What are you reading? – 12 October 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 12, 2017
Books arranged on table in shape of heart
Source: Getty

Caroline Magennis, lecturer in 20th- and 21st-century literature at the University of Salford, is reading China Miéville’s October: The Story 
of the Russian Revolution (Verso, 2017). “I picked this up as a companion to my final-year module on modernism and to whet my appetite for the ‘Revolution Betrayed’ season of art, cinema and theatre at HOME, Manchester’s centre for contemporary art. I found something remarkable: the sweep of history with Miéville’s novelistic flair. Even though you know the ending, this is a compulsive page-turner that makes the period come alive in rich, colourful detail. Although he is better known for his science fiction, Miéville’s eye here fleshes out both the spirit of revolution and the horrors that followed. His feelings are evidently complex, which leads to a narrative that draws out elements often left out of more traditional renderings of the Revolution.”

Richard Joyner, emeritus professor of chemistry at Nottingham Trent University, is reading Winton Dean and John Merrill Knapp’s Handel’s Operas, 1704-1726 (Boydell & Brewer, 2014). “I could fill my Desert Island Discs allocation with Handel’s operas. Semele, Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare would compete for top billing. This amazing work of scholarship covers just the first 17 operas in 600 pages. Two further tomes, written by Dean alone, consider the other 22 operas and the oratorios. For each opera, there is a synopsis, details of sources and librettist(s), wonderful analysis of each musical number, information on the first performance, its cast and how it was received, and notes on the autograph edition. How Handel reused his own music and that of other composers is also carefully traced. These operas lay largely unperformed until the latter half of the past century. Our generation is lucky that most are now available on disc or DVD.”

Liz Gloyn, lecturer in Classics, Royal Holloway, University of London, is reading Ovidia Yu’s The Frangipani Tree Mystery (Constable, 2017). “Set in 1936, as the brief reign of Edward VIII is coming to a close after barely beginning, this murder mystery takes place in Singapore and introduces Chen Su Lin, a local girl educated at the mission school and longing for better things. After the acting governor’s nanny is killed, she takes charge of his daughter Dee-Dee, a grown woman with a mental age of seven, and finds herself embroiled in the aftermath of the murder. Yu gives us a narrator with a matter-of-fact attitude to life as a colonial subject and doesn’t sugar-coat how the governing British treat ‘the locals’. Add in an enigmatic chief inspector and you have an enjoyable book, even if I worked out whodunnit before Su Lin did.”

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