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.

In the studio: Lawrence Weiner, artist

'Art, if it really and truly succeeds, is going to change other people's lives'

Dissident Gardens, By Jonathan Lethem: Book review - insightful look at radical politics in New York

Music looms large for Jonathan Lethem. In the past, citing Walter Pater's dictum that "all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music", he has said that he tries to make his prose "as musical as I can".

A 2 bedroom flat to rent in Skeldergate, York YO1, on with Mudd and Co for £1,200 pcm (£277 pw)

Property news roundup: Annual rent rises halved in 2013

Plus, the rise of the first time buyer, the importance of smell, and Generation Rent

Postcard from... Bangalore

The two sisters sat in the airport lounge, waiting for their flight to Kerala. It was delayed. They were keen to get going. Their mother had died the day before and they were going to settle her affairs. “She had a good life. She lived to 97,” explained one of the sisters. “You know what her secret was? Coconuts.”

Competition watchdog orders sell-off of nine private hospitals

The Competition Commission has ordered the sale of nine private hospitals, including London Bridge and Princess Grace, in an effort to smash the market dominance in Britain’s £5 billion private healthcare industry.

Celebrations for Bhogali Bihu or Magh Bihu, the harvest festival, have begun with community feasts and prayers
Channel 4's series claims to shed light on life on benefits for residents of the street, including Smoggy pictured here

Benefits Street, Channel 4 - TV review

No one's done much to help the residents of James Turner Street in Birmingham, now forever rechristened Benefits Street, thanks to Channel 4's controversial new documentary series. Despite – or maybe because of – the Twitter death threats, accusations of betrayal and media uproar, which followed its first broadcast, Channel 4 has defied calls for the series to be pulled. Did it hope this second episode would change some minds?

The flower of the Nymphaea thermarum, the smallest water lily in the world, is no bigger than a £1 coin

Nymphaea thermarum stolen: One of world’s rarest plants taken from Kew Gardens

The plant is one of the world’s smallest species of water lily with a flower no bigger than a pound coin

In the studio: Elizabeth Ogilvie, artist

"It is my experience of the countryside that I am trying to convey to the public"

Green surroundings, four bedrooms, four reception rooms, a garden.... and a couple of bodies buried in it

For sale: Four-bedroom terraced house, £650,000 – with previous owners' bodies in back garden

This property could be the ideal family home; situated in a leafy suburb in south-west London, it comes complete with four double bedrooms, four reception rooms, and a reasonably sized back garden. The only problem is that the previous owners are buried under the flower bed.

Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Owen Paterson, Cruella de Vil of the environment

Owen Paterson yesterday lived splendidly up to his image as the Tory Cruella De Vil, draped luxuriously in the fur of culled badgers, by pointing to other countries where once-loved species were being drastically thinned out by the authorities.

Nadhim Zahawi (right) is an adviser to the Prime Minister

Coalition policy causing 'physical harm' to countryside, claims Tory MP

Nadhim Zahawi says 'massive, irreversible damage' is being caused

First things first: Emma Townshend reveals her gardening New Year's resolutions

Our gardening correspondent's opening resolution is to tidy up. After that, she can get down to her World Cup window boxes and learning how to cloud-prune...

The novel cure: Literary prescriptions for those struggling to keep New Year's resolutions

Ailment: New Year's resolution, struggling to keep

Cure: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Anna Pavord's A-Z of pests and problems: V and W are for ventilation, vine weevil and weeds

A virus can be bad news – or the reason your favourite tulip is so beautifully marked, says our green-fingered correspondent

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The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss