Book news

  • The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume II: 1956-1963 – review
    Elizabeth Lowry

    Infidelity, agony rage ... Plath’s correspondence captures life with Ted Hughes and her terror of being alive

    Volume one of the collected letters of Sylvia Plath – one of the most original poets of the 20th century, and a prolific correspondent – ended with her marriage, while studying at Cambridge on a Fulbright scholarship from America, to fellow poet Ted Hughes in June 1956. The second volume begins with her 24th birthday in October. The new Mr and Mrs Hughes are penniless and without a home of their own, but she has absolute faith in him as a writer and human being. He is “a genius”, the best poet “since Yeats & Dylan Thomas”. Inconveniently, he is also unpublished, and has no strategy for getting into print – but Plath is equal to the challenge. She is an old hand at approaching poetry magazines in Britain and her native US and promptly sets herself up as his agent.

    By the start of 1957 she has typed up and submitted Hughes’s first book of poetry to a major poetry contest, which he wins. By 1961 her first collection is forthcoming from Heinemann, his second is out with Faber, and they have a daughter, Frieda, with another baby on the way. They have bought an ancient thatched house in Devon – Hughes has always wanted a home in the countryside – and are fixing it up, intending to live off their own land in a bucolic writers’ Eden. “Ted & I had nothing when we  got married, & no prospects,” Plath exults to her mother in America before the birth of her son Nicholas in January 1962, but “in 5 years all our most far-fetched dreams have come true”.

    The new Mr and Mrs Hughes are penniless and without a home of their own, but she has absolute faith in him as a writer

    Through her body she makes herself feel real: through food and the touch of the sun on her skin; sex and childbirth

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  • The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintrye review – the astonishing story of a cold war superspy
    Luke Harding

    The double life of a KGB insider recruited by MI6 features microfilm, Soviet secrets and a daring escape

    Oleg Gordievsky was the most significant British agent of the cold war. For 11 years, he spied for MI6. That he managed to deceive his KGB colleagues during this time was remarkable. Even more astounding was that in summer 1985 – after Gordievsky was hastily recalled from London to Moscow by his suspicious bosses – British intelligence officers helped him to escape. It was the only time that the spooks managed to exfiltrate a penetration agent from the USSR, outwitting their Russian adversaries. It went some way towards exorcising the Cambridge spies, who a generation earlier had travelled in the opposite direction.

    Gordievsky has told the story of his own improbable survival in a gripping 1995 memoir, Next Stop Execution. It charts his recruitment by the KGB, where his older brother Vasili served as a deep-cover “illegal”, and Gordievsky’s growing disillusionment with the grey totalitarian world of 1960s Moscow. There were stages in his journey. At an early age he learned German. He began reading western newspapers. Then as a KGB trainee he spent six months in East Berlin. He arrived just as the Berlin Wall went up, and woke one morning to the sound of tanks rumbling past the Soviet embassy.

    In Moscow Gordievsky survived a KGB interrogation, despite being drugged. He alerted MI6 and gave his minders the slip

    Related: Salisbury reaction: 'It would be comical but for the fact someone died'

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  • Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting by Shivanee Ramlochan review – fierce fantasy
    Sarala Estruch

    Women, queer and non-binary voices are loud in the face of repression in a poetry collection that bridges fantasy and reality in modern Caribbean society

    Shivanee Ramlochan may not yet be widely known on this side of the Atlantic, but she will be soon: An active literary presence in Trinidad with her exciting, original verse, Ramlochan’s work examines, among other things, Caribbean identity and the fabric of modern Caribbean society, she is shortlisted for this year’s Forward best first collection prize.

    This extraordinary debut collection, Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting, uses speculative poetry – a genre that explores the human experience through fantasy or the supernatural – to challenge and transcend conventional gender narratives and reimagine Caribbean society through a queer, radical feminist lens.

    At Jouvay, it eh matter if you play yourself
    or somebody else. […]
    Play yuhself.
    Clay yuhself.
    Wine en pointe and wine to the four stations of the cross,
    dutty angel,
    bragadang badting,
    St James soucouyant,
    deep bush douen come to town […]

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