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.

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".

In the studio: Lawrence Weiner, artist

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

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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Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent