What are you reading? – 8 November 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

November 8, 2018
Books in a library
Source: iStock

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading Nadine Akkerman’s Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain (Oxford University Press, 2018). “This is by no means the first published investigation of the secret undercover operations of 17th-century spies, spymasters, closet postal systems, crypto-messaging and invisible inks. But it breaks significant new ground in its focus on the special roles of Royalist and Parliamentarian ‘she-intelligencers’ and their hidden world. Most chapters deal with individual women. That on Susan Hyde, sister of the future Earl of Clarendon, and her rough handling by her interrogators makes for startling and sad reading. In another, the decidedly blurred dividing line between fact and fiction in Aphra Behn’s career and reputation as a spy is carefully re-examined. This is a model monograph, meticulously researched and relentlessly questioning, which succeeds admirably in uncovering closely guarded secrets.”

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager at Solent University, is reading Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (HarperCollins, 2017). “Eleanor Oliphant is a creature of habit. The subject of whispers and jokes from her office mates, she spends her days in a carefully wrought routine and her weekends at just the right level of drunkenness to get her through to Monday. All that changes when an elderly man falls in the street and she is compelled by her colleague Raymond, and her own increasing desire for change, to open up her life to others. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Eleanor Oliphant breaks through the bounds of her own making as well as those imposed on her by her past. We are so far inside her perspective that the character is revealed one tiny piece at a time, building up to a satisfying and well-rounded whole.”

Liz Gloyn, senior lecturer in Classics at Royal Holloway, University of London, is reading Naomi Novik’s Temeraire (Harper Voyager, 2007). “Captain William Laurence finds himself unexpectedly deprived of his naval command and instead attached to a newborn dragon in this fast-paced adventure set during the Napoleonic wars. This is the first in a series of eight novels in which the pair travel the globe as part of the British attempt to beat back the resources and ingenuity of Napoleon. On their way, they encounter the many different ways that humans and dragons coexist, leading to difficult questions about the British treatment of the dragons resident in their country, as well as the nation’s relationship to its colonies. The whole series is a delight, cleverly balancing fantasy with carefully observed historical fiction.”

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