All We Tell
David Sheff (£9.99, Pan).
An amazing 40 years have passed since the assassination of John Lennon. This was the last big interview with him and Yoko, which Sheff conducted over three weeks and finished two days before the shooting. At 24, Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther King Jr. and Albert Schweitzer had already been interviewed by Sheff, but this experience remains a personal highlight. Lennon says, “We don’t need publicity, but we need to explain what we’re doing,” and they’re doing it at length. With their relationship eventually taking center stage, they explore parenthood, gender roles, public opinion and leaving the past behind. This makes for a fascinating comparison to the book-length interview of Jann Wenner, Lennon Recalls, done a decade ago. The Lennon Sheff experiences himself is less bitter and more at ease, though never far from a belligerent outburst. The sections where he speaks about the future and looks forward to all the years he may have ahead of him are particularly poignant.
AWARDS AND MEDALS
(And Other Stories, £ 11.99) from John Metcalf.
Carlisle-born John Metcalf, who emigrated to Canada as a young man, has had a distinguished career as a writer, teacher and editor for five decades. But he was never released in the country of his birth until now. Eight stories that show his talent and versatility are brought together in this series. His ability to find just the right information to deflate the self-importance of a character or weaken an emotional moment is evident right from the beginning of the first story, Single Gents Only. In pieces like the dark comic computer dating story Girl in Gingham, Metcalf’s very undercooked perception of humanity is discussed more deeply. Via some very long scenes, the novella-length Medals and Prizes, which follows the divergent journeys of two boys who want to grow up cultured and ‘mildly louche,’ shows him creating characters. Coupled with an unsentimental eye and interspersed with biting humor, Metcalf’s meticulousness creates some masterful stories.
Paul Embery ( £ 15.99, Polity).
In the general election, the erection of a ‘blue wall’ by the Tories in former Labour strongholds was just the latest indication of the increasing divide between the Labour Party and its traditional electorate. A Dagenham firebrand and trade unionist who supports Brexit discusses how this rift opened up and how it could be bridged in this intensely fought polemic. He sees a “arrogant liberal and cultural elite” headed by a Labour Party that advocates “cosmopolitan liberalism” while disdaining the interests of its constituents in the working class. The party must become more economically radical and religiously conservative to reconnect with its base and win elections, Embery argues. There is something that the Labour Party should take to heart; but with it comes the awareness that Embery is playing on precisely the same “fears of cultural erosion” and yearnings for a return to traditional ideals that a wave of right-wing authoritarians around the world have manipulated with great success.