During the summer the members read “Hare with Amber Eyes” by Edmund de Waal. The author, a member of the Jewish Ephrussi family, inherited 264 Japanese netsuke which are wood and ivory carvings of animals, plants and people, none larger that the palm of one’s hand, from his great uncle. Fascinated by them he sets out to discover their origin. In so doing he takes his readers into life before the First World War in Paris and Vienna where the netsuke are sent as a wedding present to a cousin. The netsuke survived anti-Semitic Austria ruled by the Nazis even though much greater riches were being plundered. The search takes the author to Japan in 1991 and it is there that de Waal first sees his inheritance which includes a hare with eyes of amber. De Waal researched his story with obsessive diligence and tells it with imaginative commitment.
A modern novel was the subject of our latest discussions in October. Amor Towles, “Rules of Civility” is a witty tale of New York in the late 1930s. Implausibly named Katey Kontent recounts the story of one year of her life in NY from New Year’s Eve 1937 when, together with her best friend Eve, she meets the enigmatic Tinker Grey who lives his life, supposedly, according to George Washington’s Rules of Civility; except he does not appear to have read the final rule: Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience. Eve is injured in a crash in a car driven by Tinker and their lives progress as a consequence. Meanwhile, Katey's life canters forward through parties and unlikely introductions until she lands a job at a hot new magazine, Gotham. But the memory of Tinker is always in the background and Katey is constantly steeling herself for the next nugget she'll hear on the grapevine about him and Eve. As the shock denouement nears, what she doesn't know is that someone else entirely is pulling all of their strings. The group regarded the novel as a ‘good read’ with similar opinions on the characters and plot but diverse ideas on the style of the novel.
We are planning for Christmas. We had such a good time with the members of Chapter and Verse last year and are looking forward to repeating the experience on 6th December.
Chapter & Verse
Our September book 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' by Muriel Barbery provoked much discussion. It is a narrative by two people who live in the same Parisian apartment building . Renee is the 54 year old concierge, looking after the needs of wealthy residents, who generally ignore and belittle her, however she accepts this patronised image in order to hide her true intellect and passion for literature and the arts. Paloma is the highly intelligent 12 year old daughter of one such set of high society parents in the building, who being totally unable to connect with her family and other adults, is convinced of the futility of life and resolves to kill herself on her 13th birthday. Their stories are told in alternate chapters and whilst we, the readers, can see that they have so much in common, it takes a new resident, a Japanese gentleman with very different values, to succeed in breaking down the barriers of loneliness and misunderstanding. The other residents are also explored and the book is full of intense snapshots of humour and emotion played out within the constraints of class structure and attitude, finally breaking through to seek the beauty in life. Perseverance is initially required as the story takes a while to unfold but we all felt we were amply rewarded.
We have yet to discuss 'The History of Love' by Nicole Krauss however future dates and books are:-
Thurs 6 December
Christmas gathering for both book clubs
Weds 9 January
‘Chocolate Cake with Hitler' Emma Craigie
Mon 18 February
'Clochemerle' Gabriel Chevalier
Any enquiries about Chapter & Verse phone Maggie Gawthorpe 812621
Two diaries have been the subject of discussions for Second Chapter during the summer. They could not have been more different.
River Diary by Ronald Blythe took us into the idyllic countryside of Suffolk for a look at the natural world through the seasons. Blythe’s effortless prose, poetic and pastoral, winds this way and that touching first-hand experience whilst compressing past and present so that events from years ago seem as real as those of yesterday. A gentle yet thought-provoking read.
In contrast, To War with Whitaker by Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly was written during the Second World War and tells us of events in the Middle East whilst she was secretary to the Chief of Staff, General Jumbo Wilson. The book opens in September 1939 when Lord and Lady Ranfurly’s holiday in Scotland was brought to a premature end with the outbreak of war. Dan Ranfurly, with his faithful valet Whitaker, was sent to North Africa. When her husband was taken prisoner, Hermione bluffed her way to the Middle East and stayed there, against all the rules, until her husband escaped. Meanwhile she gains a foothold in officialdom and rises from one confidential position to the next, with her only ally, the indomitable Whitaker. Countess Ranfurly’s dairies of the time gave us a witty, charming and compelling insight into the problems of a young woman during the war.
Also concerned with war in the Middle East was our next book, Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad, a series of emails exchanged between May Witwit, an academic in Iraq and Bea Rowlatt, an English woman working for the BBC. The book charts the privations and sheer terror of life for May compared with seemingly mundane family life in London. Among others, our discussions ranged from the position of women in Iraq, life there before the fall of Saddam Hussein and after the ‘invasion’ of the Americans and the developing friendship of the two women.
Both Book Clubs were active during the Jubilee celebrations in the village. Members from both joined to staff a book-stall at the village fete. Books poured in and we were able to raise £150 which we gave to the restoration fund for the church.
Enquiries about Second Chapter: phone Margaret Clarke on 813709
Chapter & Verse
The two books chosen for June and six weeks later in July were positively chalk and cheese.
The first - Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White was long and typically Victorian but actually cracked along at a fine pace gradually unfolding a complicated web of deceit and subterfuge that gripped the reader and kept you guessing to the end. Our discussion covered the numerous very different but recognisable characters and their relationships, but the enigmatic Count was less easy to 'pigeon hole' and remained a mystery even to the end. This book, like many of Dickens’ novels was first written in instalments and we could just imagine the discussion it would have provoked among readers 150 years ago - desperate for the week to pass to discover what happens next.
