Beth Stone

The Wine of Solitude

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Irène Némirovsky

Irène Némirovsky, a Russian Jew born in Kiev, met her death in Auschwitz in 1942. She was in love with France: she spoke fluent French, converted to Catholicism and in later life repeatedly applied for French citizenship. Ironically it was in Vichy France that she was taken away on a truck bound for Auschwitz.

She was 39 years old when she was gassed to death. She had published 14 works in her lifetime and another six have been published since. She is probably best known for her unfinished Suite Française, deemed by many critics in 2006 their book of the year.

The Beaches of Agnes

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Director Agnès Varda, Release date: 22 February

Agnès Varda heads backwards through the sands, weaving together memories of her life, clips of her own films, and images of her friends and neighbours (some celebrities, many not).

She is retracing her steps and, in her own words, "imagining oneself as a child is like running backwards". Now 80 years old, having successfully experimented with photography, cinematography and documentary, Varda combines them all in a film about her own life. But with Varda it is never that simple.

Agnes Varda Collection: Volume One

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Release date: out now

Agnès Varda, director and screenwriter, was the lone woman among the major figures in the French New Wave, or more particularly the Left Bank, movement. The movement is associated with a rebellion against the traditional form of films - using unusual camera shots and unexpected turns of plot. Many of these films were experimental and were produced on a low budget. The Left Bank directors were non-conformist and bohemian in their lives as well as their films, and were identified with the political left.

The Room of Lost Things

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Stella Duffy, Virago; £7.99

Stella Duffy loves cities and loves London. One of her characters reflects on "how he never wants to live anywhere where they sell only one nationality of food, where the shopkeepers all have the same accent". I know what he means. Often I feel a sigh of relief returning to London after time spent in a maybe beautiful but (being polite here) often mono-cultural area of rural England.

Not to say that there isn't a down-side to city life, but it's refreshing to read a book which celebrates the places, the atmosphere, the people.

Black Orchids

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Gillian Slovo, Virago, £17.99

Gillian Slovo's latest novel contains all the elements of a thriller: secrecy, guilt, betrayal, deception, desertion. It is also a perceptive exploration of the human desire to belong - in relationships and in wider society.

All Our Wordly Goods

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Irène Némirovsky, Chatto & Windus, £16.99

This novel was first published in France in 1947, five years after Irène Némirovsky died in Auschwitz. Unlike her unfinished Suite Francaise, the novel is complete and the tone relatively optimistic, with no idea of the author's impending fate.

Némirovsky has been a subject of controversy through her contributions to anti-Semitic journals and rejection of her Jewish identity. None of this finds expression in this novel.

Beijing Coma

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Ma Jian, Chatto and Windus, £17.99

The Olympic flame supposedly signifies democracy and freedom. Ironic, then, that the Chinese Olympic flame had to be "protected" by a bunch of thugs against demonstrators demanding those very things.

Irony is at the centre of Ma Jian's novel, which is simultaneously beautiful and full of brutality: a blistering critique of a repressive society, in which the hardliners now want "a more open economy, but not the demands for political freedoms that it inspired".

One of Us

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Melissa Benn, Chatto & Windus, £12.99

It is no coincidence that One of Us begins with the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. The concerns of the novel are personal and political ambition and, at its heart, the crimes of personal and political betrayal.

The phrase "one of us" applies in different senses - a marriage partner, one of the family, a political ally. Melissa Benn explores the warmth and the tensions in these relationships, and the brutal consequences for those who don't readily conform and who are no longer "one of us".

After This

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Alice McDermott, Bloomsbury, £10.99

A hurricane uproots the weeping willow tree in the Keane family's back garden. It is a portent: the year is 1960 and the beginning of an era of tremendous change. Earlier in the day the Irish-American Catholic family had guiltily skipped Mass to enjoy a picnic on the beach. The two boys were playing war games in the sand dunes with their toy soldiers: the storm was brewing.

Everybody Knows

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Review of 'Real Gone' by Tom Waits

Tom Waits has been obscure and surreal in his critique of society, but not any more; this album is a damning indictment of the US at war. Real Gone is a celebration of resistance to the corruption endemic in capitalism - and to the ultimate corruption and barbarity of war.

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