What are you reading? – 1 November 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

November 1, 2018
Book and laptop in library
Source: iStock

Kalwant Bhopal, professorial research fellow and professor of education and social justice, University of Birmingham, is reading Derren Brown’s Confessions of a Conjuror (Channel 4 Books, 2010). “This book is structured around a single card trick performed by Brown in a restaurant during his early days as a magician, before he took to the screen to captivate us with his hypnotic shows. Weaved in between his card trick, Brown takes you on a journey through his mind, discussing his sometimes obsessive behaviour and the best way to poach an egg as well as the importance of one simple trait that would make the world a better place, ‘Kindness. If you prefer compassion. Even benevolence’. This is no ordinary autobiography, but the perfect form of escapism – refreshing, intelligent and witty. Brown’s engaging, articulate narrative style is charming and delightful, definitely a joy to read.”


Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Muriel Spark’s The Ballad of Peckham Rye (Macmillan, 1960). “Into the most banal setting steps Dougal Douglas, a consultant hired by Mr Druce, MD of Meadows, Meade and Grindley, ‘to bring vision into the lives of the workers. Wonderful people. But they need vision, we feel.’ Douglas agrees to do ‘research into the real Peckham [in order] to discover the spiritual well-spring, the glorious history of the place’. Along the way Douglas moonlights at a rival firm (under the name of Douglas Dougal), incites employee absenteeism and presides over mayhem, which includes, gossip, blackmail, serious wounding and, finally, murder. This dark, quirky satire on the naivety and insularity of lower-middle-class, post-war suburbia has echoes of Graham Greene and Harold Pinter and anticipates the blending of the everyday and the hideous that characterises the best of Dennis Potter.”

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor and chief executive, University of Sunderland, is reading Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair (Picador, 2018). “Hollinghurst is often described as Britain’s best writer of gay fiction. Yet this fails to capture his wider appeal and the quality and emotional range of his fiction. This is well illustrated in his most recent novel, The Sparsholt Affair. In a sense, this is an old-fashioned multigenerational story. David Sparsholt is a talented student who arrives in Oxford in 1940. His time there overlaps with that of Evert Dax, a sophisticated, cultured but lonely young man. A brief liaison has unforeseen consequences in the decades to come as their lives, and those of others from the beginning of the war years, overlap and interact. Beautifully written, yet with an economy of style, Hollinghurst confirms his status as one of his generation’s most talented authors.”

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