What are you reading? – 16 February 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

February 16, 2017
Illustration of a city scene made of books
Source: iStock

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager, Southampton Solent University, is reading Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed (Hogarth, 2016). “Betrayed by his friend and with only his beloved daughter to share his self-imposed exile, former theatre director Felix Phillips bides his time, waiting for revenge on those who wronged him. His opportunity comes 12 years later, in the form of the local prison’s theatre group and a chance to finally stage his version of The Tempest. Neatly echoing Shakespeare’s play while remaining true to her own concerns, Atwood brings forth a cast of characters that comfortably inhabit their own world but often burst out of the page in song and rhyme. It is a playful piece of writing, tempered by grief and revenge and the bitterness that can consume, but ultimately this is a book full of the joys of redemption and hope. Wonderful.”

Richard Larschan, English professor emeritus, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, is reading Alex Beam’s The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship (Pantheon Books, 2016). “Anyone who loves watching ego-driven literary luminaries slug it out in public – and who doesn’t? – will enjoy Alex Beam’s mischievous tale about ‘the End of [the] Beautiful Friendship’ between Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson, The Feud. Although it was ostensibly fought over Nabokov’s 1,895-page translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, Beam’s lively account probes the political and psychological underpinnings of lit-crit as blood sport. Among other sources, the Wilson/Nabokov imbroglio traces back to the significant change in power dynamic resulting from Lolita’s international acclaim. No longer Wilson’s protégé, Nabokov could openly ridicule his former mentor’s enthusiasm for Soviet rule and ignorance of Russian prosody. Beam’s own impressive linguistic credentials as former Moscow bureau chief for Business Week lend authority to his bemused discussion of arcane issues related to translating Onegin.”

Sharon Wheeler, visiting lecturer in media and communications, Coventry University, is reading Mark Lawson’s The Allegations (Picador, 2016). “The Allegations is straight from the newspaper headlines and all too believable, despite Lawson serving up a generous dose of pastiche when it comes to university life (as the youth of today say, your mileage may vary as to how much the cynics among us reckon it is pastiche). Lawson’s main problem, though, is that his two main characters – one accused of sexual abuse and the other of bullying – really aren’t at all likeable, and you may be of the view that they deserve all they get. And pedant alert – teaching unions don’t have Fathers of Chapel. That’s the National Union of Journalists.”

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