John Walsh: A peculiarly Italian way to review books

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The Independent Online

Literary news: on Italian TV, The Female Labyrinth by A.L. Marra, a dull-sounding treatise on economics and banking, has had an unusual endorsement. It has been praised on camera by Karima El Mahroug, aka "Ruby the Heartstealer", the dancer in the Berlusconi trial. Ruby stands by a digital pack-shot of the book, wearing a red dress – but as she starts to speak, a Phantom of the Opera figure runs up and rips it off, leaving her to discuss the book's virtues in her bra and pants. Prurient souls can see it on YouTube. I fear Ruby must learn to be more demure if she aims to become, you know, Mariella Frostrup.



* Before we're carried away by the wonders of modern China, consider the traffic planners of Shaanxi province. Hearing that repairs were planned on one section of a 70mph motorway, they ordered a five-feet-high wall to be built across it in the middle of the night. But they didn't tell motorists. They put up signs and lights, apparently, but these were "stolen". In the small hours, dozens of drivers crashed into it and were saved only by airbags. Everyone is now blaming everyone else. An inglorious episode from the people who brought you the Great Wall of China.



* Royal tearaway Prince Laurent of Belgium is at it again. King Albert's youngest son lost his licence for a year for speeding at 23, was nicked doing 85mph in Bruges, aged 37, and has now (at 47) had his licence removed after doing a ton through Brussels. He has retaliated by saying there should be "a special licence for those driving a fast car". Absolutely. I mean, if you've a high performance vehicle, you gotta perform, haven't you?



* Tomorrow is the 96th birthday of John Freeman, soldier, Labour MP, Privy Councillor, New Statesman editor, Indian High Commissioner, US ambassador, LWT chairman, Granada TV bowls commentator – and incidentally the 20th century's best interviewer. A box-set of his classic Face to Face interviews from 1959-62 is impressing a new, young audience, amazed by the way he grills the likes of Carl Jung, Augustus John, Lord Reith and Martin Luther King. It's like watching God Almighty being interrogated and made to squirm. Sadly, the veteran of so much 20th century history declines to be interviewed by young pretenders any more. But happy birthday anyway, maestro.

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