Books and Europe: Brexit and much more

December 19 2018

While the Brexit storm raged around Westminster, all was calm at Redland Library, where the Desert Island Books’ panel discussed ‘Books & Europe’.

 After all, as Professor Michelle Cini pointed out: “There is a great deal more happening in Europe than Brexit.”

Michelle Cini is Head of School of Sociology, Politics & International Studies, University of Bristol and she was joined on the panel by Professor Susan Harrow, Ashley Watkins Chair of French, School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol and Molly Scott Cato MEP for the South West of England and Gibraltar.

The event was the latest in the Desert Island Books series organised by Friends of Redland Library, who asked the panel to recommend a book on a Europe-related theme as well as a ‘wild card’ – a favourite book in any genre – which they would want with them on the desert island.

Illustrating her point about the wider European context, Michelle chose The European Union in Crisis eds. D. Dinan, N. Nugent and W. E. Paterson. Focussing on different aspects of the EU, the book analyses issues such as migration, the Eurozone and ongoing integration as well as problems with membership. As Michelle said, although crises present challenges and threats, they can also be, “turning points that allow new ideas to flourish.”

Susan’s desert island recommendation, Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq, seems to fizz with ideas.  A social satire set in Paris, the novel is a critique of the beauty myth and gender representations.  While it tackles commercial and sexual exploitation in a way that foreshadows the #MeToo movement and its French equivalent, #BalanceTonPorc, the book – as Susan explained - is also about “what it means to be human.”

Molly also chose to take fiction to the desert island and her pick was The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain. Set in Switzerland against the background of the Second World War, this is a story of friendship and loss that develops themes of neutrality and self-mastery.

For her ‘wild card’, Molly chose Middlemarch by George Eliot, who she explained, also explores the question of how to live a good and moral life. Middlemarch, she thought, would be perfect for a desert island because it contains many different stories and - if she were to use her time on the island to write her own novel - who better to be her guide than George Eliot?

Michelle thought she might also try novel writing on the desert island, but her mentor would be Kate Summerscale, whose book The Wicked Boy, was her ‘wild card’. A true story of Victorian murder and morality, the book is a meticulous examination of a criminal case with interesting parallels today.

The evening concluded on an upbeat note with Susan’s ‘wild card’, Scapegoat by Daniel Pennac. Set in a Parisian department store, this part-crime, part-comic novel debunks the concerns of consumerism and celebrates resilience with, Susan said, “surreal humour.”