To be or not to be published ... Boris Johnson. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA After indefinitely delaying his book on the riddle of “Shakespeare’s genius” due to the knotty puzzle of Brexit, Boris Johnson’s book on the Bard is finally set see the light of day, nearly four years late. Originally scheduled to be published in October 2016, Johnson’s Shakespeare: The Riddle of Genius was delayed, with its publisher Hodder & Stoughton saying at the time that the book would “not be published for the foreseeable future”. The Mail later reported that Johnson was believed to be paying back his £500,000 advance for the book, with rumours circulating that he had not written a single word, and that academics had been approached for “last-minute” assistance. On Tuesday, Hodder & Stoughton confirmed that the book would now be published in April 2020, and that it is not yet finished. According to the publisher, the book will see the former foreign secretary explaining “Shakespeare’s genius in a simple and readable way; in a way that gets to grips with what is really going on, what the characters are up to, what the point of it all is; and in a way that sets the man simply and intelligibly in the context of his time”. “He explores not only the origin of Shakespeare’s genius, but also the nature of his genius. If Shakespeare is the greatest ever, then of what exactly does his greatness consist?” said H&S, which has previously published Johnson’s bestselling biography of Britain’s wartime leader The Churchill Factor, which the Guardian called “self-serving but spirited”. “What makes Shakespeare Shakespeare? That, as the man once said, is the question,” said Johnson, who similarly paraphrased the playwright when he pulled out of the race for the Conservative party leadership in 2016. He is widely expected resume that race in the coming months, but at that point he said it was a “time not to fight against the tide of history but to take that tide at the flood and sail on to fortune”. The quote comes from Brutus’s line in Julius Caesar: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” When he makes the speech, Brutus has already stabbed Caesar.
No pleasure in revenge … Margaret Atwood. Photograph: IBL/Rex/ShutterstockThere’s a moment in Cat’s Eye when reading it became too much for me. The narrator Elaine, wandering the house of one of her bullies, overhears her tormentor’s mother, Mrs Smeath, describing Elaine to her sister Mildred as “exactly like a heathen”. It’s a moment of ear-burning agony. “What can you expect, with that family … The other children sense it. They know,” says Mrs Smeath. Are the girls being too hard on Elaine, Aunt Mildred asks. Mrs Smeath replies simply: “It’s God’s punishment … It serves her right.”At this, Elaine flushes with shame and hatred:> I hate Mrs Smeath because what I thought was a secret, something going on among girls, among children, is not one. It has been discussed before, and tolerated. Mrs Smeath has known and approved. She has done nothing to stop it. She thinks it serves me right.Then Mrs Smeath catches sight of Elaine on the stairs, realises she has heard everything she has been saying about her and> She doesn’t flinch, she isn’t embarrassed or apologetic. She gives me that smug smile with the lips closed over the teeth. What she says is not to me but to Aunt Mildred. ‘Little pitchers have big ears.’It was at this point that I needed to take a break. The adults in Cat’s Eye were even crueller than the children, even more adept at humiliation. It was too much. It’s fantastic writing, but a powerful and discomforting experience, too.But to linger too long on Elaine’s early agonies is to give a distorted interpretation of Atwood’s novel. Though she is never entirely freed from her childhood, Elaine’s direct persecution stops halfway through, when her “friends” lose their power to make her do their bidding. “Nothing binds me to them,” she tells us. “I am free.”After that, Cat’s Eye becomes a different kind of book. It would be trite to say that it becomes about forgiveness, or finding peace. But it is quieter, more reflective – and far less agonising. As a teenager, Elaine represses her memories and becomes a kind of friend to her former chief tormentor, Cordelia. She comes to have power over her, and to abuse that power, even if it feels as if she does so out of a lack of regard for Cordelia rather than any desire for revenge.It’s only later that she extracts her price. As an adult, Elaine mines her childhood experiences for artistic fulfilment and profit, creating pictures of, among others, Cordelia and the hateful Mrs Smeath. The latter she draws “with malice”, finally painting her pallid body “flabby as pork fat”. Even so, when she reappraises the painting during a retrospective of her work, she sees something sympathetic. Her eyes are “uncertain and melancholy”, “the eyes of a smalltown threadbare decency … She was a displaced person; as I was.” The real Cordelia, meanwhile, doesn’t make it to this quietly triumphant exhibition; Elaine realises that the last view she will have of her was when she went to see her in an asylum. She is probably dead. “So Cordelia, got you back,” she thinks, but then comes the coda: “Never pray for justice, because you might get some.”There’s no pleasure in Elaine’s revenge – if that’s what it is. But again, that’s not the whole story. So far I’ve succumbed to the temptation of discussing Cat’s Eye as a story about women being cruel to other women. I’ve even described this subject as surprising and unusual, almost like a blue on blue attack or betrayal of “sisterhood”. But as Atwood herself has often pointed out, the idea that women should all have nurturing relationships with each other is far more strange and constricting than the simple truth that not everyone is kind.The cruelty in Cat’s Eye is brilliantly described – but it also gains power because it feels real. It feels like something that could happen to anyone, including men. It’s worth noting that for plenty of the second half of the book, Elaine is throwing objects at her husband Jon. Her brother, who had always been blissfully removed from her childhood problems, is killed by other men, in an airplane hijacking, a victim of “too much justice”.So perhaps Cat’s Eye is saying: the universe is cruel. It isn’t just about Elaine. In one late scene, a young woman almost dies after aborting her own baby – possibly with a knitting needle – out of worry about what her older male lover will think about her being pregnant. Elaine finds her, soaked in her own blood, calls an ambulance and holds her “small, cold” hand in the hospital. “It serves her right,” she thinks, echoing Mrs Smeath. At this point, I needed another break. Maybe it’s still that kind of book, after all.
