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From Brontë to Le Carré: The year in books

23 December 2016


Newcomer Amy Liptrot 's Orkney odyssey on addiction and nature

Amy Liptrot in Orkney

As well as Orkney and London, this book explores an additional landscape, that of the internet itself

The Outrun is Amy Liptrot’s memoir about overcoming addiction while exploring the Orkney landscape. After a spell in rehab after becoming addicted to alcohol and drugs in London, she returned to her parent's sheep farm on her native islands and discovered that the place she once longed to escape offers her a cure; its wildness plays a crucial part in her recovery.


Master of espionage John le Carré's The Night Manager hits the small screen

Hugh Laurie in The Night Manager, BBC One

I wouldn’t have trusted Kim Philby with my cat for the weekend

John le Carré is the former British spy (or was he?) whose best-selling novels captured the drama, paranoia and fear at the heart of the Cold War. Far from the glamour of James Bond, le Carré’s spies inhabited a bleak, grey world of double-agents and treachery that - even if it was fictional - reeked of authenticity. To tie in with the major BBC adaptation of le Carré's book The Night Manager, our man in the know broke cover to let us in on nine secrets about le Carré, his life and his work.


Bards at the BBC: Our picks for World Poetry Day

Sylvia Plath

Readings of poems from Ariel by Plath herself powerfully illustrate its confessional nature

To celebrate World Poetry Day we cherry-picked some gems from across the BBC for your viewing and listening pleasure: from Sylvia Plath and Philip Larkin to George the Poet and Allan Ginsberg.


Charlotte Brontë at 200: Weird, windswept and wonderful

Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska in the 2011 film adaptation of Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre reproaches our complacency about social and sexual politics on almost every page

To mark the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, her biographer Claire Harman – author of the critically acclaimed Charlotte Brontë: A Life – revealed how she got under the skin of the unique and pioneering writer.


How do your favourite books compare with Hay Festival stars' choices?

Choices include Norman Mailer's The Fight, Joyce's Dubliners and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

My favourite book of all time is Wuthering Heights
Maxine Peake

The Hay Festival attracts some of the top names in literature, film, comedy and television to its 10 days of ideas, insight and inspiration. We put some of them on the spot to find out the title of their favourite EVER book.


Dahl 100: Illustrator Quentin Blake's friendship with Roald Dahl

The Enormous Crocodile was the first Roald Dahl book to be illustrated by Quentin Blake

I drew Willy Wonka like a sprite because everything that happened inside his factory was unreal, like a fairy tale

The drawings of Quentin Blake are immediately recognisable. He is best known for his illustrations to the stories of Roald Dahl, whose 100th birthday was ‘gloriumptiously’ feted throughout this year. Their working partnership was not an instant success, as Blake's first two sets of drawings for The BFG were rejected by the author. We caught up with Sir Quentin at his studio for a deeply personal insight into is work with Dahl, which started with a handshake and ended up as a friendship.


Stepping out from the shadows: Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent returns to the small screen after 24 years

Toby Jones as Verloc in The Secret Agent, BBC One

We understand more about Conrad’s world now because we live in a latter-day version of it...

A BBC adaptation of The Secret Agent, starring Toby Jones and Vicky McClure, aired on BBC One in July. Published in 1907, Joseph Conrad's tale of radicalised individuals, suicide bombers and shadowy espionage activities feels like it could have been written yesterday. With our age practically defined by acts of terror, Conrad's story, with its paranoia and its enemies within, holds a mirror up to our deepest fears. BBC Arts takes another look at the epoch explored in Conrad's novel to find out what it says about our own.


What we learned at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

(l-r) Marina Warner, James Kelman, Irvine Welsh, Nicola Sturgeon and Alan Cumming

Even the tea boy returned for the filming of Trainspotting 2
Irvine Welsh

The Edinburgh International Book Festival features a host of talent from the worlds of literature, comedy, music and film, taking part in more than 700 events throughout August. We filmed a selection of sessions; here are some choice words of wisdom from the biggest names...


John le Carré memoirs are published

John le Carré pictured in 1964

The Cold War is still Le Carré’s big subject because the Cold War has never ended; it is merely carried forward by different means and different men

From his years serving in British Intelligence during the Cold War, to a career as a writer that took him from war-torn Cambodia to Beirut, and Russia before and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the fiction of David Cornwell - better known as John le Carré - has always got to the heart of modern times. As his first memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life, was published in September, we took a look at the life, work and philosophy of one of Britain's greatest living writers, alongside highlights from his many BBC interviews over the past five decades.


Man Booker 2016: The 'best shortlist in years'

Satire or reality? George the Poet explores the themes of The Sellout

It is the UK’s most important prize for fiction, and critics called it the best shortlist in years. Excitingly, almost all of the authors were new. Ahead of the ceremony on 25 October, six champions - comedians David Baddiel and Sara Pascoe, presenter Mariella Frostrup, pianist Steven Osborne and crime writer Val McDermid - made the case for their shortlist favourites in a series of special films, and George the Poet explored the themes of the winner, Paul Beatty's The Sellout.


Utopia at 500: Did Thomas More’s book really predict the future?

In Search of Utopia at Leuven’s M-Museum | Photo by Dirk Pauwels

More's Utopia was an instant hit. Readers were intrigued by his vision of an earthly idyll where happiness is the norm.

In November, as the Belgian city of Leuven celebrated five centuries since the publication of Utopia, we considered Thomas More’s prophecies for an ideal society. From 'property is theft' to free education and euthanasia, how many did he get right?


Will Self: Does the novel matter any more?

When I started out as a novelist, we were considered to be gods.
Will Self

In an exclusive film for BBC Arts, writer Will Self considers the potential impact of society’s increasing indifference to the novel and to reading for pleasure. Asked by scientists to respond to their research that reading fiction may help us to form episodic memory, he discusses what impact technology has had on the novel and why our new digital culture may be just the latest in a line of fleeting knowledge technologies.

Books, Art and Photography in 2016

More from BBC Arts