A weekly look over the shoul­ders of our scholar-re­view­ers

THE (Times Higher Education) - - BOOK OF THE WEEK -

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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