What are you reading? – 25 April 2019

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

April 25, 2019
Woman reading a book
Source: iStock

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor and chief executive at the University of Sunderland, is reading Jonathan Coe’s Middle England (Viking, 2018). “This has already been feted as the definitive Brexit novel. It is almost certainly too early to be that, given the continuing twists and turns of this chapter in our nation’s history. The stereotypical Remainers and Leavers in the story are not entirely convincing either. Yet in reintroducing characters from Coe’s earlier novels, the book does evoke a sense of ‘lost’ England and how recent events have discombobulated the lives of those on all sides of the EU argument. Complicated relationships are also dealt with in a sympathetic manner, characteristic of Coe’s ability to capture both youthful passion and middle-age disappointment. So an enjoyable read, if ultimately frustrating and unsatisfying, perhaps like the political events that serve as its backdrop.” 


Carina Buckley, instructional design manager at Solent University, is reading Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path (Michael Joseph, 2018). “What would you do if you lost your home, your land and your livelihood, only to be told days later that your husband was terminally ill? The answer for many people would probably not be to walk the 630 miles of the South West Coast Path, but for Raynor Winn and her husband Moth, it seemed like the obvious and only option. By turns inspirational and horrifying, the walk turned out to be not the making of them, but the restoration. Despite hunger, blisters, sunburn and rain, the close connection with nature becomes increasingly important to Winn, who writes with a detail and a joy that tugs at the reader, lifting this beyond a mere travel memoir and all the privations and hardship to be something truly meaningful.” 


Nigel Rodenhurst, specialist support lecturer at Aberystwyth University, is reading Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics, 1992). “Published in 1915 when Woolf was in her early thirties, this novel has got me thinking again about the often observed flaws of first novels, and how jarring these are when you have already read the writer’s mature, accomplished output. It is packed with reflections on the age, biographical material, intertextual references, characters bouncing ideas off each other and Woolf’s attempts, conscious or otherwise, to align herself with the serious artistic and intellectual movements of the time. It conveys a sense of somebody trying to say everything they have to say because it may be their only chance. The central character is Rachel Vinrace, an inexperienced young lady ready to fall in love, surrounded by worldly and educated Brits on a cruise to South America. I’m aware that she meets a tragic end, but two-thirds of the way in I still haven’t warmed to her.”

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