David Sheff (Pan, £9.99)

Amazingly, 40 years have passed since John Lennon’s murder. This was his and Yoko’s last major interview, Conducted by Sheff over three weeks and completed two days before the shooting. At 24, Sheff had interviewed Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther King Jr and Albert Schweitzer, but this encounter remains a personal highlight. “We don’t need publicity, but we need to explain what we’re doing,” says Lennon, and they do so at length, discussing parenthood, gender roles, public perceptions and putting the past behind them, with their relationship inevitably at the centre of it all. It makes an interesting contrast to Jann Wenner’s book-length interview, Lennon Remembers, made a decade earlier. The Lennon Sheff meets is less bitter and more at ease with himself, though never far from a contentious outburst. The points when he talks about the future, looking forward to all the years he could have ahead of him, are especially poignant.


John Metcalf (And Other Stories, £11.99)

Born in Carlisle and emigrating to Canada as a young man, John Metcalf has enjoyed a distinguished career as an author, teacher and editor for five decades. But until now he’s never been published in the land of his birth. This collection pulls together eight stories which highlight his skill and versatility. His talent for finding exactly the right detail to deflate a character’s self-importance, or undercut an emotional moment, is apparent from the opening to the first story, Single Gents Only. Metcalf’s somewhat chilly view of humanity is explored more thoroughly in pieces like the bleakly comical computer-dating story, Girl in Gingham. The novella-length Medals and Prizes, following the diverging paths of two boys who want to grow up to be cultivated and “mildly louche”, shows him developing character through some quite lengthy scenes. Metcalf’s meticulousness, combined with an unsentimental eye and shot through with acerbic satire, brings forth some masterful stories.


Paul Embery (Polity, £15.99)

The Tories’ establishment of a “blue wall” in former Labour strongholds in the General Election was just the most recent sign of the widening chasm between the Labour Party and its traditional constituency. In this fiercely-argued polemic, a Brexit-supporting firefighter and trade unionist from Dagenham examines how this schism opened up and how it might be bridged. He sees a Labour Party run by “an arrogant liberal and cultural elite” promoting “cosmopolitan liberalism” while holding their working-class constituents’ concerns in contempt. To reconnect with its base and start winning elections, Embery argues, the party has to become more economically radical and more culturally conservative. There’s a lot here that Labour should take on board; but with it comes the recognition that Embery is playing on exactly the same “fears of cultural erosion” and longings for a return to traditional values that a wave of right-wing authoritarians across the world have exploited with great success.