Paperback review

Published in The Telegraph, 12/01/13

The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian

This post-apocalyptic tale begins with the end of the world and ends with a new beginning for humanity. After a great deluge floods the world seven miles out of existence, a single hospital remains, designed to keep afloat by prophetic architect John Grampus. In the self-sustaining, self-contained new world that is The Children’s Hospital, it is up to medical student Jemma Claflin, gifted with magical powers, to lead humanity – Moses to Grampus’s Noah. Adrian, a Harvard-educated oncologist and theologian, peppers his uplifting prose with harrowing descriptions of suffering, richly establishing himself as an American fabulist in the tradition of Tony Kushner (the story is narrated by angels, to boot).

Paperback review

Published in The Telegraph, 12/01/13

Jack Holmes and his Friend by Edmund White

Edmund White’s subtle portrait of gay libertine Jack Holmes and his straight best friend, Will, is a sophisticated examination of two selves that has as much to say about essential human desires as about 60s sexual mores. The novel follows the eponymous duo from their first meeting as writers in early 60s New York until the onset of Aids, charting their relationship as it’s shaped by unrequited love, aesthetic failure and the flowering, then foreclosing, of sexual revolution. Jack Holmes and His Friend achieves a greater clarity and a deeper empathy than White’s previous novel A Boy’s Own Story, and for these grown-up virtues it is worthy reading.

Paperback review

Published in The Telegraph, 12/01/13

Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton

Starting from the premise that God is dead, Alain de Botton nevertheless insists secular society could do with the disciplines and practices enshrined by religion. He argues religion offers boundaries and insights that today’s corporations, universities and buildings lack. A Catholic Mass, for example, is a web of techniques to “strengthen congregants’ bonds of affection” and the Jewish Day of Atonement is a “psychologically effective mechanism” for the resolution of social conflict. Universities with relationships departments and e-Wailing Walls might help replace religion, but in penetrating, stately prose, de Botton ultimately presents religion as the greatest source of practical advice on how to live our lives.

Royal Society of Literature announces Jerwood Awards

Published in The Telegraph

Last night the Royal Society of Literature announced the winners of its annual Jerwood Awards for Non-Fiction at a ceremony in the Savile Club.

The awards – exclusively for works in progress by first-time authors – went to British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai, forensic psychotherapist Dr Gwen Adshead and the critic Edmund Gordon.

Navai, who has won plaudits as a foreign correspondent in Syria, including an Emmy Award for her work on the television documentary Syria Undercover, was awarded £10,000 for her book City of Lies: the Undercover Truth about Tehran, an exploration of the elusive character of the Iranian capital, weaving together the lives of its inhabitants, its colourful history and the rich tapestry of its cultural heritage.

Adshead, a consultant at the Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital in Berkshire, was awarded £5000 for A Short Book About Evil, an anatomy of evil that combines clinical vignettes with studies in psychology and theology.

Edmund Gordon was also awarded £5000 for his much-anticipated biography Angela Carter: the Biography, which will not only tell the story of the life of the English feminist novelist but also the cultural history of Britain in the 1960s.

They join a long list of literary luminaries who first found acclaim at the Jerwood Awards, running since 2004 with sponsorship by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, including Alexander Monro, Selina Mills and Rachel Campbell-Johnston.

The judges, authors Richard Davenport-Hines and Caroline Moorehead, and The Telegraph’s own literary editor Gaby Wood, stressed the importance of the awards as a financial lifeline for writers when most in need of resources.

City of Lies and A Short Book About Evil are both slated for publication in 2014, while Angela Carter: The Biography is due out in 2016.