Arts

Books: New from Lara Prescott, Michel Houellebecq, Stephen King, Richard Carr

BOOK OF THE WEEK

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott is published in hardback by Hutchinson, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.99)

THE debut novel from US author Lara Prescott delves into the secretive Cold War world of CIA involvement in distributing Russian literary heavyweight Boris Pasternak's Dr Zhivago, banned in the Soviet Union – seen as "not just a book, but a weapon". From 1949, The Secrets We Kept covers the next decade by alternating from East to West, following both Pasternak and his muse as well as the women in the CIA typing pool, particularly spy-in-training Irina and part-time receptionist and agent provocateur Sally. Slightly slow to start, the novel then draws the reader into the emotional lives of the characters and their ever-changing roles and personas, questioning not only what is banned in the East, but also in the West. No mere spy thriller, it is, as the typists say of Dr Zhivago, both "a war story and a love story... but it was the love story we remembered most".

7/10

Laura Paterson

Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq, translated from the French by Shaun Whiteside, is published in hardback by William Heinemann, priced £20 (ebook £9.99)

DYING of sorrow, in a job going nowhere and a relationship that has stalled, Florent-Claude Labrouste decides to turn his back on his life by going 'voluntarily missing'. Devoid of purpose, meandering from hotel to holiday cottage across France, the 46-year-old finds himself increasingly confronted by elements from the past he has tried to shed. Bouts of nothingness are punctured by observations of brutal, abusive sex and agricultural angst, while a newly released anti-depressant renders him impotent. It's hard to get on with a narrator who values a woman by the sum of her orifices, or who contemplates murdering his ex-lover's young son. His is a world of exhausting bleakness, where effort does not equal reward, where violence skulks behind every activity, where people try to insulate themselves through sex, drugs, or take refuge in nostalgia. An uncomfortable, if interesting read.

7/10

Jemma Crew

The Institute by Stephen King is published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £20 (ebook £10.99)

THE 'King' of American Horror's latest offering, The Institute contains everything you would expect from Stephen King – an all-American hero ex-cop, a bright, supernatural, young child, and an evil doctor. But unlike many of King's previous successes, it reads more like a 'greatest hits' mash-up than a new masterpiece – a bonus-track for King fans. The "institute" in question is a sinister government facility which locks up children and exploits their paranormal talents. It draws obvious links to the current scandal of America's immigrant children locked up in cages. However, it could have done away with the laboured Trump references and still made its point. There a few good moments, but it feels oddly slow and does not pick up pace until around the 250-page mark. The horror is believable if a bit tame for King. The Institute does not compete with King's previous triumphs, but is a firmly middle-of-the-road read that hardened King fans will enjoy.

6/10

Megan Baynes

NON-FICTION

March Of The Moderates: Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and the Rebirth of Progressive Politics by Richard Carr is published in hardback by IB Tauris, priced £20 (ebook £14.04)

THE polarisation of the main political parties is a transatlantic lament today. In this book, the academic Richard Carr traces how New Labour and the US Democratic Party found their way out of such political wildernesses in the 1980s. His self-confessedly "top-down" account focuses on individuals and their intellectual development: only politicos will follow every name-drop, but the narrative remains readable. Carr aims to distil the benefits of 'Third Way' politics, awkwardly shrinking the financial crash and Iraq into wider context. A convincing case is made for Clinton and Blair's progressive pragmatism. The line between chasing and shaping public opinion sometimes blurs, but Carr highlights areas such as the Minimum Wage, opposed fervently in 1997, that were orthodoxy by 2010. Carr's story makes engaging history, but it remains to be seen whether his centrist lessons hold in an age when not just politics but also public opinion is polarised.

7/10

Josh Pugh Ginn

CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK

Explorers by Nellie Huang and illustrator Jessamy Hawke is published in hardback by DK, priced £16.99

LITTLE explorers will be amazed and inspired by the adventurers featured in this book and how they have shaped the world today. From the explorers of Ancient Greece and the era of Christopher Columbus to astronauts and modern-day travel bloggers, author Nellie Huang tells the stories of more than 50 adventurers. Alongside the likes of Sir Francis Drake and James Cook, it also features less well-known intrepid explorers from around the world, all of whom have pushed boundaries. They all have one thing in common – enormous courage. French botanist Jeanne Baret was the first woman to sail around the world, but had to go undercover as a man to be allowed on naval ships. And present-day explorer and Paralympic gold medallist Karen Darke was the first woman paraplegic to hand-cycle through the Himalayas. It may be a bit detailed for the younger readers in the target 7-9 bracket, but illustrator Jessamy Hawke helps bring these incredible human feats to life and shows what determination and a sense of adventure can achieve.

8/10

Holly Williams

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