Rolleston's Book Clubs News 2015

Winter 2015 News

Chapter & Verse

Our summer read was 'H is for Hawk' by Helen Macdonald which won the Samuel Johnson Prize for non- fiction in 2014. It tells the story of the author's obsession with falconry and describes how she deals with her grief following her father's death by buying and training a goshawk. The book is unusual in that it was written by a woman and relates to falconry, a world largely dominated by men. The descriptions of nature and the relationship between humankind and the environment are well observed and very beautifully written. However it was felt by some that the links between her training of the hawk, her bereavement and the many references made to T H White's classic book 'The Goshawk' didn't quite work for them. We had mixed responses which echoed the description in one review that it was a sort of 'Marmite' book, you either love it or you hate it!

'Solar' by Ian McEwen was definitely fiction, a dark satirical novel focussing on the problems of climate change. It was presented as a farce about the life of a short, fat, greedy, selfish scientist called Michael Beard, not only a serial philanderer but a Nobel prize-winner. He married five times, each of his wives was young, beautiful and a good cook - just like his mother.

Beard returns from a trip to the Arctic to find a young colleague wearing his dressing gown, sitting in his house. As fate would have it, he falls, bangs his head and dies and Beard instead of doing the right thing turns the accident into a murder scene implicating his wife's ex-lover. In one fell swoop he gets rid of his wife, punishes her lover and claims the young dead colleague's research as his own. Of course life catches up with Beard and with further complications on the horizon we are left hanging at the end.

Beard is a very recognisable McEwen type but not so likeable as some others. The topic around which the book revolves is extremely well researched and written about fluently and with great understanding. The humorous approach is unusual. The novel generated some good discussion on Beard's obnoxious character, the farcical situations he found himself in and on climate change and renewable energy sources.

Our future books are:-

Monday 16 November
Travels with Charley John Steinbeck

Monday 11 January
A Month in the Country J L Carr

In July, some members from both book clubs visited Wentworth Woodhouse near Sheffield to see for ourselves the grand house that was featured in the book 'Black Diamonds'. This was a fascinating trip and well worth the effort.

Finally - thank you to all those who supported our joint second-hand book stall at the Gala in August.

For further information or to join phone 812621

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We began our summer reading with Paula Hawkins’ ‘The Girl on the Train.’ The girl on the train is Rachel who we first encounter on the commute home from London, just another tired worker on her way back to the suburbs – except she has four cans of pre-mixed gin and tonic in her bag, and that’s only for starters. Slowly the writer reveals her as a serious alcoholic whose memory is considerable impaired about the night a young woman goes missing near her old home – blood, a blue dress and a man with red hair keep jumbling in her mind. The writer skilfully splits the narrative between three women whose lives are tragically interlinked. This style was not to everyone’s liking but telling the story in different times of the day and of the year helped link the characters within the narrative and kept us on track as the suspense built. As a debut psychological thriller, we thought the book was an interesting whilst disquieting read.

Our next choice was ‘Us’ by David Nicholls. The novel opens with the character, Douglas, being told by his wife, Connie, that their marriage is over. This is bad news for Douglas as he has planned an expensive grand tour of Europe as a final family holiday before their son, Albie, goes to college. Connie agrees that the holiday should go ahead and the divorce decision should be deferred until their return. Douglas sees his chance to work on changing Connie’s mind. The organisation of the narrative is impeccable, the structure consisting of 180 chapters with teasing lower case titles such as ‘the glitter wars’ and ‘pompidou paris accordion cat amazing’, which are then explained in the following section. The narrative neatly weaves present and past with a perfect rhythmic sense of when to leave or to revisit a particular strand. We all agreed that the most irritating character was Albie, the teenage son who bore the worst characteristics of those difficult years. Nicholls captures well Douglas’ pain when faced with nothing but disdain, disrespect and derision from the son he loves so much but the novel explores the regret he feels as he acknowledges the mistakes he made as a father. We considered the novel was a very honest and realistic portrayal of a marriage in trouble and of a history of a relationship and the trials of parenthood.