Our second book - The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker was quite short, and written in the 1980s by an American. It describes the author's lunch hour - where he goes, whom he meets and what are his experiences along the way. His experiences are in fact extremely mundane, but the very 'ordinariness' is the fascination, and his musings about why shoelaces break or the beauty of escalators or the nature of wash room etiquette are very clever, sometimes very funny and extremely well written. This is a masterpiece in putting everyday life under the microscope in a quirky and unusual way, it was not to everyone's liking and probably falls into the 'either love it or hate it' category. It provoked some lively discussion and certainly provided a contrast to the Victorian novel!
Future books are:-
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery, Monday 10 September
The History of Love, Nicole Krauss, Thursday 25 October
For any enquiries or comments phone Maggie Gawthorpe 812621
Chapter & Verse
In March we discussed 'Agent Zigzag' by Ben Macintyre. This tells the story of Eddie Chapman, a seemingly insignificant small time crook who is catapulted into the war effort in 1942 to become one of our most important double agents. With an easy style Macintyre tells the highly convoluted story of this apparently confident, likeable and attractive man moving between Germany, England, Portugal and Norway, successfully conveying the anxiety of his British spymasters and the incredible attention to detail to maintain the subterfuge. Perhaps wars tend to throw up truth that is stranger than fiction, and this was a fascinating read.
Future books are:-
'Burmese Days' George Orwell
Wednesday 25 April
'The Woman in White' Wilkie Collins
Thursday 14 June
Any enquiries or comments please ring Maggie - 812621
George Eliot’s Middlemarch was the book of choice for Second Chapter in March. A timeless classic, it proved a formidable read. For some members the novel, which offers the reader a study of provincial life during the 1830s, was already a firm favourite yet for others the very length of the text proved daunting. Middlemarch is unusual in that it is primarily a Victorian novel yet it has many characteristics typical in modern novels. Even so, Middlemarch refuses to behave like a typical novel in that it is a collection of relationships between several major players in the drama, but no single one person occupies the centre of the action. There are several fascinating characters portraying provincial life all of whom gave rise to discussion within the group. We showed a preference for Dorothea Brooke, smart, pious, beautiful whose governing principal is her desire to help the needy. Her disastrous marriage to Mr Casaubon irritated most of us but we were pleased when she eventually marries the artist, Ladislaw. We learned more about George Eliot’s view of marriage through the characters of Dr Lydgate and Rosamond, a marriage which earns our disapproval. Eliot’s book is fairly experimental for its time in form and content, particularly because she was a woman writer. Her ambition was to create a portrait of the complexity of ordinary human life: quiet character failings, small triumphs and quiet moments of dignity.
Our next choice is so different in every way from Middlemarch. We are preparing to talk about River Diary by Ronald Blythe in late April and look forward to sharing our thoughts on this work of prose focussing on the natural world. For our June meeting the choice is: To War with Whittaker, the Wartime diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly.
Enquiries about Second Chapter: phone Margaret Clarke on 813709
Mary Baxter: Author
Readers may remember that Mary Baxter has contributed memoirs of her youth in Rolleston in previous issues. She is now becoming a serious and published author. Her first book "The Past Recaptured" is the story of her leaving Rolleston and becoming a nurse in the 1950's. Her second, a book of poetry, "Water under the Bridge", contains poems about Rolleston. She has also produced a children's book "Prickly Tales" about a year in the life of a hedgehog. Mary is now working on her life in the 30'and 40's. This will contain a lot on Rolleston and Tutbury school.
Chapter & Verse
For our Christmas event in December the group joined our sister reading group for a thoroughly enjoyable evening of literary quizzes and games, finishing with a short play acted out by several brave book club members with much gusto and humour.
In January the group discussed '’The Thirteenth Tale' by Diane Setterfield. This was an intriguing tale of mystery, ghosts, love of books and siblings which drifted between two intertwined stories whose atmospheric setting was reminiscent of Dickens or Charlotte Bronte. Told from a first person (Margaret Lea)’s point of view, the themes of loss and identity kept the group guessing as to how the complicated tales might end which kept their dark secrets until the very end. Our group spent some time debating the issues raised by the separation and treatment of the twins within the story and the effects this had on them for the rest of their lives and overall voted this an entertaining and intriguing, if at times complicated, gothic style novel.
Future meetings are -
Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre 6 March
If you have any thoughts, suggestions or wish to ask about joining please contact Maggie (812621)
“Five People You Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom was the novel under discussion in November. It proved a thought provoking work of fiction which tells the story of Eddie, a fairground maintenance man whose story begins on his 83rd birthday which happens to be his last day on earth. To help him put his lifetime into perspective he is met in heaven by 5 people from his past, some he knows - some he doesn't, but they all hold information that will help Eddie make sense of his life and understand what led him to arrive in heaven on the day he did. The message seemed to be that whether we are aware of it or not, everything happens for a reason but more importantly, even trivial things can shape a person’s life.
December gave the reading groups relief from analysis and discussion. Instead we were to be found partying at Apple Acres. Festive food was plentiful and wine abundant. We enjoyed literary quizzes and a sterling performance of a gritty northern play of the ‘trouble at ‘mill’ genre. Best of all was good company as both groups came together to celebrate.
We began the New Year by reading “Room” by Emma Donoghue. A Man Booker Prize nominee, it received mixed reviews as the story line evokes the horrific crimes of Josef Fritzl who kept captive his daughter repeatedly raping her and fathering her seven children three of whom never saw the world until finally released when Fritzl was arrested. Despite this, Emma Donoghue produced a tender life-affirming story of maternal love and innocence. Members of the group were involved in lively debate revealing their doubts about reading a novel narrated by a five-year-old but once into the narrative finding a sensitively-told story.
We look forward to Middlemarch in March; when else?
Many thanks are offered to Heather Taylor for taking on 2nd Chapter when it became the ‘breakaway group’ a year ago. She is now standing down, the group being taken on by Margaret Clarke. (813709)
Last updated: 27 December 2012