Creative Sensemaker

Retro woman sitting on a couch

A rundown of the week’s cultural moments, books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency

By Matt d’Ancona    Above image: Ratched    Friday 4 September, 2020     Long read

Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media. Like a literary dam bursting, nearly 600 books were published on Thursday, as dozens of titles held back during lockdown finally hit the shelves.

Talk about an embarrassment of riches. The first week of September is always a big moment in the publishing calendar but, this year, shops are struggling to find shelf space to display the latest offerings from writers, whether they’re well established or on the rise.

Here are some of the best, with our top pick of titles about to be published, too:
Two book covers on a grey background
Two book covers on a grey background
The Lying Life Of Adults by Elena Ferrante
The pseudonymous author of the acclaimed Neapolitan Quartet is on mesmerising form once more in this exploration of adolescence, perceived ugliness, Naples’ Generation X and the lies etched into convention. 

Red Pill by Hari Kunzru
In 2017, Kunzru’s White Tears achieved the nimble feat of embedding a serious exploration of cultural appropriation into a nail-biting ghost story. Now, his latest novel takes its narrator into the shadowlands of the contemporary alt-right, traversing its think-tanks, fixation with politics as entertainment, and march through cyberspace. Superb.

Endless Fortune by Ivy Adenuga
Forty years after she arrived in London from the conflict zones of Nigeria, Adenuga shares her extraordinary story – including how she raised the so-called ‘first family of grime’.

Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan
His debut novel, Our Fathers (1999), was one of the definitive fictional considerations of what it is to be a son. Now established as one of our finest writers, O’Hagan tackles the nature of friendship with tenderness and wisdom, exploring its resonances, echoes down the decades, and significance to the soul.

The Lonely Century: Coming Together In A World That’s Pulling Apart by Noreena Hertz
Even before social distancing, isolation was increasingly a defining feature of contemporary life, and a peril to physical and mental health. Collating years of first-hand reporting, Hertz audits the crisis and suggests new ways of nurturing community and solidarity.

Inside Story by Martin Amis
This novelised autobiography is framed by Amis’ relationships with three friends and heroes – Saul Bellow, Philip Larkin and Christopher Hitchens – who have all since passed. But it also includes his thoughts on Donald Trump (‘the high-end bingo caller who occupies pole position in the GOP’). Those who think of Amis as out of fashion reveal how fatuous the notion of literary fashion truly is.

Fattily Ever After: A Black Fat Girl’s Guide To Living Life Unapologetically by Stephanie Yeboah
Put on her first diet aged 12, Yeboah has become an important voice on beauty, fat-shaming, race and mental health. Already an Instagram star, this is her ‘love letter to all my fat, black women out there’ – and it looks set to be an autumn bestseller.

Box 88 by Charles Cumming
The best spy writer of his generation, Cumming delivers again with this thriller on a hyper-secret agency, which is the first in a projected series of novels. As ever, the page-turning pace is matched by a stylistic touch that makes comparisons with le Carré more authentic than formulaic.

More Than A Woman by Caitlin Moran
It’s been nine years since Moran’s How To Be A Woman became an international bestseller and the key text for a new generation of feminists. Now, More Than A Woman is everything you could hope for in a sort-of-sequel: hilariously acute but also profoundly moving, especially in its insights into parenthood.

V2 by Robert Harris
It’s amusing to reflect that many of Harris’ journalistic colleagues thought he was throwing it all away when he stepped down as a weekly political columnist and turned to thriller writing. His first stab at the genre was Fatherland, which went on to sell more than three million copies. His latest, V2, is a race against time, set at the end of November 1944 – and one of Harris’ best works yet.

Here are our weekly recommendations:
A man's face is lit up by his phone
Social Dilemma


Young Wallander on Netflix
Henning Mankell’s perpetually-troubled detective has been played by Rolf Lassgård, Krister Henriksson and Kenneth Branagh, and is now portrayed in his youth by Adam Pålsson. Superior spin-off noir.

Socrates on Curzon Home Cinema
Brazilian director Alexandre Moratto’s portrayal of a teenager in São Paulo besieged by bereavement, poverty and homophobia is a compelling exercise in neo-realism. It also features a tremendous screen debut by Christian Malheiros.

The Social Dilemma on Netflix
Having premiered at Sundance, Jeff Orlowski’s documentary-drama is a very watchable – and unsettling – account of Big Tech’s quest to conquer the human psyche. 

Ratched on Netfli