What are you reading? – 20 June 2019

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 20, 2019
Open books

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager at Solent University, is reading Tana French’s In the Woods (Penguin, 2008). “One perfect summer’s day in 1984 Dublin, three friends go into the woods near their housing estate. Two vanish; the third, Adam, is found catatonic, his memory of the day for ever blighted. Fast-forward 20 years and Adam is now Rob, a detective investigating a young girl’s murder in the same area, and his fragmented memories may prove either increasingly important or the source of his unravelling. A huge and ambitious book, this is really two stories in one, as past and present entangle in a growing web of connections. The ending speaks to a need to end it somehow, not entirely satisfactorily, and Rob’s flaws become delusions and decisions that don’t always ring true, particularly relating to partner Cassie. A thriller, just not always thrilling.”

Lincoln Allison, emeritus professor of politics at the University of Warwick, is reading A. N. Wilson’s The Elizabethans (Arrow, 2012). “This is not an academic history, although there are important snippets of personal research. Nor is it a popular history, although it does contain descriptive material that would fit well into that genre, including a vivid account of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. Rather, it is a set of related essays: some of these are on people (such as Essex and Philip Sidney), some on events such as the Northern Rebellion and the Armada and some on themes such as sex, ceremonial and the occult. The 29 essays combine into a single claim, which is that the Elizabethans created the structures and values that defined modern England; a subsequent claim is that these have been in sharp decline since the 1950s. I think the claims have merit, but are considerably overblown here. Nevertheless, the book is challenging and good to read.”

Maria Delgado, professor and director of research at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, is reading Paul Preston’s The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain (Harper Press, 2012). “I frequently return to the books by Paul Preston, one of the great historians of 20th-century Spain. The Spanish Holocaust remains one of his most important works. Examining the origins of the Civil War and the violence in both the Rebel and Republican zones, he also maps the ideology underpinning the human rights violations of the Franco regime after 1939. He methodically explores the mechanisms of state terror used to punish the vanquished: torture, appalling prison conditions, executions, unlawful medical experiments, show trials conducted by military officers with no legal training, condemnation to Nazi concentration camps. This is a brilliant book for understanding the fault lines of Spain’s young democracy as well as the ongoing legacy of Francoism in its economic, social and political infrastructures.”

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