Faber & Faber

By the time I received my heftily embargoed galley of Sally Rooney’s new novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, it would have been more lucrative to auction the book online than review it, such is the wild demand for Rooney’s fiction, the monetised eagerness. I’ve ruined my chances for unethical riches with my margin scrawls, dog-ears, and penchant for spine-breaking (reading, after all, is a contact sport). But it is telling that the question I’ve been asked most about the novel, other than whether I intended to sell my advance copy, has not been What do you think? but Are you on Team Rooney? Popularity of any sort inevitably rouses a backlash, and it can be constructive – often revelatory – to parse the stories that capture our collective imagination. But Sally Rooney (the literary product, not the person) has become a kind of shibboleth. To profess a grand love or distaste for her novels, or even – perhaps especially – a lofty indifference to them, has become a declaration of pop-cultural allegiance, a statement that’s almost entirely about ourselves. It’s a fate that too often befalls precocious, art-making women: they’re turned into straw men and set publicly alight.

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In Second Place, the narrator, M, reminisces about the time she invited the artist L to stay on her remote property ‘on the marsh’. Fifteen years earlier in Paris, a painting of L’s on a poster advertising a major retrospective of his art had spoken to M of ‘absolute freedom’. She was then ‘a young mother on the brink of rebellion’. The night before she had allowed a famous writer – ‘an egotist, permanently drunk on his own importance’ – to string her along and then dump her unceremoniously once he decided she wasn’t worth the risk. Viewing L’s paintings in the gallery the next morning, M had felt herself ‘falling out of the frame’ of her own life and ‘became distinct from it’.

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Klara is an Artificial Friend (AF), an android companion for spoiled tweens. She’s not the newest model, but what Klara lacks in top-of-the-line joint mobility and showy acrobatics, she makes up for in observational nous; she’s an uncommonly gifted reader of faces and bodies, a finely calibrated empathy machine. Every feeling Klara decodes becomes part of her neural circuitry. The more she sees, the more she’s able to feel.

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Feature-length documentary film has seldom been as commercially successful as fictional drama at the box office. Nevertheless, Nick Fraser tells us that it is now ‘common to hear documentary film described as the new rock ‘n’ roll’. It is exactly this energy, influence, and popular appeal of documentary that Fraser wants to tap into with this book. He seeks to further enliven the documentary aficionado’s appreciation of the genre and to expand their knowledge of titles and filmmakers.

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It is no great coincidence that many of the best nonsense writers – Edward Lear, Mervyn Peake, Stevie Smith, Dr Seuss, Edward Gorey – were also prolific painters or illustrators. Nonsense poetry often seems like the fertile meeting point of visual and verbal languages, the place where words are stretched to dizzying new limits, used as wild brushstrokes on a canvas of imagination. It is no small irony, as well, that Lear, who virtually invented the genre with poems like ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’, ‘wanted above all not to be loved for his nonsense but to be taken seriously as “Mr Lear the artist”’. In Mr Lear, a formidable biography by Jenny Uglow, he has finally got his wish.

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Two years before Rachel Cusk published the first novel in her acclaimed Outline Trilogy (2014–18), she wrote a searing account of her divorce, entitled ‘Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation’, which ignited a brouhaha in her homeland, the United Kingdom. The dramatic excoriation of marital life aroused apoplexy among critics and readers; they bristled at Cusk’s subjective and one-sided storytelling, as if any other account of divorce were possible. It wasn’t the first time Cusk’s work had raised eyebrows: her memoir, A Life’s Work: On becoming a mother (2001), offended many a book-club member with its frank and unflattering descriptions of motherhood.

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Of all the tributary footage screened in the days following the death of Bob Hawke, one short sequence jarred. In it, Hawke conducts the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and orchestra in the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s Messiah, jerking and twitching in response to ...

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Few people escape from publishing. Most people, once they get a foot in the door, stay put. Mary-Kay Wilmers has been working in the industry for more than fifty years. She began at Faber & Faber when the company was still dominated by ‘GLP’ (the ‘Greatest Living Poet’ himself, T.S. Eliot, much mentioned in ...

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The ‘untold history’ of Faber & Faber should be a cause for celebration. For so many of us, possessing the unadorned, severe paperbacks with the lower-case ‘ff’ on the spine meant graduation to serious reading: coming of literary age by absorbing the words and thoughts of Beckett, Eliot, Larkin, Stoppard, Hughes, Plath ...

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When truth is stranger than fiction, fiction is a potent source of truth. In the first week of the Trump administration, sales of 1984 increased by 9,500 per cent, catapulting George Orwell’s sexagenarian novel to the top of global bestseller charts. As Kellyanne Conway recast White House lies as ‘alternative facts’ ...

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