Books in brief: From young Nick Cave to 60-year-old Laura Lippman

Plus: The lure of dark money in Myanmar; and the remarkable How to Be a Refugee

Nick Cave. Photograph: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Nick Cave. Photograph: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty


Boy on Fire: The Young Nick Cave
By Mark Mordue
Atlantic Books, £20
It’s somewhat surprising that it’s taken this long for a substantial biography to arrive on Nick Cave. Mark Mordue, an acclaimed Australian biographer and poet, finally publishes a book focusing on Cave’s formative years. Mordue is a close associate and member of Cave’s inner circle. He unearths the sparkling wit, warmth and wisdom of his loving mother, Dawn, and also offers some juicy revelations, such as PJ Harvey dumping Cave by phone because of his heroin habit. One contributor, musician Ron Rude, memorably notes: “Punk rock was etched into his features. He was tall, and looked like a cross between Bryan Ferry, Chuck Berry, Genghis Khan and a drunken puppet from Pluto.” All this makes Boy on Fire an indispensable read for dedicated Cave heads. Éamon Sweeney

Jaipur Journals
By Namita Gokhale
HopeRoad, £9.99
“So here she was, with 135,000 words, handwritten in sloping italics … UNSUBMITTED.” Rudrani Rana, a varicose-veined seventysomething, is a walking dictionary, whose unpublished novel is now on its 12th draft, but she is reluctant to let it go. She is one of several participants at the Jaipur Literary Festival, a weekend full of writers and readers, fragile dreams, poison pen letters and delicate egos. The novel races, and almost like a festival programme you hanker to linger longer with each of the many characters, so vivid, real and often funny that they are; each is worthy of their own book. Literary people will laugh in recognition, as the novel overflows with pithy observations about the book world. You rarely stop to draw breath, but this is what gives the novel its warmth, charm and vivacity. Ruth McKee

Until the World Shatters: Truth, Lies and the Looting of Myanmar
By Daniel Combs
Melville House, £25
Daniel Combs’s initial visit to Myanmar coincided with the first relatively free elections in 50 years, a time of great optimism. He returned in 2017, finding Myanmar “still reckoning with deep-seated racial hatreds and a military juggernaut that was allergic to truth-telling and afraid of losing power”. The book’s exposé is told through the eyes of a 30-year-old jade businessman from the northern Kachin State, where powerful shadowy business groups, allied to the military, are “perpetrating one of the largest natural-resource [Jade] heists in the history of the world”, and a young photojournalist from the southeast, for whom the elections held such hope but who now battles to reveal the truth in the face of government or military repression. An intriguing insight into civil war, repressive government and the lure of dark money. Brian Maye

How to Be A Refugee
By Simon May
Picador, £20
Simon May’s remarkable How to Be a Refugee is a memoir of family secrets with a ruminative twist, one that’s more interested in what we keep from ourselves than the ones we conceal from others. Before the rise of Hitler, May’s family were assimilated German Jews, who loved Wagner and read Schiller in their spare time. When the Nazis came, they were suddenly outcasts, aliens, refugees. The contradictions passed down thee generations: as a child in London, the author was raised to worship Teutonic culture but forbidden to speak German. May’s large cast of characters shows with dizzying variety the human ability to live in a state of constant flight from horror, long after the shooting stops. His broad and intriguing book suggests that these survivors were exiled not just from time and place, but also from themselves. John Phipps

Postcapitalist Desire: The Final Lectures
By Mark Fisher. Ed Matt Colquhoun
Repeater Books, £15.95
Mark Fisher has that once-in-a-generation ability to peel it all back; to really see contemporary life, question it, and then relay his ever-evolving conclusions in a way that’s accessible, yet revolutionary. He’s a real “whoa, yes!” kind of writer. This collection of his final lectures, transcribed from a student’s audio recordings, is definitely not the place to start with Fisher (go for Capitalist Realism, then work your way through K-Punk to Acid Communism), but for aficionados, it’s fascinating, and strangely comforting, to see this great mind, quite literally, at work. Most touchingly, they betray his real enthusiasm for the future. We’re reminded, again, that what makes Fisher exceptional isn’t his blistering intelligence but his genuine belief in people; in our collective potential to make things better. Lucy Sweeney-Byrne

My Life as a Villainess
By Laura Lippman
Faber & Faber, £14.99
In this book of essays, reporter and crime writer Laura Lippman attempts to prove that she is the villain. Lippman reveals secrets, recounts her flaws, rejoices in her inconsistencies. She tells us that now, at 60, she’s happy in herself, in who she is and how she looks. And yet, it feels forced, both in terms of content and prose. Rather than exploring her inconsistencies with the reader, it reads as though Lippman is attempting to prove them in this book. It’s bravado not vulnerability. Humans, we are complicated creatures, there’s no need to prove it. Brigid O’Dea

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