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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Pompeii, Capri & the Bay of Naples
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Lake Garda
Minoan Crete and Santorini
Prices correct as of 15 May 2015
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future