The name Michael Arlen will mean nothing to most readers but Arlen was once the cream of the jazz age novelists, the envy of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Maugham, the owner of speedboats and a villa on the Mediterranean. Then he fell completely into obscurity. By the time his son was born, the golden days were…

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At the end of his days, sitting in his villa outside Rome, the Emperor Hadrian writes a long letter to his adopted son, and next great leader of Rome, Marcus Aurelius. In Hadrian’s world, thoughts duel with power, ideas with reality, books with life. Aurelius often gets praise as the first philosopher king, but in…

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Fall forward into one of the stranger stories you’ll encounter this year – or any other. Maxi, a young man from the middle classes of Buenos Aires, collects used cardboard, lifts weights, busts a drug ring, but can’t seem to surprise a sleeping street kid. Makes sense, right? No? Who cares – no plot outline…

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A novel that includes displaced persons, new countries, war, Cyprus, the OED, Venice, Blood Libel and Othello – this should be sweet. So why does it all taste so healthy? Caryl Phillips sucks all the sugar out of what should be a thrilling experience. Why? Granola. Photo by Ivan Lian

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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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