One man goes against the system he helped create and the results are not encouraging. Koestler fictionalizes the Moscow Show Trials of the 1930s, where parts are fused onto the whole and the whole is broken into parts. A masterful novel. Picture by Alex Cairncross

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Morbidly obese misery of a writer – and Nobel Laureate (topical) – more than meets his match in the slender and deadly Nina, who conducts the last interview of the writer’s life. Secrets are dredged up and, in a twist, it is pretty. Keep your daggers handy. This is going to get nasty.  Photo by…

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From particle physics to market predictions, we thought scientists, right or wrong, traded in the world of facts. What we did not expect is that all the while they were deeply concerned about their looks. Beauty is at the heart of scientific endeavour, and has always been. As the stakes get higher, however, can we…

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Everything’s more or less normal in the little town of N until Piotr Stepanovich and his equally psychopathic sidekick, Nikolai Stavrogin, come back from abroad. One thing leads to another leads to another and another and some more after that in Dostoevsky’s extraordinarily rambling (as rambling as this sentence) novel, which does not end well…

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St Matthew is going to poke out your eyes. Or some such. After what seemed like a millennium of exile from the Motherland, we go back to the heart (and other parts) of Russian literature with a Tolstoy short story. Brilliant.

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A novel that says it’s based on Wuthering Heights is taking a risk – because Wuthering Heights is a crazy effective soporific. But the further it strays from the original, the better A True Novel becomes. Don’t underestimate your originality, Minae Mizumura! You’ve produced an eminently entertaining read. In a nice turn, this very long…

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Feel like making glove?? That’s not a typo. This week we discuss perhaps the best passage in any of Philip Roth’s novels, the ‘glovemaking scene’ (again, not a typo) in American Pastoral. And we do this with American lit scholar and Gloversville, NY native, Menachem Feuer. Also, we discuss the definition of a schlemiel, a person…

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The Messiah is coming! His arrival is imminent! That’s the bad news. The good news is his arrival and social schedule are narrated with a combination of enthralled immediacy and distrustful distance by a Nobel Laureate, Isaac Bashevis Singer. And yet, is it ‘all that’? Some readers will be super-pumped, others might not catch messiah fever.…

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‘They believe what they say in the moment they say it.’ And then the moment is gone, and someone’s stuck with a desiccated horse’s head or a painting of Jesus framed in piss. In this episode we learn about the high prices and low motives of the contemporary art world while schmoozing in Basel, getting lost in Venice, and,…

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