Yahoo UK's royal correspondent Danielle Stacey speaks to Princess Diana's astrologer Debbie Frank about the royal family and their star signs. Debbie was introduced to the late princess in 1989 and had regular contact with her until her death in 1997. She speaks to Yahoo UK's video series 'The Royal Box,' about what Diana would have thought of her daughters-in-law Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle. Host Kate Thornton also speaks to royal commentator Omid Scobie, historian Anna Whitelock and PR expert Nick Ede. They discuss Meghan and Harry's plans to keep details around the birth of Baby Sussex private and how the Cambridges will celebrate their wedding anniversary.
Nuclear target? A ‘super blood wolf moon’. Photograph: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters It was reported in 1957 that the Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev wanted to explode a 100 megaton nuclear device on the moon to demonstrate Soviet missile technology. Had this happened, what might have been the effect? Ray Garner, Keighley, West Yorks Post your answers – and new questions – below or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
On Monday, the singer-songwriter stepped out in New York City rocking new, dip-dyed pink hair, which just so happens to match her latest Instagram grid that's leading up to a major reveal on April 26.
Anna Whitelock on Harry and Meghan: “I think the line that they’re walking and going to have to walk very carefully is between royalty and celebrity.
Marshland casts a ‘dim green subaqueous glimmer’ over the brilliant Wakenhyrst. Photograph: Neil Bowman/Getty Images/iStockphotoThere’s no mystery about who committed the murder in Michelle Paver’s Wakenhyrst (Head of Zeus). We know from the start that in 1913 historian Edmund Stearne used an ice pick and a geological hammer to “slaughter… the first person he came across in the most bizarre and horrible way”. The mystery, in this original and engrossing novel, is why he did it. Stearne spends the rest of his life in an asylum, creating three Hieronymus Bosch-esque paintings full of “tiny malevolent faces”. “Painted in such obsessive detail they could be alive”, they take the world by storm after his death; 50-odd years after the murder, journalists and academics are digging into Stearne’s story.And what a story it is. Paver masterfully blends together two narratives – that of Stearne’s daughter, Maud, a lonely child raised in the Suffolk fens, and entries from Stearne’s diary, which Maud discovers, in which he details finding a medieval painting in a churchyard, before descending into madness.Paver is known for her bestselling Chronicles of Ancient Darkness children’s series, but she is also the author of gloriously chilling novels for adults: her Arctic winter-set ghost story Dark Matter is a work of wonder. Wakenhyrst is equally brilliant, spanning fen devils, mystics and the lot of women in Edwardian England as Paver carefully circles the question of Stearne’s madness: are the devils he sees real or imagined?> Twisting back through time, Stone Mothers is the story of how a covered-up murder will never lie quietlyHer fen, “alive with vast skeins of geese… the last stretch of the ancient marshes that once drowned the whole of East Anglia”, casts “a dim green subaqueous glimmer” over her story; Maud, poised between superstition and religion, is inexorably drawn to it. “‘Don’t you nivver go near un,’” she’s told by her hated nurse. “‘If’n you do, the ferishes and hobby-lanterns ull hook you in to a miry death.” Like all good heroines, Maud doesn’t listen.Erin Kelly’s Stone Mothers (Hodder & Stoughton) – a very different tale of Suffolk and madness – opens as Marianne is thrown into a state of shock by her husband’s surprise purchase of a flat in the revamped Nazareth hospital, formerly the East Anglia Pauper Lunatic Asylum. It’s in Nusstead, Marianne’s home town; her husband wants her to be able to spend time with her dying mother. Marianne’s reaction is extreme and disturbing. “Please, Sam, don’t make me go back,” she panics.Marianne has a dark history and a secret that she and her ex-boyfriend, Jesse, have kept for years. Now the pact they made is beginning to break, threatening her family and vulnerable daughter.Twisting back through time, Stone Mothers is the story of how a covered-up murder will never lie quietly and a terrifying indictment of how the mentally ill were once treated. “The Victorians used to call their mental hospitals stone mothers… They had such faith in architecture back then that they thought the design of the building could literally nurse the sick back to health,” says Marianne, now a respected academic. Kelly goes on to show just how wrong this was, providing a genuinely surprising twist that turns assumptions neatly on their heads.The Better Sister (Faber) is another classy slice of psychological drama from Alafair Burke. Chloe Taylor, a prize-winning publisher, is married to her estranged sister Nicky’s former husband, Adam, and has brought up their son, Ethan. When Adam is murdered in the family’s home, Ethan falls under suspicion – “Whatever test she had in mind for how a kid should act when he hears his father’s been murdered, Ethan had failed it, and now the police were going to put our family under a microscope” – and the troubled Nicky comes back into her life.• To order any of these books for a special price, click on the titles, go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99
