What are you reading? – 2 August 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

August 2, 2018
Four people sitting in a row reading books
Source: iStock

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth (translated by Don Bartlett; Hogarth Shakespeare, 2018). “Unlike the other slim, novelistic retellings of Shakespeare’s plays in this series, Nesbo’s is a massive doorstop. Sadly, in this case, more is definitely less. This bloated thriller tells the story of Chief Commissioner Macbeth and his partner in corruption, ‘Lady’. He’s a bent copper and she runs the Inverness Casino. Hecate is the drugs baron ultimately pulling the strings. Duff, Banquo and Malcolm are clean cops swimming against the tide. The setting is a grim, urban, 1970s dystopia full of sound, fury and an almost ubiquitous drug habit. There are some edgy shoot-outs and car chases, but the substitution of the town’s monumental steam locomotive for the play’s moving forest is typical of the occasionally lumpy attempts to appropriate Shakespeare’s electrifying story. Entertaining enough but, for this reader, more foul than fair.”

Fred Inglis, emeritus professor of cultural studies, University of Sheffield, is reading Sally Minogue and Andrew Palmer’s The Remembered Dead: Poetry, Memory and the First World War (Cambridge University Press, 2018). “The First World War poets are among the most studied – in school for sure and in university probably. But Minogue and Palmer’s book provides a novel account of how poetry was utterly recast by dozens of poets, many of them half-forgotten, in the face of the hideous necessities of 1914-18. They also contend that all subsequent poetry, including that of the mighty modernists, was reshaped by the way the soldier poets devised a form and a vocabulary with which to express the hitherto inexpressible. In bringing off this critical triumph our authors, by their plainness and generosity of disposition, do much to restore the language of literary criticism to the common speech and good of society.”

Fran Trendy, vice-chancellor, Uttoxeter University, is reading Gordon Lapping’s Optics for Everyone: Bar-room Equipment in “Coronation Street”, 1957-73 (University of Poppleton Press, 2014). “This book makes clear why Lapping was a star of his university’s recent REF submission. He unpacks hitherto unperceived significances, for example what Annie Walker did with a lemon slicer in 1963, the year that sex was invented by Philip Larkin. He is gripping and compelling on Bet Lynch’s peculiar facility with a swizzle stick. He maintains throughout the stellar level of banality, the turgid style and the absence of any theoretical underpinning that has characterised his work for the past 25 years. His optics serves surprisingly short measure, at 85 pages plus notes and an exiguous index. Those who like this sort of thing will find it is the sort of thing that they like.”

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