What are you reading? – 1 February 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

February 1, 2018
Books in a library
Source: iStock

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Tom Stoppard’s Lord Malquist and Mr Moon (Faber & Faber, 2005). “This is the playwright’s only novel, but it is, in both senses, play-full. The foppish Malquist has engaged the services of Moon to record his every aperçu and his Wildean aesthetic. The novel follows them in their horse-drawn carriage around Central London. Malquist exercises his lion, Rollo, flies his falcon in Hyde Park and is involved in a hit-and-run incident. Along the way the ‘plot’ is complicated by two gun-toting cowboys, the Risen Christ who speaks with a theatrically ‘Oirish’ accent and a French maid who hides under the Chesterfield. Moon’s despair is comedic: ‘In a film cartoon when someone runs off the edge of a cliff he goes on running in mid-air for a few yards; only when he looks down and becomes aware does he drop. Moon had looked down and seen the abyss.’ As Samuel Beckett has Nell remark in Endgame, ‘Nothing is funnier than unhappiness’.”

R.C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading Culture in Manchester: Institutions and Urban Change since 1850 (edited by Janet Wolff and Mike Savage; Manchester University Press, 2013). “This coherent and effectively argued collection of essays casts its net widely. Manchester’s Victorian scientists and merchant princes necessarily find their place. Victorian theatre architecture and audiences are given a whole chapter to themselves. So do the good works promoted by the Manchester and Salford Methodist Mission in the 20th century. Internationalism in Manchester, past and present, receives due attention. The functioning of the once-famous Belle Vue Zoological Gardens comes under scrutiny, as does the social composition of its visitors. Class, as well as class conflict, returns as the theme of the final chapter on the myth of cultural inclusion in the city.”

Ella-Mae Hubbard, senior lecturer in systems engineering, Loughborough University, is reading Complexity and the Human Experience: Modelling Complexity in the Humanities and Social Sciences (edited by Paul A. Youngman and Mirsad Hadzikadic; Pan Stanford Publishing, 2014). “This is not what I was expecting. The book has an overall goal ‘to show where and how the idea of complexity has spread beyond the natural sciences’. The ideas presented seem sensible, and provide good insight into some of the challenges of the work, although it does try too hard to appeal to different audiences. The editors say it is ‘complete with fits and starts and second thoughts’ – which is good, although I’m not sure it inspired me to follow up on any of the challenges. While the content was interesting, I was left wondering, ‘So what?’ It is a shame that there is not an overall discussion to bring together common themes towards the end.”

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