Filthy, caustic fun and the push to remember the Great War
Short, sharp guidance and observations from a journalist with attitude. All books available from Exclusives
IF YOU READ ONE BOOK THIS WEEK
'The Deaths' by Mark Lawson (Picador) R240
Lawson is an accomplished, if savage social commentator, so much so that this satirical police procedural sometimes reads as if the foul play has been served up as an afterthought, what with all the filthy, caustic fun to be had with this skewering of modern Britain's new moneyed elite, represented here by four loathsome couples in a fictional village in the commuter-belted countryside. The comparisons with Tom Wolfe are not unfounded - and certainly not a slight.
The centenary is the better part of a year away, but already the great push to commemorate the Great War has begun.
We may be familiar with the narrative, but 100 years later, we still don't know exactly why the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, on June 28 1914, had such bloody consequences, and therein are the strategic opportunities for historians and their publishers.
Purists will shun the new books on the war and instead fall back on Barbara Wertheim Tuchman's acclaimed history, August 1914 (also published as The Guns of August), the memoirs by Siegfried Sassoon, Ernst Jünger and Robert Graves, or novels such as Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, or those by Joseph Roth or Stefan Zweig. Critics are singling out Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 by Max Hastings as the best of the new titles, as it skilfully explores the diplomatic build-up as well as the first months of the conflict.
Other notables include Richard van Emden's Meeting the Enemy; The Human Face of the Great War, Allan Mallinson's 1914: Fight the Good Fight: Britain, the Army and the Coming of the First World War, and Peter Hart's The Great War 1914-1918.
Every 10 years or so, Donna Tartt pops up on the cultural radar. First, she gave us the acclaimed The Secret History in 1992, for which she received the then-unheard of advance of $450000.
A decade later, it was The Little Friend, and next month it is The Goldfinch.
Tartt's close friend, Bret Easton Ellis, has been given an advance copy for a possible cover shout. "This is Donna Tartt's best novel," The Times quoted him as saying. "It's nearly 800 pages long and I've been savouring it for over a month." Pointing to the years between the novels, the newspaper offered these wise words from Tartt: "Part of the problem with success is that it seduces people into overproduction."
THE BOTTOM LINE
"Your average Homo sovieticus spent a third to half his non-working time queuing for something." - Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen (Crown). [The 21st century chapter is titled "Putin on the Ritz".]