On this week's newsletter: what the critics are saying about the new Kate Atkinson and Sex and the Citadel, win Mary Beard's classical compendium, and Hatchet Job 2012 nominee Craig Brown makes another bid for the potted shrimps.


Life after Life   Mimi by Lucy Ellman   The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson
Counter-factual fiction
'Life After Life gives us a heroine whose fictional underpinning is permanently exposed, whose artificial status is never in doubt; and yet one who feels painfully, horribly real to us' Alex Clark, Guardian VS '...the book loses something when it shifts Ursula’s concerns from the personal and familial to the global.' Hannah McGill, Scotland on Sunday

MIMI by Lucy Ellman
Menopause for thought
'Feels like Woody Allen reading Dr Seuss … A wildly hilarious, modern film noir in fiction form, it’s the sort of novel you love or hate immediately. I loved every minute.' Viv Groskop, Telegraph VS 'What begins as a light-hearted romp around the borderline between romance and feminism becomes less convincing and more clunky the further it goes on.' Doug Johnstone, Independent on Sunday

Divine comedy
'A fount of Coetzeean comedy in full flow' Anthony Cummins, Telegraph VS '...the reader is abandoned at the end of the book, still trying to determine whether Coetzee has written another great allegorical piece, or something too elusive to provide satisfaction.' Joy Lo Dico, Independent on Sunday

Best of the rest: ORKNEY by Amy Sackville, ALL THE BEGGARS RIDING by Lucy Caldwell (listen to it on BBC Radio 4's Book at Bedtime)FIVE STAR BILLIONAIRE by Tash Aw, THE UNKNOWN BRIDESMAID by Margaret Forster
Paperback picks: WINTER GAMES by Rachel Johnson, VARIOUS PETS ALIVE AND DEAD by Marina Lewycka, THE UNINVITED GUESTS by Sadie Jones, NARCOPOLIS by Jeet Thayil, THE CHEMISTRY OF TEARS by Peter Carey


    Who Owns the Future

SEX AND THE CITADEL by Shereen El Feki
Shag like an Egyptian
‘[A] sweeping, finely researched and fascinating book … Where this book excels is in locating the territory in which traditional morality collides with the encroaching modern world.’ Janice Turner, Times VS ‘…she sidesteps the more basic fact that as long as the words of the Qur'an and its prophet are treated as infallible, and their exegesis by male clerics remains the ultimate authority in sexual affairs, there can be no proper individual sexual freedom.’ Faramerz Dabhoiwala, Guardian

Clutching at Straw Dogs
‘He blends lyricism with wisdom, humour with admonition, nay-saying with affirmation, making in the process a marvellous statement of what it is to be both an animal and a human in the strange, terrifying and exquisite world into which we straw dogs find ourselves thrown.’ John Banville, Guardian VS ‘…flawed and unsatisfactory… No one would deny that the 20th century, especially its first half from which most of his material is drawn, is full of catastrophes; but Gray ignores too much, both then and since, that offers grounds for hope.’ Caspar Henderson, Sunday Telegraph

‘…one of the triumphs of Lanier's intelligent and subtle book is its inspiring portrait of the kind of people that a democratic information economy would produce.’ Laurence Scott, Guardian VS ‘Lanier has spent so long on the hi-tech lecture circuit — convincing programmers that he’s a great musician and musicians that he’s a great programmer — that he seems to have lost much capacity for continuous thought.’ David Bodanis, Literary Review


Paperback picks: UNAPOLOGETIC by Francis Spufford, LONDON IN THE 18TH CENTURY: A GREAT AND MONSTROUS THING  by Jerry White, ZONA by Geoff Dyer

If you liked PUBLIC ENEMIES, the collected correspondence of Michel Houellebecq and Bernard Henry-Levy, then you will love DISTANT INTIMACY, a book of emails between Frederic ‘Glittering Prizes’ Raphael and Joseph Epstein, aka ‘the American Frederic Raphael.’ Here’s what Craig Brown had to say about it, in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday:
‘The first thing to be said about their exchanges is how extraordinarily unpleasant they are, almost as though they were trying to make it into the Guinness Book Of Records under a section called Authors, Most Bilious. It is all a bit like watching a tennis match, but instead of the competitors bashing balls to and fro, they prefer to bash authors and artists more successful than themselves'.

Read the full review (recommended).



 Up: Wodehouse fans' blood pressure
The decision by the PG Wodehouse estate to commission fan-fiction author Sebastian Faulks to write a follow-up to Jeeves & Wooster has caused a stir. One angry tweeter comments 'Sebastian Faulks shouldn't be allowed to write his own f***ing books, let alone J & W' while Alex Massie in the Spectator concludes, 'Madness, not to put too fine a point on it, seems the only explanation for such a project.' Another reason: as Wodehouse's books trickle into the public domain, could his estate be feeling the pinch? See also BBC's Blandings.

 Up: Starman
We hope you spotted the references to Nabokov and surrealist Belgian poet Georges Rodenback in the lyrics of David Bowie’s new album, printed on a full-page ad in The Times. An old hand at playing the media, here’s the 17-year-old David Jones talking to an earnest BBC reporter about the plight of the long-haired man.

 UpNitbyism (n)
Not In Their Back Yard: a growing phenomenon whereby a literary mob attempts to derail the grand designs of an unfortunate homeowner. This poor woman’s only crime is trying to install a spa in Robert Louis Stevenson's old back garden. Before that, they rounded on Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. We never used to be so precious. No one batted an eyelid when, in 1759, the Reverend Frederick Gastrell razed Shakespeare's house to the ground. He didn't like the hordes of tourists and wanted to annoy the neighbours.

Up: Literary castaways
Enjoy David Almond on Desert Island Discs? Listen to other literary castaways with our picks from the Desert Island Discs Archive
 Down: Sense of proportion
Half a century before Godwin's Law, Evelyn Waugh wrote to the New Statesman complaining about people who bandy around the label "Fascist" (includes typically hilarious reply from editor Kingsley Martin). 
Down: Gallic good taste
Despite winning €50,000 in damages, Dominque Strauss-Kahn didn't manage to stop the printing of Belle et Bête, ex-lover and philosopher Marie Iacub's subtly titled account of their six-month affair. The heady cocktail of ‘DSK, steamy romance and ferocious literary polemic’ – in which the philosopher brands the disgraced ex-IMF chief the ‘Picasso of pigs’, ‘poet of filth’ and ‘half-pig half-human’ – is only fifth on the bestseller list behind Cinquantes Nuances Plus Claires.

Preparing your commentary on the British Museum’s Pompeii exhibition? Want to impress your friends with a comparison between Vicky Pryce and Medea? Brush up on your ancient history with Mary Beard's CONFRONTING THE CLASSICS, a selection of her essays from the past three decades. She explores our rich classical heritage looking at Greek drama and Roman jokes, introducing characters such as Alexander the Great, Nero and Boudicca and taking a fresh look at both scholarly controversies and popular interpretations of the ancient world, be it The Golden Bough or Asterix.

In the Telegraph, Philip Womack said the collection was ‘pulsing with life’ and ‘the world seems to be a more fun place knowing that Livia had a competition with Augustus’s daughter over who had the smallest dwarf.’

We have five copies to give away (thanks, Profile). Mary Beard once compared Colonel Gaddafi to the Roman Emperor Elagabalus. What did Elagabalus invent: a) the aqueduct b) cruficixion or c) the whoopee cushion.

Email answers to by Monday 18 March.

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