Voices Goggle box: the blocky looks of the Oculus Rift belie the breath-taking experience of what the wearer sees

This technology is about to change the way you perceive the world – and yourself

BOOK REVIEW / No fools like the old: The laughing academy by Shena Mackay, Heinemann pounds 13.99

IF YOU put all the characters from Shena Mackay's new story collection in one room simultaneously and spent any time there, you'd be ready for the Laughing Academy (Funny Farm) yourself. Taken in manageable doses as directed, however, these creations embarrass, alarm and charm the reader nicely, with only one side-effect: for days afterwards, you may expect of the most ordinary people a raffishness they do not possess.

Letter: Wavelength congestion on a crowded isle

Sir: As a regular listener to Radio 4 FM, I must take exception to your argument (leading article, 30 April) that music gains more from stereo transmission on FM than the spoken word. I for one would greatly miss the realism brought to Radio 4 drama by stereo transmission, and FM transmission.

BOOK REVIEW / From the drawing class to the boudoir: 'Alias Olympia' - Eunice Lipton: Thames & Hudson, 12.95 pounds

WHEN Manet's Olympia was first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1865, the critics reacted with howls of rage. Such was the volume of imprecations against 'the vicious strangeness of this woman of the night, a sort of female gorilla, a grotesque' that the authorities cordoned off the painting against possible assault from canes and umbrellas while the artist himself, frankly puzzled by the brouhaha, left hurriedly on a trip to Spain.

CLASSIC THOUGHTS / Swarms of bees and poppies: Continuing our occasional series of reflections on classic literature, Gabriel Josipovici considers the lofty realism of Homer's Iliad

'THE DEAD writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did,' T S Eliot has someone say. And the reply comes: 'Precisely, and they are that which we know.' Not only that though. Old books are there to remind us of ways of looking and thinking that we have forgotten or that modern culture has kept hidden from us. And of no book is this truer than of the Iliad.

BOOK REVIEW / In bed with Magdalena: 'The Love Queen of the Amazon' - Cecile Pineda: Hamish Hamilton, 9.99

CECILE PINEDA has achieved an impressive feat of gringo legerdemain. An American writer living in San Francisco, where she is well known for her experimental theatre work, she has set her third novel a couple of thousand miles to the south, in the Peruvian city of Malyerba. Her book still reads like a North American work, however. The dialogue may be littered with words such as nina, pobrecita and putamadre, but people also call each other 'dummy'. The Love Queen of the Amazon is a romp of a tale none the less. Ana Magdalena, a pupil at a convent, jumps naked into the river to save a drowning (female) friend, and is promptly expelled from school by the nuns on a charge of impropriety. This is both ridiculous and unfair, and when Ana Magdalena ends up in her friend's bed on the latter's wedding night, it is clear that realism, on the simple level of plausibility, is not going to be much of an issue.

BOOK REVIEW / The singing flight of the frump: 'Tsvetaeva' - Viktoria Schweitzer, Tr. Robert Chandler & H T Willetts: Harvill 20 pounds

MARINA TSVETAEVA imbibed her mother's sublime Romanticism - adoration of art, music, literature and noble sacrifice - with the milk of her many wet-nurses. Her quiet father (who created what is now the Pushkin Museum) provided the wherewithal for servants, education and holidays in dachas, while her mother strode about announcing: 'Money is filth]' This was the springiest of launch-pads for the future poet who never really came down to earth, even though the revolutionaries burned down their Moscow house and ultimately wrecked her life. It is easy to see that someone like Tsvetaeva would have driven the Social Realists mad.

BOOK REVIEW / Manet's girl who did it her way: Olympia: Paris in the Age of Manet by Otto Friedrich, Aurum pounds 19.95

OTTO FRIEDRICH suspects a feminist plot. He sees it in the way architect Gae Aulenti and curator Francoise Cachin took down the goddess Olympia from her altar-like position in the Jeu de Paume and consigned her to a side wall in their new Musee d'Orsay. Whatever the truth behind that rehang, it is certain that Manet's portrait of the naked Victorine Meurent has had a rough time recently. Gerald Needham's Manet, 'Olympia' and Pornographic Photography claimed that the hidden source of Manet's inspiration was not so much Titian's Venus of Urbino but the stereoscopic photographs of women, undressing or pulling off their stockings, which were widely available in mid-19th-century Paris. Manet's Olympia is just another poor street-girl, obliged to display herself for the male spectator.

BOOK REVIEW / Stock-still lives with a photo finish: Beyond Impressionism - Gabriel P Weisberg: Thames & Hudson, pounds 38

TIMES AND tastes may be a-changing, but there is at least one area of Western middle-class life that remains the same. A good majority still believes, as it has for the whole post-war era, that the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists reign supreme in art. Although the recession is biting into exhibition programmes, we can rest assured that the Royal Academy will grant us our annual dose of Vincent, Edouard, Claude or Paul, and that the publishers will keep up the flow of posters, books, calendars and cards.

Between the Lines: Miner triumphs: Director Peter Gill on fineness of spirit in the plays of D H Lawrence

'There] Isn't that fine? That's what they can do in France. It's so heavy and full and voluptuous: like oranges falling and rolling a little way along a dark blue carpet; like twilight outside when the lamp's lighted: you get a sense of rich, heavy things, as if you smelt them, and felt them about you in the dusk: isn't it?'

BOOK REVIEW / Life (sentences) and hard labour: 'Metaphysics as a guide to morals' - Iris Murdoch: Chatto, 20 pounds

This book is based on the Gifford Lectures that Iris Murdoch gave in Edinburgh in 1982, and is a grand elaboration of her earlier The Sovereignty of Good (1970). It is a great congested work, a foaming sourcebook, about life, imagination, tragedy, philosophy, morality, religion and art. It feels as if it has grown to its present length of 200,000 words by radical tmesis, a long and uninhibited process of interpolation of new sentences into a cherished and increasingly gravid text.
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Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

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25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

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Smash hit go under the hammer

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Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

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Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

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These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

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A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

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