What are you reading? – 9 March 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

March 9, 2017
Source: iStock

Uwe Schütte, reader in German, Aston University, is reading Luisa Banki’s Post-Katastrophische Poetik: Zu W. G. Sebald und Walter Benjamin (Fink Wilhelm, 2016). “Some 15 years after his death, research on the writer W. G. Sebald has grown excessive – in terms of both the number of publications and their length. Many monographs surpass 500 pages; some even run to more than 600. Quantity, however, is hardly a guarantee of quality, and often convoluted jargon and gratuitous theoretical divagations obscure what authors might have expressed in half as many pages in plain English. Hence Luisa Banki’s award-winning Post‑Katastrophische Poetik, at just over 200 pages, is a refreshingly concise overview of the major themes of critical debates on Sebald. Although the brevity of her study limits her scope and makes exploring new territory impossible, her work is an ideal starting point for anyone seeking an authoritative introduction to the central debates in mainstream Sebald scholarship.”

Marcus Chown, formerly a radio astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, is reading Fredrik Backman’s Britt-Marie Was Here (translated by Henning Koch, Sceptre, 2016). “My wife said this novel made her cry. I couldn’t see it myself. Until the last sentence when, unaccountably, I seemed to find a bit of grit in my eye. Britt-Marie Was Here is a poignant, heart-warming tale of a woman who has lived her life for others and then doesn’t; who has never been noticed and then is; who has never made a difference and then does. Oh, and football also plays a role. Fredrik Backman, author of the best-selling A Man Called Ove, sails the borderline between profound and mawkish but somehow always stays on the right side. A lovely novel. And it didn’t make me cry.”

Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor, University of Birmingham, is reading Robert Harris’ An Officer and a Spy (Arrow Books, 2014). “Like all Harris’ novels, this is meticulously researched, compellingly wrought and beguilingly paced. You can feel the noise and the stench of fin de siècle Paris, while the noise and stench of the Dreyfus affair builds. A truly fine novel, and now a powerfully timely one. There was a time when many fifth-formers would have known about the Dreyfus case. Now few do; but it speaks powerfully to our ‘post-truth world’ of what happens when prejudice acquires an icy eminence. It also tells us that, when some ordinary people behave with extraordinary integrity, truth really is more powerful than lies. There is hope in that.”

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