Close Reading – Open Book Series, BBC Radio 4


My Close Reading series for BBC Radio 4’s literature programme Open Book began in November 2014. In an age when speed is everything and time seems to dwindle to nothing, the idea of the series is to go slow, to read texts with an acute sensitivity to detail, with an ear and an eye for how they are doing what they are doing. Close reading gets at the heart of what the writer has done with words and can spin the reader out from the tiniest of details to the largest of themes. It’s the way I was taught to read and it’s the way of engaging with texts that I find most intimate, exciting and rewarding. I hope listeners will think so too.

Series Two (2016)

Episode 6, 18th December 2016: In the final episode of Series 1 I uncover the poetic brilliance beneath Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ostensibly simple prose in Americanah.

Episode 5, 16th October 2016: In episode 5 I explore just how Henry James’ style in his gothic masterpiece The Turn of the Screw drives the reader as mad as his governess may – or may not – be.

Episode 4, 23rd June 2016: Toni Morrison’s Beloved has always haunted me – in this episode I take a look at what the novel itself has to say about the phenomenal power of ‘just words’.

Episode 3, 24th April 2016: Episode three takes on the twists and turns of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, looking at how the deferral of revelation in the plot is mirrored at the level of style.


Episode 2, 13th March 2016: Episode two is a serious piece on the way in which point of view in the narration of a rape reveals the complicity and denial at work across the novels different storylines, personal and political, in  J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.

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Episode 1, 17th January 2016:  The first episode of Series Two kicks off on a high note for the new year with a riotous romp through a passage from Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm. Can you really close read comedy without taking all the fun out of it? I think so!


Series One (2014-15)

All the episodes from Series One can be found on my BBC Radio 4 Open Book Close Reads page, or find them in the context of their original broadcast via the links below.

Episode 6, 10th August 2015: The final instalment of the first series was broadcast in a special episode of Open Book devoted to the question of why we read. The episode takes a look at the smallest of words – pronouns – and their significance in Pat Barker’s seminal WWI novel Regeneration. 


Episode 5, 28th May, 2015: Episode number 5 of ‘Close Reading’ tackles that brilliant moment at the opening of Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love when everything goes horribly horribly wrong…


Episode 4, 29th March 2015: The fourth instalment in my Close Reading series for BBC Radio 4’s Open Book delights in the masterful irony of Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Garden Party’.


Episode 3, 15th February 2015: In the third episode of my Close Reading series I get to the heart of the marvellous manipulations of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.


Episode 2, 28th December 2014: The second instalment in my ‘Close Reading’ series for BBC Radio 4’s Open Book tackles the infamously difficult opening paragraph of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The full text of my close reading can be found on the BBC Arts website.


Episode 1, 23rd November 2014: The series begins with an intimate look at a passage from Elizabeth Bowen’s A World of Love. The full text of my close reading can be found on the BBC Arts website.