Alan Bennett has acquired national treasure status alongside Judi Dench and Cheryl Cole but with his latest book Smut he is in danger of being relegated to the ranks. Why? Because as its name suggests Smut is unashamedly about sex, not perhaps unfortunately, the sort of romantic sex that permeates our lives, but rather the more embarrassing type (graphic detail from the viewpoint of an elderly onlooker for example). In the process he takes a sideways swipe at the perennial difficulty in British fiction of writing about sex without making everyone’s toes curl up.
The Finkler Question, winner of the Man Booker, written by Howard Jacobson, is out now in paperback. It’s a rich tale of a man who wants to become Jewish and sets out to master its arcane rituals and set pieces of knowledge in order to do so. He is aided and abetted in this challenge by two friends, one of whom is in fact a deadly rival ironically trying to divest himself of his Jewishness. As always with Jacobson the fun is in the journey rather than the destination.
Fans of Anita Shreve will be delighted that her latest – the Rescue – is out now both in hardback and posh paperback (Amazon have it at a terrific £5.59). Like most of Shreve’s work the Rescue is about relationships, in this case between the paramedic who saves a woman’s life and their child, not to mention the secrets in the woman’s past.
In the bestsellers, The Red Queen form Philippa Gregory is still riding high as is Jeffrey Deaver’s The Burning Wire. It won’t be long now before we see Deaver’s take on 007. He was an odd choice for me but there’s no doubt he can write suspense like just about no-one else and these days that will suit Mr Bond very nicely. It’s good too to see Kate Atkinson, Wilbur Smith and Ian McEwan all doing well.
There are several terrific non fiction books out this week.Idea Man by Paul Allen is effectively the story of Microsoft’s co-founder with some juicy tidbits about what a ruthless operator Mr Gates was (and presumably still is). Still Paul Allen should not feel too bad about how it worked out (although you suspect he does) because the second half of the book is about how he spent some of the money that made him one of the richest men on the planet.
The Information by James Gleick is a more cerebral offering that looks at the nature and history of information. It is hugely ambitious and does not limit itself to the modern concept of the information age – computers, phones et al). There is a huge in fact encyclopaedic amount of information here and the book is not for the faint-hearted. However for anyone who is interested in how we got here and where we might be going it will make fascinating reading.
My final pick is In the Plex by Stephen Levy which I am listening to on audio book and will review in more detail in a while. Suffice it to say that it is a comprehensive history of the mighty Google organisation.