What are you reading? – 15 November 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

November 15, 2018
Pile of books
Source: iStock

A. W. Purdue, visiting professor in history at Northumbria University, is reading Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger (Virago, 2018). “This is a tale, set immediately after the Second World War, about a haunted house, or, rather, a house that haunts its inhabitants. A GP finds his life increasingly entangled with those of the remnants of a gentry family, a middle-aged woman and her adult son and daughter, living in the ever more dilapidated manor house, where, significantly, his mother once worked as a servant. Strange things happen, objects move, voices are heard – and tragedies follow. Some of the events could have been caused by spirits or by poltergeist activity emanating from the despair and neuroses of the family, but what role did the doctor play? At the end, we find him with a new National Health practice, spending much of his time prowling around the deserted ruin. Was he responsible for the malicious spirits and the demise of the family?”

Richard Joyner, emeritus professor of chemistry at Nottingham Trent University, is listening to the audiobook of Anna Burns’ Milkman (read by Brid Brennan, Faber and Faber, 2018). “I don’t now read much fiction, but having Northern Irish roots I was drawn to Anna Burns’ Booker prizewinning Milkman (although put off by some of the reviews). Following a recommendation, I bought my first audiobook and have become a fan of both the format and the author. I left Belfast in 1966, when the province had enjoyed 10 years of comparative peace and prosperity, before the outbreak of the next and worst phase of The Troubles. Yet I recognise Burns’ description of the heavily circumscribed lives that her characters lead as wholly, depressingly authentic. Nobody is given a name, which seems appropriate to a time when so many people, Unionist and Nationalist, had their freedom of thought and action constrained by family, neighbours, politicians and religious leaders.”

Richard Howells, professor of cultural sociology at King’s College London, is reading Shaun Greenhalgh’s A Forger’s Tale: Confessions of the Bolton Forger (Allen & Unwin, 2017). “I’m fascinated by art forgery, so the autobiography of a self-taught man in a shed who claims to have fooled the fine art establishment just had to be read. Shaun Greenhalgh’s claim to have faked La Bella Principessa (attributed by others to Leonardo da Vinci) is a high point in the narrative, while his tale that it was in reality the face of someone who worked in the local Co-op only adds to the fun. He was clearly a very capable forger in a variety of media, and he made a comfortable living from it until he was sentenced to four years (and eight months) in prison for his trouble. One has to ask, then: could his autobiography be one of Greenhalgh’s finest creations?”

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