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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Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living