Arts and Entertainment

What goes on in our brains when we’re not thinking? Why do some animals lounge around all day doing nothing? Is outer space completely empty? Why did it take so long for the number zero to be accepted? These are just some of the questions discussed in this intriguing collection of essays on “nothingness” by science writers including Ian Stewart, Marcus Chown, Nigel Henbest, Michael Brooks, Paul Davies and David Fisher.

Letter: Pooh's tragedy

Sir: A A Milne? A carefree childhood? ("Now we are sick", 28 January.)

Theatre: Eye on the New

Yes, it's time for those traditional panto classics, Cinderella, Babes in the Wood, Oedipus... we're promised the biggest giggle since Theseus's father threw himself over a cliff. Looks set to be the only panto that's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

BOOK REVIEW / Stories mummy never taught me: 'During Mother's Absence' - Michele Roberts: Virago, 9.99 pounds

THIS IS a dark and witty book. And if to be political means that systems of order and power are interrogated and stood on their head, then it is a political book as well. But it is not a tract, and for good reason. Tract- writers and polemicists have every faith in argument, but little enough in the imagination. For Michele Roberts, imagination is the cutting tool she uses to rearrange perceptions of sexuality and pleasure, of customary relations and received values. As the nine stories in this collection unfold and then fold back into each other, a shifting array of meanings is laid out. How you look at them depends on who you are: there are, after all, political readers as well as political writers.

BOOK REVIEW / Bookshop Window: The widow's broom - Chris Van Allsburg: Andersen Press, pounds 8.99.

A wonderful fairy-tale, welcome after all the moral fables and slices of life, about a widow who suddenly acquires a witch's broom. The broom can sweep by itself, but also chop wood and play the piano; the widow knows it's a friend, but has to save it from the suspicions and violence of her neighbours. The pictures are exquisitely detailed and luminous, in shades of grey and sepia, as if done by moonlight.

MUSIC / Notices: The Snow Queen - Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells

Beating the panto season with a Hans Christian Andersen story, Trinity's 'Unfamiliar Music Series' has lived up to its ahead-of-the-times reputation. You can't get less familiar than a new, full-length music-theatre piece, specially commissioned by Jane Manning. In Matthew King's score she shares the platform with instrumentalists from Jane's Minstrels and a schools chorus. Singers narrate; players sing duets with their instruments or suddenly leap on to the stage; the Snow Queen picks up her handbag and takes over at the piano. King switches deftly from Prokofiev to Mozart, Handel to Wagner, pastiche to parody, like a bright Hollywood composer with a sense of humour.
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