What are you reading? – 19 January 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

January 19, 2017
What are you reading? 19 January 2017
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R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading David Cannadine’s The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond our Differences (Knopf, 2013). “Based on a series of lectures given in Cambridge in 2007, Cannadine here examines six principal themes – religion, nation, class, gender, race and civilisation – and the oversimplified, heavy-handed ‘them’ and ‘us’ adversarial history commonly connected with them. Here misleading, crudely drawn collective identities give way to an appreciation of greater complexities, overlaps, common ground and internal divisions. Protestants and Roman Catholics, and middle and working classes, were never uniformly monolithic. Races were commonly plural, nations were fractured, and women’s suffrage campaigners and feminists were never all of one mind. Written with this author’s characteristic clarity and panache, this is an enjoyable and satisfying book.”

Hazel Christie, lecturer in university learning and teaching, University of Edinburgh, is reading Claire McGowan’s The Lost (Headline, 2013). “If you, like me, are from Northern Ireland, or if you are interested in crime fiction, then you must read the new genre of Ulster noir. Claire McGowan is my favourite. Set in a tight-knit community, close to the border, The Lost follows psychologist Paula Maguire as she tries to understand what lies behind the disappearance of a series of teenage girls. Everyone here has a history that is steeped in the Troubles, and life continues to be dominated by key institutions including the church and the local paper, creating a murky landscape in which Maguire must always be cognisant of the baggage people bring with them. McGowan draws a picture of small-town country life that resonates strongly with my experience. And this sense of place is greatly enhanced by the dialogue. You can hear the intonation of the Northern Irish accent as you read. A rare treat!”

Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor, University of Birmingham, is reading Naomi Alderman’s The Power (Viking, 2016). “This is a subtle and challenging novel. Its central fiction – that, after the Second World War, women mutated to acquire a capacity to subjugate men – leads to a searing exploration of how we live now. The premise, that much of what we now defend or accept is culturally determined, will be comfortable for most readers. The inversion of gendered assumptions, however, casts in stark relief forms of discrimination in which we too often acquiesce. More challenging is a parallel assumption that what we often assume to be essential to gender is, in fact, contingent. Power constructs as it corrupts. One moment of redemption aside, this is the most lingering message. A fine book, though the denouement is as cursory as it is cataclysmic.”

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