 prize was given to Philip Hensher for his novel, Scenes from Early Life.

The shortlist for the 2014 RSL Ondaatje Prize, chosen by judges Imtiaz Dharker, A.L. Kennedy and Jenny Uglow, was announced yesterday. The nominated books are: The Blind Man's Garden by Nadeem Aslam, Badgerlands by Patrick Barkham, Spirit House by Mark Dapin, Four Fields by Tim Dee, This Boy by Alan Johnson and Field Notes from a Hidden City by Esther WoolfsonThe winner will be revealed on 19 May.

The RSL is generously donating a set of the shortlisted titles for this fortnight's competition. For your chance to win all six books, answer the following question: Sir Christopher Ondaatje, the Ondaatje Prize's benefactor, represented Canada at which sport in the 1964 Winter Olympics?

Entries to by Friday 9 May.

The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins by Irvine Welsh
Reviews | Buy | Comment |
"“Welsh, whose ear for tasty dialogue has always been his forte, has never written with greater verve. Call it fast food, or a banquet of healthy cautionary wholegrain, this is a novel packed with energy." Tom Adair, The Scotsman VS "“Had it not been my job to finish this book, I’d have flung it away at that moment. If I want Floridian satire, I’ll turn to Carl Hiaasen instead.” Kate Muir, The Times
The Valley: A Hundred Years in the Life of a Welsh Mining Family by Richard Benson
Reviews | Buy Comment |
"This rare and finely tempered work serves up a devastating combination of memory and imagination... a landmark history." Robert Colls, Literary Review VS "Inevitably Benson’s feelings and politics seep into the text and in odd places a hectoring tone develops as he tries too hard to sing the song of the downtrodden." Mark Hodkinson, The Times

By writing a satire of the book world, Edward St Aubyn was asking for a skewering. Early reviews for Lost For Words have been fairly polite, but Leo Robson in the Guardian raised the game when he roasted two other literary titans on the same spit:

"Satire on the vanity and philistinism of cultural life, stuffed with topical references and reeking of sour grapes, has become a visible strand of English fiction lately, and St Aubyn's stony-hearted and gruellingly unfunny novel follows recent books by Hanif Kureishi (The Last Word) and Howard Jacobson (The Finkler Question, Zoo Time) not just in airing these anxieties but in bringing out the worst in a considerable writer."

Join the RSL
If you love books, then why not become a member of the Royal Society of Literature? It's only £50 a year and gives you free entry to a fantastic range of literary events and discounted tickets for RSL Masterclasses. More info on the RSL website.


Everland by Rebecca Hunt
Reviews | Buy | Comment |
"Hunt’s first book didn’t quite fulfil the promise of its audacious conceit, but her second is nothing short of stunning: an adventure story, a psychological investigation of physical and mental breakdown, and a remarkable account of weather and endeavour." Justine Jordan, The Guardian
Orfeo by Richard Powers
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"Orfeo is extraordinary and confounding, mind-spinning and wonderful. Just what a proper novel should be.”" James Kidd, The Independent VS "Underwhelming as an essay, slow-footed as a thriller, Orfeo is more ineffective still as a portrait of an age and a nation.” Leo Robson, Evening Standard
Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole
Reviews | Buy | Comment |
"One of the things I immediately loved about Every Day is for the Thief is its refusal to conform to genre, which makes reading it, especially after a steady stream of plot-driven novels, feel like coming up for air." NoViolet Bulawayo,  Financial Times VS "One wishes, sometimes, that the storyteller would take a detour from the well-trodden middle-class avenues, the museums and art centres, and shine his prospector's torchlight on the backstreets and hovels and tenement houses." Helon Habila, The Guardian
Best of the rest
Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss, Fallout by Sadie Jones, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman, Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwalda
Pick of the paperbacks
A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride, All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld, The Circle by Dave Eggers, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Updike by Adam Begley
Reviews | Buy Comment |
"Delightfully rich... This book’s overall effect on me is a desire to sit down at my desk and work harder and write more." Orhan Pamuk, The New York Times VS "The greater the writer, the more pointless the biography... to recapture the true flavour of Updike’s lived experience, only Updike’s own words will do" Craig Brown, The Mail on Sunday
Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
Reviews | Buy | Comment |
"Bates has created something new: neither journalism nor polemic, the book owes its gusto to a combination of the hundreds of voices in it, and the fact that the author presents them, not as a statistical sample, weighted for age and class, not as a type, not as her friends, but as credible, compelling voices." Zoe Williams, The Guardian VS "...a wasted opportunity: little more than another repository for anger and frustration." Rachel Cooke, The Observer
The Literary Churchill by Jonathan Rose
Reviews | Buy | Comment |

"[An] excellent, thorough and enjoyable biography" Lawrence James, The Times VS "From the books and plays of authors such as Kipling, Wells and Shaw, Churchill took what he wanted, not what they offered... Rose fails to grasp this crucial point; in consequence his book is deeply misconceived." Piers Brendon, Literary Review
Best of the rest
The Disinherited by Robert Sackville-West, 1965: The Year Modern Britain was Born by Christopher BrayThe Vagenda by Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
Pick of the paperbacks
Silence: A Christian History by Diarmaid MacCulloch, Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties by Rachel Cooke, The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida, 


What are you going to read next?

Every time I close a book I think about starting The Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon or even Ulysses by James Joyce.

But the truth is that I recently received The Screwtape Letters by PG Woodhouse and the plot makes it sound very tempting.

Which author do you have a crush on?

If I could go back in time, it would be William Burroughs or Martin Amis. Of course, if I can do that I would also like to look like Brigitte Bardot when I meet them.

Astrid, 24, Notting Hill

If you would like to ask out one of The Omnivore Pin-ups, or become a Pin-up yourself, email


A Peasant's Guide to Canada by Lyn Marsh

How has your family background — particularly the immigrant experience — shaped you as a writer?
My family were rough-hewn, stalwart, peasants focussed on survival, with little time for frippery, nonsense or “too much” education. That first immigrant flight after the Finnish civil war meant that no time was “wasted” on books or art or music. My 1960s rebellion against that family ethic drove me into libraries, art galleries and concert halls but one never leaves genes behind. I am still a hard-working Finnish-Canadian, just in a different arena.

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