Arifa Akbar: A simple, enraging story that provokes action? That's a book after Orwell's own heart

The Week in Books

One of the biggest challenges for artful political writers must surely be to speak about a staggering injustice without raising their voices in anger. More difficult still to begin an exposé of a wrongdoing without the urge to rush it out to publication before the public's memory of it fuzzes into indifference. There is enough such sausage-factory publishing to prove what a selling point "timing"can be.

This is partly why AT Williams should be applauded, because he has resisted both temptations. His brilliant book A Very British Killing (Cape) is about the death of Baha Mousa, the 26-year-old Iraqi hotel receptionist who died at the hands of the British military in 2003. It was published nine years later in 2012, a year after the inquiry was closed. This week, it won the Orwell Prize for books and as one of the judges, I am immensely proud of our unanimous choice.

It is audacious to resuscitate such a high-profile news story and risky too, to dwell so singularly and minutely on a case that, however startling it was on first revelation, might be assumed to be too well-known to yield anything new.

Yet it is precisely for its near decade-in-the-making that this book is so outstanding. There is a thoughtful, quiet-voiced anger that comes from its reflection and a clarity that comes from fastidious research. It's also a thrilling read, its sentences unrushed and evocative, like a courtroom drama or detective fiction, piecing itself together.

On the face of it, it tells a simple story, dealing with one person, and one process at a time, so that everyone, not only Mousa but his heroic father Daood, the duty doctor, pathologist, padre, foot soldiers and officers who claimed no malpractice took place, are all analysed and their actions, obfuscations and cowardice made real. It also reconstructs, in unflinching detail, what terrors Mousa suffered in his final hours.

Williams, a law professor at Warwick University, says it took months to sift through the sprawling documentary evidence. "Between the Court Martial, the judicial review brought by Mousa's father, and the public inquiry presided over by Sir William Gage, tens of thousands of pages of information were made available. Unpicking the stories within these transcripts took months of analysis... Piecing together what happened, how the investigation developed and how the Court Martial collapsed was an intensive forensic exercise. But it was essential if the depth of the human tragedy... was to be understood."

The indifference to Mousa's suffering inside the Establishment was, for Williams, the most intolerable thing: "It was when I saw the post mortem photographs... that I knew I had to write the book. In the press, Baha Mousa was just a casualty. In the court cases, he was just a victim. And I thought that dishonoured the man whose death shone a light on some of the truth of the Iraq occupation."

Perhaps because we saw Mousa's image repeatedly on the news – the photo of his swollen face that vividly told the story of his endured violence – we thought injustice had already been exposed. But by the end of this book, there is the strong suggestion of endemic abuse during the occupation of Iraq. The system that sanctioned his beating to death is still intact, with its legitimised secrecy and its culture of closing ranks. We, as readers, are left with the pain of this awareness, as well as a vague sense of shame. Mousa's case "is a reminder of what being British has meant for others," Williams says.

What to do after reading it? Some might put the book away and try to forget to about it, the way you would a bad dream. Others will feel changed by the awareness. A few will channel their feelings into action. There can't be any better definition of political writing at its most excellent.

It's not funny-serious, it's just funny this time

When Howard Jacobson won the Man Booker Prize, there was debate on whether he was writing comedy or drama. Three years on, he's received a second Bollinger Wodehouse Prize for what he calls his "funniest novel". "I have rebelled in the past about being called a comic writer, because the description is limiting. But Zoo Time is intended to be a funny book, no matter that it has a serious subject." And the next one? It's "definitely not a comedy though it has comedy in it. For me, there has to be comedy in a novel, somewhere."

F Scott Fitzgerald hits the charts

Ensconced in the bestseller charts this week between Lionel Shriver and Kate Atkinson's latest fiction is a certain 'Great American novel'. The Vintage edition of The Great Gatsy, F Scott Fitzgerald's 88-year-old novel, is at number seven in the Waterstones charts (or if you count all editions, it's the fourth bestselling novel after Dan Brown, Hilary Mantel and Gillian Flynn) as well as being number 20 on the Nielson BookScan list.

 Not bad for a book that sold poorly and received mixed reviews at the height of the Jazz Age. As in the case of Dante's Inferno and its recent comeback in the poetry charts (with a helping hand, possibly, from Brown's Inferno), its success might have something to do with the Baz Luhrmann's film, although, could the fact that Fitzgerald's text fell out of copyright in 2011 have bearing on the rush to re-publish?

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders