What are you reading? – 23 May 2019

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 23, 2019
Open books

Nigel Rodenhurst, specialist support lecturer at Aberystwyth University, is reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills (Faber, 1982). “A stunning first novel and, in light of Ishiguro’s many successes, I suspect unjustly overlooked. It is dark, stilted and perfectly captures the underlying numbness of grief and shock. The story revolves around Keiko, a middle-aged Japanese woman traumatised by her daughter’s suicide in England. This inevitably leads to her recalling her traumatic past in Japan and, as important, the story of another woman who planned to take her own daughter to America for a ‘better life’. The negativity of the novel is perfectly summed up when Keiko describes such a dream as ‘rather idealistic’. Besides historical truths and explorations of mixed racial and cultural identities, the presence of male characters in this novel only as peripheral figures is an example to many of Ishiguro’s prizewinning contemporaries who make no effort to replace derivative, male-perspective narratives with more imaginative fiction.”

Lincoln Allison, emeritus professor of politics at the University of Warwick, is reading Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Vintage, 2004). “So, at last, on a library exit-grab, I read the book everybody was reading in 2004. Curious is about a boy with autism who understands mathematical and scientific theories much better than anything else and prefers other creatures to Homo sapiens. His parents are neither well off nor particularly capable and his condition has obviously played a part in their estrangement. Wikipedia lists the book as a ‘mystery’, but this is entirely misleading, not least because the perpetrator of the dog ‘murder’ is discovered relatively quickly. It is a philosophic essay in the form of a novel, about the relationship between logical truth and what we might call ‘normal’ or, perhaps, ‘social’ truth. And it works well at both levels, because I did care what happened to Christopher but also found the philosophy reasonably challenging.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading D.C. Coleman’s History and the Economic Past: An Account of the Rise and Decline of Economic History in Britain (Clarendon Press, 1987). “Though this is a short book, its coverage extends back to Adam Smith and others in the Enlightenment and takes in the increasing surge of books on the subject in the 19th century directly inspired by the Industrial Revolution. The book’s subtitle emphasises how the topic, like others, has been subject to the vagaries of changing academic fashions. The heady days of expansion, measured by university specialists in the field, publication output and student enrolment, were in the economically conducive 1970s. Since then, it has been a very different story, with nervous defensiveness about contraction often taking the place of earlier strident optimism. Coleman (1920-95) was a Cambridge professor – some might question the frequency with which he directs the spotlight on his own university.”

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