What are you reading? – 15 June 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 15, 2017
Woman reading on park bench

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Tracy Chevalier’s New Boy (Hogarth Shakespeare, 2017). “This is the latest prose spin-off/adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays by major novelists, published to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death last year. Chevalier sets the story of Othello in the playground of a 1970s high school in Washington DC. Osei is the single black child whose race attracts Dee and incites the bigoted teacher, Mr Brabant. The school’s calculatedly malevolent Ian is a mixture of public civility and private rage, the achievement being that, as in Shakespeare’s play, his real motivation might be sexual jealousy, racial prejudice, Schadenfreude or a malign combination of all three. The strawberry-spotted handkerchief is ingeniously reworked as a strawberry-encrusted pencil case, although the novel is more than just an intertextual jigsaw: a free-standing and compelling tragic thriller in its own right.”

Kalwant Bhopal, professorial research fellow and professor of education and social justice, University of Birmingham, is reading Philip Roth’s The Ghost Writer (Vintage, 1979). “‘It was the last daylight hour of a December afternoon and more than twenty years ago – I was twenty three, writing and publishing my first short stories, and like many a Bildungsroman hero before me, already contemplating my own massive Bildungsroman – when I arrived at his hideaway to meet the great man.’ The opening lines of The Ghost Writer had me gripped, and it didn’t take me long to realise that I was in the hands of a genius. In this remarkable book, Roth takes you on the journey of a talented young writer – Nathan Zuckerman – who makes his pilgrimage to meet his hero, but all is not what it seems and his life is not as perfect as Nathan imagined. The denouement is unexpected and Roth’s ability to entrance you with his narrative prose is superb.”

Stephen Halliday, senior member, Pembroke College, Cambridge, is reading Richard Ingrams’ Ludo and the Power of the Book: Ludovic Kennedy’s Campaigns for Justice (Constable, 2017). “This account of miscarriages of justice, in four cases of varying notoriety, echoes with memories of the Dreyfus case. As more evidence was produced to demonstrate that injustice had occurred, the authorities closed ranks ever more resolutely, placing the reputation of the justice system ahead of justice itself. Judges, initially reluctant to admit that police fabricated evidence or made mistakes, were even more ingenious in protecting the interests of the judiciary, in Britain as in France. Ludovic Kennedy, by a mixture of determination, social contacts and luck, eventually secured some redress for his subjects, although two had already been executed and two others had died of natural causes. Ingrams’ book is an indictment of the legal establishment as it was and a powerful justification for investigative writing.”

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