Arifa Akbar

Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books 2013, and the Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014.

A golden moment for children's fiction? Week in Books column

A children’s book this week became the Costa Book of the Year. Frances Hardinge, with The Lie Tree, won the prize over Kate Atkinson, Andrew Michael Hurley and all the other front-runners. If this doesn’t sound momentous enough, then even Hardinge looked shocked at the ceremony, admitting that she hadn’t prepared a speech because, as everyone knows, “the children’s book never wins”. 

The sex life of Simone; are her letters for real or is this a hoax?

In a prologue to the book The Passion of Mademoiselle S: Letters to a Lover, a French diplomat tells us how he found a trove of letters in a satchel while helping a friend to clear out a cellar. They were written in the 1920s in the same hand and signed by the same woman. On reading, he discovered them to be filled with the intimate passions of a mistress – Simone – to her male lover, Charles (who later on in their affair is referred to in the feminine, as Lottie and “my sweet mistress”). The detail of their encounters relived in writing, and her desires, are expressed in vivid and pornographic detail, more shocking for their period setting when, for instance, telephones were only for the wealthier set of Parisians, to which this couple belonged. We have little idea of how Charles felt in this one-sided account because his letters to her are referred to, but not preserved, in the bundle. We might assume that he felt something significant, given that these letters were kept, albeit hidden away in a dark cellar, like buried treasure.

Shakespeare, the way he would have played it: Week in Books column

There is another way to see Shakespeare, I discovered this week, beyond the improvised, the abridged and the foreign-language productions that reboot the Bard. It is Shakespeare staged without a rehearsal, as was originally done in the 16th and 17th centuries, when each player was given a scroll with only his part, and relied on original “cue scripts” that contained the barest of contexts – when, and to whom to speak. No one, except for Shakespeare, knew the play as a whole before it was performed thus. Actors’ senses of discovery mirrored the audiences’ own. Some had hours to learn lines and carried multiple parts in their heads.

Marlon James: 'I don’t believe in PG violence’

The 2015 Booker Prize winner Marlon James has been dubbed the literary Quentin Tarantino. He opens up about writing to shock, growing up gay in Jamaica and why there’s no such thing as the Great American Novel

More headlines

Long live Jackie Collins's feminist heroines; Week in Books

When Linda discovered her husband, David, was having an affair with a young actress, she didn’t stand by her man, or go lingerie-shopping in hope to win him back (this was the 1960s). She filed for divorce. The mistress got bored and David promptly ran back to Linda, only to find her with a new man – a Hollywood big cheese – who, in the parlance of this fiction, could keep it in his trousers. David hit the bottle. The women went on to greater things. The End.