Our next book is My Sister’s Keeper by Jodie Picoult.

If you would like to know more about this Book Club contact: Margaret Clarke on 01283 813709

Autumn 2015 News

Chapter & Verse

Way back in May we read 'Girl in Hyacinth Blue' by Susan Vreeland. Some of us were a little suspicious at first, as the title is rather similar to 'Girl with a Pearl Earring', and there is, like the other book, a connection with Vermeer. Further consternation was caused by the fact that this is not a novel, but a series of linked short stories, following the various owners of a particular painting from present day until the creation of the work. This backwards chronology means you don't find out how a particular owner acquired it until you've read the next short story - but the initial confusion gives way to delight at the luminous prose, enthralling descriptions ( among others, of floods in the Netherlands and Jewish family life as the Holocaust approaches) and some well drawn characters. It has much to say about art and our reactions to it, and the value of things. We all enjoyed it, finding some of the situations haunting and thought provoking.

On the hottest evening of the year we discussed (alfresco!) 'Travelling to Infinity - My Life with Stephen' by Jane Hawking on which the recent award winning film The Theory of Everything is based. Jane's story gave a fascinating and much more in depth insight to the Hawkings' lives than did the film. For many of us it was a page turner which kept us interested throughout. Of course it gave only Jane's side of the story and we marvelled at her ability to remember exact detail from up to 50 years ago. The best thing about the book was definitely that it provoked a great discussion on topics as diverse as science, love, genius. disability, euthanasia, devotion, martyrdom - indeed the theory of everything!

Our next books are;-
'H' is for Hawk Helen McDonald
Thursday 27 August
Solar Ian McEwan
Monday 5 October

Both groups are running a second -hand book stall at the Gala on Monday 31 August. If you have any contributions please contact Maggie Gawthorpe 812621

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The two books for this quarter have been very much in contrast although there is a theme common to both.

The first, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini is a truly remarkable and beautifully crafted novel. It depicts the lives of two extraordinary Afghani women who are thrown together under highly unusual circumstances. The novel follows their struggle against extreme evil, hardship and victimisation. The women show incredible strength in a country torn apart by vicious war and the untoward cruelty shown to them by their brutal husband who both of them are forced to marry by different circumstances of their lives. It is almost impossible to imagine that the setting for this novel is in the 1990s. It is a great insight into the country of Afghanistan capturing many important historical and contemporary themes in such a way as to bring sympathy for the women who suffer at the hands of different regimes in a variety of ways. An excellent read.

Very different was our second book this quarter. No less a remarkable read but on a very different topic in a very different era. The story of Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom, set in the 9th century, follows a young boy named Uhtred as his family deal with the invasion of the Viking hoards. Uhtred, born into the English aristocracy, loses his parents at the age of ten and is brought up by a Dane. When massacres reign on both sides he becomes torn between loyalties which are finely split between the two opposing forces. There is a distinct contrast between the two regimes. While Cornwell’s Danes roar with delight on the battlefield, revel in the salt-spray soaking of flaxen locks and feast with carnivorous joy, his Saxons are mostly rule-bound, pious leek-eaters. Of these latter is a depiction of King Alfred, ruler of Wessex, the last kingdom still to be defeated by the Danes.

The success of both of these novels relies on the expert weaving by the writers of a fictional story into actual chronological history. We learn of Afghanistan’s bloody history through the actions and reactions of the characters; no less that of the Saxon’s through Uhtred and his association with King Alfred and the Danes. Both novels are not for the fainthearted as cruelty and violence abound but the writing of such scenes is tempered by the sympathy we have for wonderfully crafted characters.

