What are you reading? – 17 November 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

November 17, 2016
Row of books stacked side-by-side
Source: iStock

Helen Fulton, professor of medieval literature, University of Bristol, is reading Jan Shaw’s Space, Gender, and Memory in Middle English Romance: Architectures of Wonder in Melusine (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). “Based on a French original, the medieval English romance of Melusine is a Game of Thrones-style fantasy featuring a powerful fairy woman with a strange secret – every Saturday she turns into a monster, half-human and half-serpent. Even more startlingly, Melusine manages to achieve a long and loving marriage to her faithful husband, Raimondin, to raise two sons and to build castles and cities. Shaw’s feminist reading of the romance has a contemporary resonance. She argues that, far from endorsing the usual negative cultural assumptions about female difference (expressed as forms of monstrosity), the romance undermines them by foregrounding the lived experience of a woman who succeeds in combining career and family. All Melusine required was a room of her own.”

Matthew Feldman, professor in the modern history of ideas, Teesside University, is reading The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1966-1989 (Cambridge University Press, 2016, edited by George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck): “At 77, Beckett bemoaned ‘inertia & void as never before’.” Given his art, that’s some void! This final instalment, edited with the superlative scholarship shading all four volumes, nonetheless shows a dimming of that wan light for which Beckett was so admired. Over these 23 years, letters grow shorter and more formal – and less artistically insightful – as health problems grow more intractable. Much starts stopping: theatre direction, extra-European holidays, unassisted living. Through it all there is the courageous resistance to ending that made his name, even if he repeatedly laments not going to work for Guinness in Dublin! His global admirers will disagree, and cherish this book.”

Liz Gloyn, lecturer in Classics, Royal Holloway, University of London, is reading Agatha Christie’s The Labours of Hercules (Harper Collins, 2008). “Billed as Poirot’s final batch of cases, Christie gives her famous creation the bright idea that, to finish off his career in a way worthy of his namesake, he will solve his own equivalent of the twelve labours of Hercules. Although the first case begins with a decidedly unpromising Pekinese in place of the fearsome Nemean lion, by the last page Poirot has rattled through many-headed gossip, a mysterious maiden, a disfigured corpse, a substitute wife for the prime minister, hereditary insanity, drug dealing, art smuggling and theft, a dodgy cult based in Devonshire, and the rise and fall of a particularly racy London nightclub. These short stories are the perfect length to read during a commute to campus.”

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