What are you reading? – 21 April 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

April 21, 2016
Books open on table

Sir David Robert Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading C. J. Sansom’s Dark Fire (Pan, 2015). “Writing good historical fiction requires sensitivity to time and place as well as the ability to write a believable and interesting story. C. J. Sansom has perfected the genre in his novels about Matthew Shardlake, a Tudor lawyer and detective. In Dark Fire, Shardlake is on the trail of a – to use a modern phrase – weapon of mass destruction. Court politics, and Thomas Cromwell in particular, always intrude.”

Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor, University of Birmingham, is reading Ian Kershaw’s The End: Hitler’s Germany 1944-45 (Penguin, 2011). “There are too many bad books on Nazi Germany. Their derivative predictability goes hand in hand with a moral banality. Then there is Ian Kershaw. Here, scholarship combines with a profound capacity for judgement. He answers a question that matters: why did Nazi Germany survive so long? The evidenced complexity of his analysis is as compelling as it is bleak. Read this book slowly and, as you are appalled, remind yourself that history is made by many, even when some bear the greatest responsibility.”

Liz Gloyn, lecturer in Classics, Royal Holloway, University of London, is reading Michelle Lovric’s The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters (Bloomsbury, 2015). “A wry, gothic novel telling the tale of the seven Swiney sisters, who escape from poverty by virtue of a music hall routine based around their fantastic hair. The story is narrated by Manticory, the red-headed sibling; it moves from rural Ireland to Dublin to Venice, and follows the wildly fluctuating fortunes of the sisters, overseen by the fearsome Darcy.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading Roy Strong’s Visions of England (Bodley Head, 2011). “A passionately patriotic author offers a revealing kaleidoscope of the perceived components of English national identity. Shakespeare, the Authorised Version of the Bible, Constable’s paintings, Hardy’s novels and Elgar’s music are all here, as are the National Trust, the National Portrait Gallery, the Oxford English Dictionary and cricket. But cherished national myths and idealisations of the countryside loom even larger.”

Sharon Wheeler, visiting lecturer in media studies, Birmingham City University, is reading Tom Callaghan’s A Killing Winter (Quercus, 2015). “Nordic noir is soooooo passé these days. If you have an exceptionally strong stomach, then try Kyrgyzstan crime fiction. There’s snow and angst aplenty amid the poverty and corruption of the post-Soviet country. I could do without some of the lurid descriptions of butchered women, but Callaghan offers a new setting in a crowded field.”

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