New and noteworthy – 15 March 2018

Writers’ relationships with their mothers; doctors are people too; Hilter’s passion for celluloid; a journey through mental illness; and the birth of the world’s first independent air force

March 15, 2018
Source: iStock

Writers and Their Mothers
Edited by Dale Salwak
Palgrave Macmillan

Georges Simenon claimed that novelists are united in hatred of their mothers. But the truth is inevitably a bit more varied. For his new anthology, Dale Salwak – professor of English literature at Citrus College in southern California – assembled 22 prominent novelists, poets and critics to explore their own and other writers’ relationships with their mothers. Margaret Drabble reflects on Samuel Beckett and Jeffrey Myers on Robert Lowell, while John Updike’s son David recalls his father’s mother, Ian McEwan explains how his writing was shaped by his mother’s “particular, timorous relationship with language” and Martin Amis pays tribute to his “wicked stepmother”, novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard.

Also Human: The Inner Lives of Doctors
Caroline Elton
William Heinemann

The dean of an American university recently described “a national epidemic of burnout, depression and suicide among medical students”. Yet far too often, argues Caroline Elton – a psychologist who has worked with trainee doctors right across London, “medical training…fails to acknowledge that doctors are people too, with their own thoughts, feelings, fantasies and desires”, and that the toll on their mental health soon affects patient safety. Her book describes, for example, an obstetrician whose own fertility treatment failed and an oncologist trying to treat the disease that killed her father. It is only by acknowledging doctors’ “inner lives” that we can hope to address the crisis in the profession.

Hitler and Film: The Führer’s Hidden Passion
Bill Niven
Yale University Press

There have been many studies of the books Hitler read, his passions for art, architecture and Wagnerian opera. What has received far less attention is his avid consumption of many different types of film. Here Bill Niven considers how the Führer carefully monitored every newsreel before it went out, decided to ban certain films, often invited actors and particularly actresses to his private soirées and stage-managed his own cinema outings to promote his political priorities. Even public support for the Nazis’ most vicious programmes of sterilisation and genocide was partly orchestrated through film.

Diary of a Bipolar Explorer
Lucy Newlyn
Signal Books

“Professors are meant to be eccentric,” writes Lucy Newlyn, “but not mentally ill.” So it was only in retirement, after 35 years at the University of Oxford, that she felt able to publish this diary of her last 15 years. It opens with a harrowing account of being “sectioned”, following a prolonged period of grieving for a sister and then a vigil at her father’s deathbed. Further crises arose out of a dispute with her college and then the transition to retirement. Yet Newlyn also conveys the many varied shades of mental illness, and how walking, diary writing and particularly the intense effort of composing poetry often proved therapeutic.

The Birth of the RAF, 1918
Richard Overy
Allen Lane

The Royal Air Force – the world’s first independent air force – came into existence on April Fool’s Day 1918 (and both the Army and the Navy hoped it would prove a short-lived joke). It was actively promoted by politicians such as Churchill, as leading historian Richard Overy shows, to “defend the home front against the novel menace of bombing”, although even before the end of 1918 it was also involved in supporting Allied armies and bombing German industrial towns. This centenary account offers a vivid narrative of the challenges of “founding a new service in the midst of a bitterly contested conflict”.

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