Next time we are reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. If you would like to know more about this Book Club contact: Margaret Clarke on 01283 813709

Summer 2015 News

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For some strange reason I forgot to comment on the book we had read in autumn of last year which was J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. Generally speaking, we all enjoyed the novel because the story telling was good but found some of the characters despicable. This was borne out when the novel was brought to our television screens earlier this year. However, the adaptation was poor and the characters equally obnoxious. The book contained glorious examples of black humour which didn’t find their way onto the screen. Disappointment can often follow when something we have read appears on the screen and fails to live up to our expectations.

So far this year we have read My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin. As a young woman writing about her upbringing in the bush of Australia in the 1890s, the heroine Sybylla Melvyn is headstrong and determined. Drought and a series of poor business decisions reduce her family to subsistence level, her father begins to drink excessively, and Sybylla struggles with the monotony of her life. To her relief she is sent to live on her grandmother’s property where life is more comfortable. She is pursued by Harold Beecham, a wealthy young man who wants to marry her but she refuses. After a series of incidents he still wishes to marry her but she remains constant to her determination not to marry. The frustration in the novel for us were her reasons not to marry in order to pursue a career as a writer.

The second book was The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton a debut novel and acclaimed best-seller. What did we make of it? Well received and an enjoyable read for all, it tells the story of a young bride who, following an arranged marriage, joins the household of her wealthy Dutch merchant husband. He gives her a cabinet house, a miniature of his own Amsterdam house as a wedding gift but it proves mysteriously to both reflect and predict the lives of the people living in the actual house to devastating effect. Well written, well plotted and at times a pacy read the novel is suspenseful, dark and exquisitely visual providing us with a range of characters and situations for discussion.

Next time we are reading A thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. If you would like to know more about this Book Club contact: Margaret Clarke on 01283 813709

Chapter & Verse

 We have enjoyed two books in quick succession in February and March. The first was 'Burial Rites' by Hannah Kent which was based on a true event - the last public execution in Iceland which took place in 1832. As there were no prisons in Iceland at that time the condemned woman, Agnes Magnusdottir, was held for the winter before her execution at a remote farm guarded by the farmer, his wife and their two daughters. Although she was understandably viewed with suspicion, fear and even horror by the family, neighbours and all those with whom she comes in contact, she exhibits a practical, useful and compliant character which helps the family to feel sympathy for her in very disturbing circumstances. On the surface she is guilty, but the situation and verdict are far from reflecting the real events.

The landscape of northern Iceland evokes the darkness of the period and the monotonous lives of the people. The descriptions are breath-taking, and are reflected in the changing seasons until the sun finally disappears in the middle of winter. The characters are interesting and credible, and although the story is a tragedy the reader is carried along by Agnes' compelling narration.

By contrast we move to Sicily for the setting of 'The Leopard' by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa the first and only novel written by the author. It is set mostly in the summer of 1860, at the exact moment when Sicily came into direct contact with the forward movement of progress, democracy and social justice and the invasion of Garibaldi's army of the Risorgimento. We live through this time experiencing it through the eyes of Fabrizio Corbero, Prince of Salina ( the Leopard ) who still rules over thousands of acres and hundreds of people, including his own numerous family in mingled splendour and squalor. Then comes Garibaldi's landing and the Prince must decide whether to resist the forces of change or to come to terms with them. However he seems to know that his class is doomed and The Leopard's dictum that "everything must change so that everything can stay the same" has become an ironic maxim quoted again and again to describe Sicily, Italy and the resourceful ways of power. The story's major theme, the workings of mortality, is explored using beautiful, evocative writing which the group agreed made the reader feel part of the tremendous heat, decaying cool palaces and barren landscapes. All in all the book was deemed to be a thought provoking read helping our understanding of Sicilian/Italian culture and history.

