What are you reading? – 14 December 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

December 14, 2017
Source: istock

Simon J. James, professor of English studies, Durham University, is reading Denise Mina’s The Long Drop (Harvill Secker, 2017). “This is an absolutely compelling read, whose spare and precise narrative voice moves forward and back in time, both within its own events and between 1950s Glasgow and the present. It also slips in and out of the consciousnesses of the novel’s main and supporting characters. Male bonding and rivalry, alcohol, sectarianism and class are woven into an examination of the masculine institutions of the underworld, the police, the law and business. Very impressively, the book neither sanitises its violence, nor eschews narrative sympathy. Also very impressively, it is based on a true story (that of serial killer Peter Manuel) but still manages to pull off several audacious twists. Deservedly, The Long Drop has won both the Gordon Burn and McIlvanney prizes (for the best Scottish crime book of the year).”


Sharon Wheeler, senior lecturer in journalism and PR, University of the West of England, is reading Christopher Herwig’s Soviet Bus Stops (Fuel, 2015). “I blithely announced on Facebook that I had bought this book, and was roundly mocked by all-comers. Funny how people then crawled out of the woodwork asking to borrow the book... It represents one man’s obsession, which spans a dozen years and countries, and more than 30,000km, taking Herwig from the Black Sea to the Kazakh Steppe and into obscure corners of the old Soviet states. The breathtaking range of designs put forward by the architects, who presumably couldn’t unleash their creativity on the major projects of the time, will make your wait for the number 71 seem positively mundane.”


Benjamin Poore, teaching fellow, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary University of London, is reading Henry James’ The Ambassadors (Wordsworth Editions, 1993). “I read this for one of the modules I teach on Modernist literature. Like much of James’ later writing, it is dense, oblique and estranging. I found myself staring confoundedly at sentences that I suspect I will never make any sense of. It’s a comic novel, a farce about a man, Lambert Strether, who is in his early fifties, trailing around Paris under orders to sort out a rakish friend who is enjoying the social and sexual delights of the city. A colleague of mine said it is a novel about waiting, and how it is in waiting that most of our lives are spent. This thought assailed me as I stood at the photocopier the other day, wondering, with creeping dizziness, what portion of my life I have expended – and might yet expend – waiting for lecture handouts to finish printing.”

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