Reviews: Bedtime Stories for Stressed-Out Adults

The Apprentice - a Pulitzer winner on Russion interference and The Hour of Separation

 Russian dolls in the likeness of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and US presidential candidate Donald Trump. Photograph: Mikhail Pochuyev/TASS  via Getty Images

Russian dolls in the likeness of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and US presidential candidate Donald Trump. Photograph: Mikhail Pochuyev/TASS via Getty Images

 

The Apprentice - Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy

by Greg Miller

William Collins Books, €24.99

A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and national security reporter for the Washington Post, Greg Miller has written an account of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, the election campaign and the subsequent fallout. When the Obama administration learned in August 2016 that Russian agents were actively using the internet and social media to favour Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances in the election, there were huge political dangers and consequences. Although the names and plot are known to anyone who reads the newspapers, it is difficult at times to remember that the book is not a novel. This book is evidence that Trump is not, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, touched by the angels of our better nature. However, the author shows his partiality in not denying the impropriety of Bill Clinton’s private conversation with attorney general Loretta Lynch on the tarmac at Phoenix Airport while Hillary is being investigated for her emails. Although the book is unlikely to win another Pulitzer, it is enjoyable or frightening, depending on one’s perspective. Frank MacGabhann

Bedtime Stories for Stressed-Out Adults, Lucy Mangan (ed.)

Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99

“A small attempt to recreate the lost joys” of childhood reading for stressed adults, this collection of short stories, excerpts and poems operates on the premise that even if “you can’t read quite as a child again, you can get close by reading what you read as a child again”. But the attempt founders because of the tension and discrepancy between the “adult” stories and the children’s stories and fairytales. The DH Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and Richard Jefferies excerpts, for instance, would hardly be considered childhood reading. But there are some wonderful inclusions. O Henry’s The Gift of the Magi is a poignant Christmas story of pure love; Saki’s The Mouse is a humorous tale with an exquisitely unpredictable ending; E Nesbit’s The Aunt and Amabel shows so well the child-adult misunderstandings that can arise; Maupassant’s A Portrait is a gem; Katherine Mansfield’s The Tiredness of Rosabel is a story of “tragic optimism which is all too often the only inheritance of youth”, and Edith Wharton’s Xingu is a delightful send-up of a pretentious ladies’ book club. Brian Maye

The Hour of Separation by Katharine McMahon

Orion Books £16.99

What can love survive – summer’s lease, lies, war? In June 1939, Londoner Christa travels to rural Belgium to stay with Estelle, the daughter of Resistance fighter Fleur, the legendary woman who saved her father’s life in the first World War. Both are compelled to discover more about Fleur, who died when Estelle was an infant and to whom Christa feels a debt; this search unstitches sore truths about the past, revealing treachery that threatens to repeat.

The languid summer, the erotic awakening of Christa, her intense emotional connection with Estelle and her two brothers – golden boy Pieter and dark horse Robbe – carry echoes of Kate O’Brien’s The Last of Summer: there is a similar mixture of glamour and sex, foreboding and treachery, as the shadow of the second World War adds chill and suspense to the romantic expanse of the narrative. Never quite predictable, there is often rawness, a sudden honesty to the otherwise tender and painterly writing, a little like the central love affair in this story, which, although plunged into war and its aftermath, is rather beautiful.

Ruth McKee

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