Londonistan, By Melanie Phillips
The Noughties, By Ben Masters
The Man Who Forgot His Wife, By John O'Farrell
Tea at the Midland, By David Constantine
Will We Ever Speak Dolphin, Ed by Mick O'Hare

Paperback reviews of the week

Londonistan, By Melanie Phillips

Gibson Square £9.99

****

I'm in the unaccustomed position of agreeing with much of what Phillips says here. She takes the right side on the Rushdie affair – a case that, Dreyfus-like, neatly separates the good guys from the bad.

Britain should have risen up to defend Rushdie with one voice; instead, we had establishment figures such as Lord Dacre actually endorsing the fatwa. She's right to be disgusted by the pusillanimous British and US apologies in 2006 when the publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoons that caused offence to some Muslims resulted in mayhem and murder by Islamist mobs. I agree that it's ridiculous it took so long to jail and then deport Abu Hamza. Like her, I find it disturbing that so many young Muslim men are alienated from British society. I share her opinion of George Galloway. She's right that a profound anti-Semitism underlies Islamist thinking, and that Israel is scapegoated by the British media, while the brutal and undemocratic regimes of its neighbours go uncriticised. She argues that Britain is sleepwalking its way to Islamisation, and there is enough evidence marshalled here to make that seem alarmingly possible. I don't, however, agree that human rights and secular liberalism are at the root of our tolerance of illiberal practices and religious terrorism. Rather than a return to traditional Christian values, as Phillips urges, I think we need a stronger, more consistent commitment to human rights and secular liberalism. But the merit of this book – apart from its commitment to truth-telling – is that it draws you into the argument.

 

The Noughties, By Ben Masters

Penguin £8.99

**

They say you should write about what you know; and what Ben Masters knows is the novels of Martin Amis. This could be a sequel to The Rachel Papers: Charles, now called Eliot, stumbles from pub to bar to club on his last night at Oxford, reflecting on his three years there and the relationships he's buggered up. It's a homage that verges on parody, employing Amis's rhythmic repetitions, manic synonymising, self-conscious slang, flurries of swearing, literary allusions, pet vocabulary ("rug", "quotidian", "bullshit") and penchant for awful sentences such as "I go nuclear on the toilet". As irritating as early Amis, but less funny. But Masters writes with energy and invention; if he finds his own voice he'll write better novels than this. I just hope the next one isn't a sequel to Dead Babies.

 

The Man Who Forgot his Wife, By John O'Farrell

Black Swan £7.99

***

The comic premise here is inspired: Vaughan, a married history teacher with two children, loses his memory, and, on seeing his wife for what, as far as he is concerned, is the first time, falls madly in love with her, unaware that they are supposed to be going through a bitter divorce. But the telling of the story is not quite as inspired as the premise. The texture of the writing is thin, typical of a newish genre of domestic comedy – basically an update of the lad-lit novel, with all the stock characters 20 years older, including the ne'er-do-well best mate and the good woman who saves the hero from the consequences of his folly. Still, it's an amiable read and there are one or two laugh-aloud moments. It's not great literature, but it is pleasant literature.

 

Tea at the Midland, By David Constantine

Comma Press £9.99

*****

The 16 stories here are about marginalised people whose response to society is a sort of farouche defiance, expressed not as opposition but simply by being themselves, and extracting a fragile joy from the business of living. In "Goat", a soon-to-be-unfrocked canon dances with a homeless man in a derelict building at night to the strains of a penny whistle. The longest story in the book, "An Island", is part love letter, part suicide note, part empathetic observation of the lives of others. The writing is beautiful: the description of an undercooked turkey in "Ayery Thinnesse" is a prose poem in itself. The excellence of the collection is fractal: the whole book is excellent, and every story is excellent, and every paragraph is excellent, and every sentence is excellent. And, unlike some literary fiction, it's effortless to read.

 

Will We Ever Speak Dolphin? Ed by Mick O'Hare

Profile £7.99

***

Will we ever speak dolphin? Probably not: it seems that the communication system dolphins use is not really a language in the sense of being able to share "limitless, abstract information". Other questions answered in this collection from the New Scientist's "Last Word" column include why we get bumps on our heads but bruises on our legs, why we need to pee more in cold weather, why we like shiny things (which is answered by a poem), and how the gang might have got the gold out of the bus in The Italian Job. I especially liked the answer to why shooting a bow does not make the archer recoil backwards, as Newton's second law says it ought to; if the archer were on ice skates, it would.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam