What are you reading? – 6 December 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

December 6, 2018

A. W. Purdue, visiting professor in history, Northumbria University, is reading Christopher Howse’s Soho in the Eighties (Bloomsbury, 2018). “This book takes us on a pub crawl largely confined to the Coach and Horses, the French Pub and a few places such as the Colony Room Club, where drink was available after the official 3pm closing time for public houses. Christopher Howse is an authority on religion, but he is as much at home with the bibulous as the numinous, and makes an excellent guide to this corner of Soho and its regular drinkers. Someone who asked about the strange smell in the insalubrious Kismet Club was told it was ‘failure’, but although it was the worst of form to boast of success, one could hardly describe Francis Bacon or Tom Baker as failures. Many of Howse’s companions were intelligent and creative men who liked to drink in the company of each other and anyone who wasn’t a bore. Place, time and atmosphere are skilfully evoked and, for the reader, there is no hangover.”

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager, Solent University, is reading Sarah Winman’s Tin Man (Headline, 2018). “Ellis works in a car factory in Cowley, banging flaws out of the bodywork. His own dents remain unperceived by those around him, but in layers of flashbacks we see his emotional scarring, and how it was formed from great love and great loss. When the narration switches to Michael, Ellis’ best friend, the focus of the story also switches, to an examination of decisions made and the regrets that are inevitable when it is impossible to follow a certain path. The book as a whole contains a fat droplet of time – a rich and beautiful character study that remains compelling despite the lack of a galloping narrative. Like Winman’s previous work, this is insightful, gentle and moving.”

Lincoln Allison, emeritus reader in politics, University of Warwick, is reading Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s The Leopard (Vintage, 2007). “At last, on the boat from Livorno to Palermo, I read the great Sicilian novel. Lampedusa’s Leopard is the story of a Sicilian aristocrat in the Risorgimento written by his descendant a century later. It was initially rejected by publishers and only appeared, after Lampedusa’s death, in 1958. Even in translation the writing is extraordinarily dense, laced with ideas and imagery and wit. Given the turbulent times (mainly 1860-62), relatively little happens, but what does happen seems to matter. The sense of social and political change is remorseless rather than dramatic, and it is accompanied by an almost mystical sense of continuity. I have read very few novels that carry such a sharp sense of time and place as this one. It started a debate in our cabin about the greatest novel of the 20th century.”

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