“About beauty they were never wrong, the ancient masters” – so W.H. Auden might have professed upon seeing Defining Beauty: the body in ancient Greek art, the British Museum’s most significant exhibition of Greek art in decades. It is a truism, after all – or an ingrained assumption – that Greek sculpture epitomises beauty in art, especially the classical Greek sculpture that emerged from 'democratic' Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries BC. Since antiquity itself, this view has heavily shaped the way we think about art, and about beauty. And wandering through the low-lit chambers of the new Sainsbury exhibition wing at the British Museum, it is hard to deny the allure of the sculpted bodies on display. Lithe, torqued, tensed or rippling, they multiply into a pantheon of gods, athletes and heroes.
Addressing an event in such recent history, you would be forgiven for thinking you knew everything about the Iraq war. After numerous Hollywood blockbusters, public executions and a worldwide critique of the parts America and the UK played in the arguably unnecessary and absolutely mishandled invasion of Iraq, we understand the politics of the war so much more clearly in hindsight. It is interesting to discover a side of the story that has been largely overlooked, something that all too often happens when the subject matter is women. The Lonely Soldier Monologues is an entirely verbatim play written by Helen Benedict, recounting stories told to her by female American soldiers deployed to Iraq. Superbly directed by Prav MJ, seven women deliver fiercely striking and honest performances that would make their real-life counterparts proud.
For Books Sake's star has been gradually rising since its launch in 2010. Its aim is threefold – to champion writing by women and girls, reform the mainstream media's gender bias, and to petition national exam boards to better reflect equality and diversity. As a charity it's all done voluntarily, with a dedicated cast of reviewers, editors, feature writers and commissioners. And now it has launched a short-fiction anthology dedicated to erotica by women, compiled from an open call for submissions and featuring emerging as well as established writers.
High Society: Kevin Spacey's tenure at the Old Vic is almost up, after an 12-year jaunt that's taken the theatre to as many corners of the thespian globe as it's possible to go. The success of last season's Clarence Darrow saw queues snaking round the side of the building (I know because my mum was one of them, hunched in the doorway in a sleeping bag at 4am). And what better way to bow out than on the sparkling pink cocktail that is High Society – at once sexy, jolly and naff.
Ali May’s debut collection of erotic short stories, Geography of Attraction, takes the reader around the globe, pausing breathlessly to observe the fleeting flirtations and longings of others as nationalities and philosophies entwine and people connect through that universal language, desire.
A new book about breastfeeding reminds us that them hooters have a more serious raison d'être. As an ex-marketing employee of Sainsbury’s, Melissa Addey knows her stuff: she understands how a product should look, where it should be placed and who is going to buy it. She’s a very clever woman indeed. She's also a skilful writer with a chatty manner and a nice, easy-to-read style. She's the mate who is sweetly dispensing advice, just like a good mate should. Both the NCT (National Childbirth Trust) and Mumsnet have given this guide their nod of approval.
This is a call to arms. Sexism is alive and well, and yet, as Caroline Criado-Perez shows in her book Do It like a Woman, there are amazing women out there doing their best to kick the shit out of it. She asks us all to revel in their achievements and to join their ranks. No false moustaches or male pseudonyms required. Just do it like a woman.
VENUS is the antidote to the subversive and edgy nude photography that dominates the art bookshelves. These photographs of nude female models set in grand English houses taken by Grace Vane Percy are worthy of the great goddess herself in their beauty and purity. The classical nature of her subjects is enhanced by photographing them in black and white on film, the most organic of a modern artists’ arsenal of technological techniques. Most of the poses are derived from traditional poses attributed to Venus from classical Greek and Roman sculpture. Text accompanies the images detailing the iconography, poses and importance of the ancient deity. This book emphasises the sheer beauty of line and moulding of the female form.
The step-mother figure's a handy little plot device and Leaving Things Unsaid, Karen Barratt's first novel, makes gripping use of it. Beth's married to Ralph - happily, it seems - and works as a teacher. She's inherited his history and his two children, but it's his home - where he once lived with late wife Caroline - that's unsettled her from the moment she carried herself over its threshold.
There are more vampires, ghouls, secret agents, mafiosi, devils, freaks, bad guys, cops, monsters and maniacs in Emanuele Taglietti's Sex and Horror: the art of Emanuele Taglietti than you could shake a zombie's severed arm at. There's a fair bit of gratuitous, not say salacious, nudity as well. Sex and violence don't mix, we're all pretty much agreed upon that, but sex and horror? Well, evidently, in Italy at least, that was another aesthetic entirely. Ever since Johann Heinrich Fuseli's The Nightmare caused a popular sensation in London in 1781, lifting sex to the astral plain of pure and fantastic horror seems to legitimise the violence implicit in the imagery. Taglietti's comic cover art stays just about within the boundaries of sex/horror as opposed to sex/violence, which is more than can be said for the contents of the comics whose covers he so powerfully illustrated.