Coming up we have:-

The Girl in Hyacinth Blue Susan Vreeland Monday 11 May
Travelling to Infinity Jane Hawking TBC
'H' is for Hawk Helen McDonald TBC

For more information please contact Maggie on 812621

Spring 2015 News

Chapter & Verse

In November the group discussed 'Merivel A Man of His Time' an historical novel by Rose Tremain. The story is set in 1683, during the Restoration period and is a sequel to her earlier novel 'Restoration', however you do not have to have read this book to enjoy Merivel. He was once a courtier and physician to Charles II but now we find him living in Norfolk as a country doctor. He shares his life with his 17 year old daughter and a few rather ancient servants. At the age of 58 he feels old and longs for his glory days at the King's Court. He is filled with the dread of loneliness and his lack of purpose. With the support of the King he sets off to France in the hope of gaining the patronage of King Louis but he seems to attract disaster and this adventure is no exception. Rose Tremain knows how to craft a story, creating interesting characters and describing beautifully their environments and experiences. Merivel's dreams of a better life are short lived and he returns to England and is met by more disasters and in the end he is ''confronted with the intransigence of death, deserted by pleasure, surrounded by loss, an aging Casanova stranded in a grand ballroom without a dance partner''.. This was a great read, enjoyed by all.

To celebrate our 10th Anniversary we joined Second Chapter for a most enjoyable Christmas meal in the village - together with balloons and a literary quiz!

We met on a wet and windy night in January to discuss 'Wait for Me!' the memoirs of Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire. Printed in 2010, this is a fascinating reflection of her very long life. Although the title could seem to suggest she spent her life catching up with her five elder sisters: Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity and Jessica (she did have an elder brother, Tom, who died in WW 2), she seemed to us a woman who forged her own way in life. Certainly as far as Chatsworth is concerned, she seems to have done this very successfully.

The book treated us to many brief, colourful sketches of her numerous famous friends and acquaintances in a way that made the interwar years come to life. From President Jack Kennedy, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Ian Fleming and his wife, Robert Kee the historian and Patrick Leigh Fermor, they are all brought into the kaleidoscope of personalities. Well worth reading!

Our future books include:-

Burial Rites - Hannah Kent Monday 23 February

The Leopard - Guiseppe Di Lampedusa Monday 23 March

For further information ring Maggie Gawthorpe - 812621

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Our main aim for the December meeting of the Rolleston Book Clubs was to have fun in each other’s company and celebrate not only Christmas but also the 10th birthday of Chapter and Verse which by happy coincidence was founded originally in 2005 by some of the current members of Second Chapter. This incestuous affair took place in The Jinny Inn on 11th December who hosted a delightful meal for all of us. We completed our evening of festivities with a quiz (literary, naturally) provided for us by Mel Bradfield. I was particularly grateful for Mel’s input as I was the lucky winner of a fine bottle of claret. Thank you to everyone for a splendid evening.

Our choice for January 2015 was Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. What a glorious read. Admittedly overlong for some but packed with memorable characters and plot twists and turns. The main character, Theo Decker, survives an explosion in a museum in New York that kills his mother. A dying man persuades him to take away a painting, The Goldfinch, as he escapes the rubble. Theo will be abandoned by an alcoholic father, ignored by grandparents but accepted into the household of a school friend. Although still beset by unmanageable grief and nightmares, he seems to be settling into his new life when his father returns with his girlfriend and whisks him away to Las Vegas to live. Here, allowed to run wild and unfettered, he meets Boris, a Ukrainian, and truly memorable character. Both are motherless and both are neglected by their fathers. On the death of his father, Theo returns to New York and is brought up by Hobie, a charming old furniture restorer. When Boris comes back into his life the story moves to Amsterdam where Theo becomes involved in the dark underworld of art theft. Theo is an admirably unlikeable hero, flawed, selfish and prone to making foolish decisions but beneath the surface he has a strong sense of decency which carries the reader through to the last page.

Next time we are reading My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin.

If you would like to know more about this Book Club contact: Margaret Clarke on 01283 813709

Last updated: 31 December 2015