Arts and Entertainment

The idea of The Great American Novel feels like an albatross around the neck of that country’s literature. Sooner or later every white middle-class male writer with any kind of reputation feels obliged to have a stab at it, usually with limited success. Eventually they think it’s time to pack away all the fun stuff like storytelling, energy and plot, and make some big state-of-the-nation address, telling people exactly how things stand in the good ol’ US of A. Interestingly, America’s women writers don’t tend to feel the obligation to grandstand so strongly, and their novels are usually all the better for that.

Package Holidays: The seeds that will bring the taste of a Continental getaway to your plate

In the middle of the night, hidden beneath the covers, I start laughing at the idea of anyone else finding out what I'm Googling. No, I'm not funding the dark web, I'm not streaming illegal stuff of any kind, I'm not even shopping for kittens; I'm soothing my troubled insomniac brow on frenchclick.co.uk, gazing at things formerly only purchasable in French supermarkets, now brought all the way across the Channel to my London front door – with no delivery charge on orders of more than £35. (More than £35? Pah. I can spend over £35 on biscuits alone in a French supermarket.)

Weekend work: Time to wake hippeastrum

WHAT TO DO

Face facts: ‘Easter Island: Mysteries of a Lost World’ with Dr Jago Cooper

Easter Island: Mysteries of a Lost World, TV review: Archaeologist digs deep to prove that a lost tribe can hold their heads up high

When most of us think of Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, we think of moai, the 887 magnificent statues that guard its shores. But the mystery of BBC4's Easter Island: Mysteries of a Lost World wasn't how these monoliths were made, or how they were moved into place (aliens, obviously) or even whether the ancient Rapa Nui people were responsible for their own decline, it's why the myths have persisted for so long.

Freddie Hussey, the three-year-old boy crushed by a trailer in Bristol, was

Family pays tribute to three-year-old Freddie Hussey crushed by a trailer in Bristol

Freddie's family said "everyone loved" the three-year-old boy

Diplomat's son reportedly arrested by terror police in London raid

The garden of a British diplomat is believed to have been dug up after his son was arrested on Saturday

Man fights off shark, stitches up wounds and has a beer before finally going to hospital

Victim had 'a couple of good holes on both sides of his leg'

'He's behind you!' Bob McKeown was unaware of the bear.

Scottish couple come face-to-face with bear on holiday in California

Man did not notice bear until he felt 'something brush against his leg'

Donald MacInnes: The fact that there were no headstones in the garden was genuinely pleasing

In my previous dispatch from the traumatic home-hunting frontline, where regiments of estate agents fire broadsides of scorn at our hilarious budget-to-square-footage aspirations, I detailed how one such know-it-all had been forced to tell us – just as we were about to enter – why the house was unsellable, due to the all-pervasive stench of chemicals from the dry cleaner down below. Needless to say, we weren't inordinately tempted.

Sloth mystery solved: How moths and algae shape this unusual creature's toilet habits

Why sloths descend from the safety of the trees once a week to go to the toilet has baffled scientists - but one specialist thinks he has the answer

Emergency workers battle to contain the flames

Fire wrecks £3m mews home being renovated in west London

Grade-two listed Victorian terrace was left a shell

Tweet up: 10 best bird houses

As the temperatures dip, the birds need our help. We round-up the most innovative (and occasionally bonkers) feeders and houses for our feathered friends

‘Toilet-papered’ Alabama home burns down after family try to clear away mess with fire

Attempt to tidy up following prank from local children ends in disaster

Caught red-handed? Burglary suspect captured on BBC wildlife presenter Simon King’s ‘fox family’ camera

Police said to be ‘delighted’ by footage from camera which streams 24-hours-a-day to the TV presenter's website

The Big Six: Literary hideaways

From a Dewey Decimal hotel and a replica of Windsor Castle's library in India to Dylan Thomas's former drinking den

Weekend work: Time to take root cuttings

WHAT TO DO

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Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
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Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine