In Review

Podcasts of the week: on Knausgaard, music and the Raj

Featuring Raj!, Our Struggle, A Life in Music and Adults, Almost

Raj! podcast

Our Struggle might be the “worst idea for a podcast ever conceived”, said John Phipps in The Spectator. In it, our two young American hosts, Lauren Teixeira and Drew Ohringer, discuss with their guests the Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard, and his “six-book memoir-cum-novel-cum-lawsuit-magnet” My Struggle.

It sounds a bit niche, but this “hip and funny” podcast has become the “breakout hit of the year in transatlantic literary circles”. Much of Our Struggle’s appeal is that it “conducts its lengthy digressions” in a quintessentially Knausgaardian way: “with a genial unconcern for either the task at hand or what anyone might think about it”.

Indeed, at times these Knausgaard podcasters seem to want to talk about everything but Knausgaard – “cigarettes, Constance Garnett, the history of literary criticism, to what extent hotness is a function of tallness” – until the only territory left uncovered is “Knausgaard himself, described only through omission, in negative outline, raising yet another cigarette to his smouldering, craggy face”.

Our Struggle podcast

It is “frankly unexpected” in these “hypersensitive” times to come across a show like Raj!, which appears to have as its touchstones the likes of The Far Pavilions, The Man Who Would Be King and Carry On Up the Khyber, said Patricia Nicol in The Sunday Times. This terrific comedy, by Meera Syal and Mark Evans, is set in “India’s deadliest province, West-by-Northwest-and-a-Tiny-Bit-East Punjab”.

Characters include the British governor Henry Snebworth, his mother, the Dowager Duchess of Scathingtongue, the province’s Maharajah Sunil and his murderous mother the Rajmata. The humour is “broad and tremendously silly”, with plenty of skewering of genre clichés. The pace is brisk, and there are lively performances, especially from Jennifer Saunders and Syal as the rival matriarchs. “Stick with it and it sweeps you along.”

The recent Radio 4 four-parter A Life in Music was a “delight”, said Miranda Sawyer in The Observer. Presented by Jude Rogers, the series, available on BBC Sounds, is both a personal exploration of her own musical development, and an “intelligent and sensitive examination” – with input from musicians, neuroscientists, psychologists and others – of how music “helps us access the joys and disasters of who we are and where we fit into the world”.

Another recent Radio 4 highlight well worth seeking out is Adults, Almost, which explores the experience of lockdown for various 17- and 18-year-olds. “Lockdown was a relief… I had a GCSE Spanish oral I hadn’t revised for,” says one, Kezia, cheerfully. “Oh, they were so upbeat, even when they felt down; how lovely to hear such natural wit and delight in life.

The Week Unwrapped: Hazardous heat, nuclear fusion and divisive dieting

What does a Pakistani city hitting temperatures too hot for the human body tell us about climate change? Could a new nuclear project provide a breakthrough in clean energy? And is a ‘medieval’ dieting device really so controversial? Olly Mann and The Week delve behind the headlines and debate what really matters from the past seven days.

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