Gareth Jenkins

The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim

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Jonathan Coe, Viking, £12.99

We first meet the protagonist of Jonathan Coe's latest novel sitting in a restaurant overlooking Sydney Harbour. His wife walked out on him six months earlier, taking their daughter with her. Now, he's flown halfway round the world to see his father but they remain strangers. His feeling of loneliness contrasts with the happiness he sees in the Chinese woman and her daughter playing cards at a neighbouring table.

Solar

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Ian McEwan, Jonathan Cape, £18.99

This novel takes the grand theme of climate change and what can be done to prevent catastrophe. "The planet is sick," says Nobel Prize winner Michael Beard, whose prototype form of power from the sun (hence the title) will end human dependence on rapidly declining fossil fuels.

Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters

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Louis Begley, Yale University Press 2009, £18

Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a general staff officer in the French army, was convicted of espionage in 1894. The evidence was flimsy, to say the least. Stripped of his position, Dreyfus was imprisoned on a disease-ridden island in the Caribbean.

Dreyfus was a Jew - one of a handful in an officer class dominated by reactionary royalists. Documents backing the evidence proved to be forgeries, yet all attempts to reopen the trial were quashed.

Atheism in Christianity

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Ernst Bloch, Verso; £14.99

Why republish a book that first appeared in 1972? The answer has to do with the current attack on religion by such writers as evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins and right wing political commentator Christopher Hitchens. Bloch, on the other hand, argues that there are liberatory, "atheist" elements within Christianity with which socialists should make common cause.

Katyn

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Director: Andrzej Wajda; Release date: 19 June

Poland's leading post-war director, Andrzej Wajda, now 83, has made a stunning film about a defining moment in modern Polish society - the massacre of Polish army officers in the Katyn forest in the early years of the Second World War.

Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire

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Iain Sinclair, Hamish Hamilton; £20

The title's allusion to a famous poem about the exotic middle eastern city of Petra ("a rose-red city - half as old as time") hints at something more exotic than inner-city Hackney - though Hackney does possess a (dirty) rose-red former music hall, the Empire. There may even be an echo of Peter Sellers' travelogue parody, which invokes "a rose-red city half as gold as green" ("Golders Green").

Edward Upward - 1903-2009

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Edward Upward, the last of the 1930s generation of left-wing British writers, has died at the age of 105. It is astonishing to think that someone who was in his late 20s when the Wall Street Crash heralded the Great Depression should live on to see an equally deep crisis begin to convulse the system once again.

He came from a comfortable background (his father was a doctor and he went to public school and Cambridge). But the disaster of the First World War shook all classes to the core. And like his more famous younger contemporaries, the poet W H Auden and his admirer and fellow novelist Christopher Isherwood, Upward was part of a revolt against the clapped out culture of the past.

Rights of Passage

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The rise of imperialism in the 19th century was reflected in the literature of the period. Gareth Jenkins examines the contradictions of empire's novelists.

It would be easy to dismiss the literature of imperialism as little more than boys' own stuff - adventure stories designed to glorify Britain's conquest of the globe and mask its brutality with myths about bringing light to the benighted heathen.

Naked Law

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Review of '10th District Court', director Raymond Depardon

Courtroom drama is the stuff of innumerable television programmes and films. The fascination it holds for us lies in the sense that here, the guilty meet their just desserts and the innocent are exonerated. Everything is crafted to produce an effect of conviction (in a double sense) that transcends everyday experience.

This is part of a social mystique. The concentration on the individual drama unfolding in the courtroom may raise broader social issues but overall it reinforces the sense that only in this authorised space can we find redress for what is wrong in society.

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