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.

The best fiction of 2015

Here are some of 2015's finest books to fire the imagination, engage the grey matter and invigorate the spirit over the festive period

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.

The big book that's creating the big Booker stir; Week in Books

There are various points of contention in this year’s Man Booker shortlist – age (five out of six are aged between 28 and 46), America (four out of six live over there), anti-establishmentarianism (all the “revered” men and women of letters have been stripped out, bar Anne Tyler). But the biggest, most interesting, controversy surely comes in the choice of one book which has divided the critics – it seems – like no other.

Bookclubs and friends don't mix: Week in Books

Anne Hathaway’s book group has got off to a rocky start. Having thought it a good way to stay “in the friendship loop” with Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain, she became unstuck when her friends couldn’t ‘loop’ in the time to read the book (but hopefully turned up to complain about life with a brand new copy of the book and some plonk anyway). As she explained to Glamour magazine: “I said, ‘Let’s all read this book!’ But I’m not working and they are, so it’s not going very well.”

Bravo to a survivor who refused to be silenced

James Rhodes’s memoir arrives out of a maelstrom of pre-publication controversy: his ex-wife tried to stop Instrumental from being published; a court lifted an injunction last week and the pianist has justified his reasons for writing it. It might otherwise have been another celebrity memoir, although one that includes Rhodes’s child rape, self-harm, attempted suicide and bouts in locked wards for severe psychoses. All honestly, graphically, and eloquently described (minus rock’n’roll levels of swearing).

More headlines

How many more books will there be telling me how to be a Muslim?

There are three kinds of Muslims, according to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book, Heretic. Yes, three kinds in a population of 1.6 billion followers of the faith who live in vastly different cultures around the globe. Firstly, she says, the fundamentalists who see Islamic edicts as eternal truths, set in the seventh century and unchangeable ever after. Hirsi Ali calls them “Medina Muslims”, who kill non-believers and blasphemers, often in horrendous medieval circumstances. We know this category well.

A foreign language can make sex scenes read better; Week in Books

What is the right language of love? Or sex, I should say, if I were being less British. There are those literary fiction writers who daren’t venture into that territory at all and then there are those intrepid others who have found themselves on the receiving end of a Bad Sex Award.

No magical realism please, We're Mexican; Week in Books column

Remember magical realism? A term fashionably recast from its European surrealist roots to be applied to contemporary literature that was (usually) ‘not from these parts’. So exotic folklore, supernatural or baroque fantasy – what Cuban writer, Alejo Carpentier, described as “marvelous real” – woven into the narrative experimentalism of novels by Salman Rushdie, Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, and virtually every other Latin American author of note. I remember as a student thrilling at all the heaven-bound ascension of women hanging laundry and daughters with paranormal powers.