Emma Dabiri: ‘undeniably snappy’. Photograph: Jonathan Goldberg/Rex/ShutterstockIf you’re expecting cookie-cutter discourse on the nature of black people’s hair, look away now. Don’t Touch My Hair might take its title from one of the most well-known (if still frustratingly common) aspects of being black in a predominantly white society, but it will quickly comb away what you thought you knew about our coils and spread out a whole new way of seeing the world around you.This is Emma Dabiri’s first book but the academic and TV host doesn’t approach her subject matter like a novice. Black hair is personal and for her, this story begins with an upbringing in Ireland, where her hair was a “constant source of deep, deep shame”.Mixed race, born to a white Trinidadian mother and black Nigerian father, baby Dabiri did not have the loose curls synonymous with those with a lighter skin tone. Her hair quickly became a battleground until, around seven years ago, she realised that her politics and her presentation didn’t correspond: her chemically straightened hair needed to go. It is through this personal experience, and an understanding that our racialisation as black is as much bound up in our coiled hair as it is in our colouring, that Dabiri begins to take us on an unapologetic and intellectual journey, bursting with new theories and forgotten tales.She explores black hair history relating to her own Nigerian ancestry as well as in the US, the UK and other parts of Africa and Latin America. The way black people have been conditioned to think about their hair, as a tiresome, time-consuming burden, shifts under her pen. Colonialism has done a lot of damage to those perceived as black; crucially, it has robbed us of our time and of any kind of positive hair heritage. Making the choice to reclaim that time and change the often derogatory language we use when talking about our hair is a tiny, radical step all black women with “type four” hair can take.She is critical of discussion that ignores wider theory around anti-consumerism, arguing that the natural hair movement espoused by the Black Panthers in the 1960s and 70s was far more radical than ours today. While some “naturalistas” concentrate on twist-outs and slicking down baby hairs – styles that stretch back further than you might imagine and, whether we like it our not, implicitly emulate European hair textures – “picked out ’fros” were far more about the rejection of beauty ideals and, crucially, capitalism.Her sources are rich, diverse and sometimes heartbreaking – ranging from escaped slave notices to the Black Women Oral History Project of 1976-1981 and the legends of the Orisha. They need to be because, as Dabiri points out, not only is there a lack of exploration into black hair, there is also a lack of recognition of black people in history books. Despite unmistakably grand achievements in the realms of physics, maths, social organising and feats of engineering, we are forced to learn about ourselves from livestock ledgers.Still, Don’t Touch My Hair manages to give us something to hold on to. Even the idea of beauty itself, as something isolated from our sociological selves, is challenged by the Ashanti understanding of Fe, a concept that goes beyond physical beauty. Other sources drawn upon to resituate our hair narrative include African metaphysics .Some books make us feel seen and for me, that is what Don’t Touch My Hair does. As a mixed-race person with tightly coiled hair like the author, who grew up in the far reaches of Scotland in an environment that doesn’t sound too dissimilar to Dabiri’s Ireland, I was able to engage with it in a unique way. But I would urge everyone to read Don’t Touch My Hair. You may not agree with everything she writes, but the author is undeniably snappy, bringing out humour and no small amount of sass. The first title of its kind, with fresh ideas and a vivid sense of purpose, Dabiri’s book is groundbreaking.• Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri is published by Allen Lane (£16.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99
Sofía Jeans by Sofía Vergara’s latest 32-piece drop (including tops and rompers) is available at Walmart.com, and it’s just as good as (if not better than) the first.