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.

President Hollande's approval rating has fallen faster than that of any other French President in the Fifth Republic, with 3.5 million French people out of work

François Hollande heading for crisis as he fails to deliver his promise to reduce unemployment

The French President staked his political credibility on a fall in the number of unemployed by the end of the year, but the figures are not going his way. What now for France’s increasingly unpopular leader, asks John Lichfield

Kalashnikov with his creation, the most successful assault rifle ever made

Is Mikhail Kalashnikov in Hell? The man was confident he would not go there

World view: When I met him, his Siberian eyes were as alert as a wolf’s; he was brash, tough, unashamed. I guess he had to be

President Hollande - a frustratingly minimalist domestic reformer but a bold, global statesman

'Tightrope walker' and 'trapeze artist': François Hollande is a wimp at home and a warrior in Africa

The French President has been criticised for his interventions in Mali and CAR but insists it is not old-fashioned paternalism but a mission to save lives

What do Nicolas Sarkozy, Beyonce and Luke Skywalker have in common?

Nicolas Sarkozy reveals his ultimate 'destiny'

The former French president apparently informed pals of his mapped-out life plan recently

A scene from The Duck House at the Vaudeville Theatre

Fresh blow for François Hollande as French unemployment hits 16-year high

French president François Hollande’s woes deepened today as unemployment hit its highest level for more than 16 years.

A poster reading '1:12' (R) hangs next to a poster with a slogan in German reading: 'Stop con atists - yes!'

Swiss voters reject '1:12' proposal to cap top executives’ pay in latest referendum

Swiss voters today overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to limit the pay of top executives to 12 times the wages of their lowliest employees.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and President Francois Hollande

François Hollande faces growing pressure to sack PM Marc Ayrault

The French president has been left with little room for manoeuvre by collapsing poll ratings

Bulgarian universities in chaos as students occupy 15 campuses in anti-government protest

Occupations are part of wider movement against centre-left government

Martens: 'He made a lasting mark on Europe and beyond,' said the EPP president Joseph Daul

Wilfried Martens: Politician who led nine Belgian governments

Wilfried Martens led nine Belgian governments and the European Union's Christian Democrat group. Regarded as a somewhat grey figure, he was attacked by Margaret Thatcher in her memoirs as weak, thanks in part to the occasion when a minor official from one of Belgium's coalition minority parties, working at a ministry one weekend, apparently refused to sell ammunition to Britain during the Falklands conflict. But elsewhere the Iron Lady expressed her admiration for Martens, and with his wily sense of realpolitik and the art of compromise he survived as prime minister for 12 years, from 1979 to 1991, a year longer than Thatcher herself, with only a brief break in the early 1980s.

Marine Le Pen comments last night on her party's success

Local election victory for Marine Le Pen's National Front raises fears on both left and right

Mainstream groups concerned that National Front could gain more regional council seats

All smiles: With the Bettencourt affair receding, Mr Sarkozy is ready to plan his return

Can Nicolas Sarkozy stage another comeback? Court ruling clears way for former French president to reclaim his throne

Liberated by a ruling last week that spares him the humiliation of a trial for the alleged fleecing of the ailing nonagenarian billionairess Liliane Bettencourt, Nicolas Sarkozy has been "energised", say his friends. Thus reinvigorated, he intends to rise from the political grave next year and begin a three-year campaign to reclaim the Elysée Palace.

Vietnam holds state funeral for General Vo Nguyen Giap

150,000 people lined up to pay respects to the so-called 'Red Napoleon'

Akis Tsochatzopoulos, led from his Athens mansion after his arrest in 2012

Greece's former minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos guilty of money laundering

Tsochatzopoulos' conviction is the latest in a series of corruption cases involving prominent public figures

Soccernomics: Ed Miliband's plans for regulation... explained through the wisdom of the Bundesliga

Football in Germany is a luxury designed for the many, not the few

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War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?