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What the critics liked

Most actors are terrible people pleasers, says Lynn Barber in The Daily Telegraph. But not Miriam Margolyes, whose new memoir, This Much Is True (John Murray £20), is completely, wonderfully candid. Take Miriam on John Cleese and Bill Oddie, both of whom she first met in the Cambridge Footlights – “total shits”, she says. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who she worked with in the 1990s, was no better: “a pig of a man… awfully gropey”. And Glenda Jackson, who she starred with in a play, had “little patience and no humility”. Eventually, Miriam snapped at Glenda and called her a cow. “She called me an amateur. I think she won that one.”

She grew up in Oxford, the only child of a gentle doctor father, Joseph, and a social-climber mother, Ruth. Miriam was naughty at school, a “little bit thick”, and only got a scholarship to Cambridge because her mother pulled some strings. Ruth noticed her husband had a patient called Sir Isaiah Berlin – “some sort of university big shot” – and insisted he come round for dinner. She charmed him with home-cooked Jewish food and he signed Miriam’s sponsorship papers.

You can see the family likeness, says Roger Lewis in The Times. Miriam enjoys being outrageous. Her mother was the same. Ruth “looked a lot like Gracie Fields” and always did the housework naked, “her dangling breasts dusting the wainscot”. It all sounds silly and jolly but there is darkness here too. After Miriam told her parents she was a lesbian, her mother had a stroke. She died not long afterwards and Miriam still blames herself.

It’s the darkness I liked best, says Tanya Gold in The Oldie. Miriam is more serious and cleverer than she would like us to believe. When she’s not telling stories about breasts, she’s dissecting Dickens, who she loves. “He pushes reality to extremes,” Miriam says. “I’m at home in extremes: that’s my weakness and my strength.”

Available as an audiobook on Audible and Kobo, narrated by Miriam Margolyes.

When WH Auden married the German novelist Thomas Mann’s daughter, he wrote to a friend: “Who’s the most boring German writer? My father-in-law.” But Colm Tóibín’s latest book, a fictionalised biography of Mann – The Magician (Viking £18.99) – proves him wrong, says Michael Arditti in The Spectator. Beneath Mann’s sedentary surface was an extraordinary inner life, as gripping as it was sad.

He moved from one tragedy to the next, says Lucy Hughes-Hallett in The Guardian. Mann married a Jew and fled Europe in the Second World War. One of his sons, both of his sisters and his sister-in-law all killed themselves while he was alive (another son, his youngest, committed suicide after he died). And, to cap it all, he was a closeted homosexual who yearned for young men but never left his wife. Amid the sadness, though, the large cast of Tóibín’s novel is packed with “glittering vignettes”. Mann’s elder children Erika and Klaus are a delight – both promiscuous bisexuals with bags of creative talent and absolutely no common sense. And his imagined version of Auden is spot on. In one scene he is “acidically bitchy” about Virginia Woolf.

This is Tóibín at his best, says John Self in The Times. His unruffled style is perfect for someone as restrained as Mann. Every word is as it should be and his quiet sentences stack up to create something truly moving. Early on in the story, one character asks Mann if books have had their day. “Not while a master – a magician – like Tóibín is around,” says Self.

Available as an audiobook on Audible.


The comedian Norm Macdonald, who died last week, couldn’t stand the American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis. When Easton Ellis called the Canadian writer Alice Munro “overrated”, Macdonald – a fellow Canadian – stormed to her defence in a series of tweets. “It is interesting to see Alice Munro, the writer’s writer, criticised by Bret Easton Ellis, the talentless hack’s talentless hack,” said one. “I notice Bret Easton Ellis describes himself as a writer in his Twitter account. More of his brilliant satire,” said another.