I would like to read a different biography of Sylvia Pankhurst, one that is less hagiographic but more humane. Surely it is possible to acknowledge this remarkable woman’s foresight, determination, convictions and courage without shying away, as Holmes does, from addressing how her culture and upbringing could drive her to assert authority through self-sacrifice, almost as if she believed that whoever suffers the most, wins.
Patricia Highsmith was able to dramatise the loss of control so shockingly because she knew how it felt. Though not herself a homicidal maniac (as far as one knows), she could imagine what it was like to be one. Her brain had been arranged for it: she had blown out her own frontal lobes early on.
Kindred is an act of generosity, an embodiment of the hope that one day, it will be nothing to write home about when a Black woman sits in her new house with her white husband, happily surrounded by piles and piles of books. History, Octavia Butler often said, is also ‘another planet – the only one we know to bear any life’.
Stone’s dozen days in Saigon were all passed in the shadow of the war. Everybody was in it, somehow, and talked about it non-stop, but the talk never went anywhere. It ran into the war and came to a full stop. The war refused to be won, or lost, or understood.
Long before there was a science called immunology, the barrier between bodily self and non-self was culturally electrified. Cowpox came from cattle, and vaccination was the introduction to your body of material from an alien form of life. These considerations were important to some people.
In this febrile yet curiously static environment of competing claims on our subjecthood and sympathy, we could all do with bearing in mind Wollstonecraft’s distinction between real and affected sentiment. For her, tolerant curiosity about other people – including those who disagreed with her – was an index of progress.
Ursula Le Guin was able to direct a whole array of ‘what if?’ questions against the conventions of children’s fantasy. What if you don’t need heroic quests? What if keeping going and tending children through damage and disaster and getting home is the form of heroism that matters most? What if girls can be dragons?
Sophie Mackintosh’s two novels could be classified as dystopias but they are more like hermetically sealed thought experiments. The worlds they describe are different from the one we wake up in, but neither more sophisticated nor more developed. Her novels are grounded in what her characters touch, eat and see. The books contain no politicians, grandparents, cousins; her characters have been reduced to the barest relationships and emotions.
Andrew O’Hagan, read by the author
Tabitha Lasley finds out more and more about the oil industry and about masculinity, while mourning one man. She is a woman looking at men looking at women dealing with men.
Like Jerry Seinfeld and LeBron James, Obama exemplifies what can be done by super-talented individuals in a winner-take-all world. He won and did indeed take it all, including the $65 million he and Michelle received in a package deal that has produced A Promised Land. More power to him. But his example is not a recipe for structural change. Quite the contrary.
What would the history of Germany have been if the SPD leaders had let the revolution take its course? Perhaps a radical but generous and democratic socialism, Marxist but not Leninist or Stalinist in its treatment of dissent. Perhaps – but would such a socialist state have been able to resist the vengeance of those who had lost power?