Chapter & Verse
Our book for August was 'The Jane Austen Book Club' written by an American, Karen Joy Fowler in 2004. The book, set in California, was very popular in America and spent 13 weeks in the New York Times best seller list and was later made into a film.
The story centres around Jocelyn who sets up a small book club of friends and acquaintances to discuss the 6 books written by Jane Austen. Each member chooses a book and hosts the discussion on a monthly basis. Gradually over the six months each of their backgrounds, lives, loves and disappointments are revealed within the backdrop of the particular novel under discussion, and the reader becomes engaged with each character and their various problems particularly to do with relationships. The stories unfold and by the end of the six months each person has found some contentment in their lives - were they influenced by their book discussions?
We had mixed reactions to this book, some felt the characters were well drawn and the link with Austen was cleverly worked, others disliked the American setting and found the characters less believable. We all agreed that to get the best out of it you had to be familiar with Jane Austen novels.
Our second book 'All the Light we Cannot See' by Anthony Doerr was a deeply moving novel telling the story of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl and Werner, a German orphan during the Second World War. It tells the stories of their different lives in the period leading up to and then during the war. Finally their lives intersect in the waning days of the fighting. Doerr sees the world as a scientist, knowledgeably talking about radio, diamonds, molluscs and all sorts of birds and flowers. But he also feels it as a poet writing beautiful, detailed descriptions of towns, landscapes, cathedrals and even museums. His characters show how people can survive, endure and feel moral obligations even during periods of great privation and suffering. We cannot only see but also feel the desolation of the time, and yet the story is lifted by the humanity of the people.
Most of the group really enjoyed the novel, although some found the descriptions long. It was particularly interesting as Anthony Doerr is an American, and many of us had not realised this.
Our future books will be:-
The Witch of Exmoor Margaret Drabble
Monday 21 November
The Girl with All the Gifts M R Carey
Monday 9 January
For more information contact Maggie Gawthorpe on 812621
Our summer reads began with Kate Atkinson’s novel Life After Life. The theme of the novel is that even the smallest event in life can change the course of not only our own lives but the direction of every life. The main character, Ursula Todd, lives throughout the twentieth century and is witness to important events in history. She meets her death a number of times throughout the narrative but each time she is reborn. At each point of death her rebirth is told in a slightly different way. This affects her own life but also sometimes changes the course of history. This structure, not liked by all, shows us that life is filled with moments which change the direction we travel in and points up the feeling that we all wish at some time we could go back and change something about our lives or act in a different way. ‘If only…’ The plot is complex but we never lose sight of the characters which are well drawn, nor the broad scope of the narrative.
Our second choice was a timeless classic: The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. Set in the 1950, the plot is narrated by a young man, Holden Caulfield. He is a failed student who has been expelled from various prep. schools and is fearful of returning home to the wrath of his parents. The book, a coming of age novel, tells of what Holden does in a couple of days in New York. Salinger captures the eternal angst of growing into adulthood and we see Holden as a universal character but made very real as he explores problems that haunt so many young people. His strongest desire is that nothing should change but remain the same for the rest of his life. The structure of the book is linear with flashbacks into his earlier life within his family which helps to explain his background and personality. Our evening was filled with discussions on the nature of education and its effect on us as adults, the consequences of teenage behaviour and the difficult transition, for some, into adulthood.
Next time we are reading Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansom. If you would like to know more about this Book Club contact: Margaret Clarke on 01283 813709
Chapter & Verse
We had a very lively discussion in May around a book by an author many had not encountered before - Daughter of Time is a 1951 detective novel by Josephine Tey, concerning the investigation by a modern police inspector called Grant into the alleged crimes of King Richard III of England. It was the last book Tey published shortly before her death and explores how history is constructed, and why a particular version of events or urban legends become widely accepted as the truth, despite lack of evidence and/or any logical plausibility. In this case the victorious Tudors ensured that their version of history prevailed. Grant is feeling bored while confined to a hospital bed and on being given a picture of Richard III and priding himself on being able to read a person's character by his face, feels the picture doesn't fit Richard's reputation as a cruel murderer. He decides to fill his time by researching this historical mystery, referring to historical sources and documents and testing out his theories on the doctors and nurses who attend to him. Using his detective's logic, he comes to the conclusion that the claim of Richard being a murderer is a fabrication of Tudor propaganda, as is the popular image of the King as a monstrous hunchback and that the version of events is not as it has been perceived and conveyed to us over the years. This lead to a debate about present history teaching methods and how these have changed over the last twenty years or so and that the current thoughts on this time in history reflect Tey's challenge through Grant of the urban legend the Tudors created.
In early July, accompanied by cake and Prosecco to celebrate a member's birthday, the group discussed The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor. The discussion centred around the extaordinary life of the author. In the early 1930s at the age of 18, he decided to walk the length of Europe from Hook of Holland to Istanbul. With few clothes, some letters of introduction, a book of English verse and a volume of Horace he set off - just as Hitler had come to power in Germany. He slept in barns, monasteries and occasionally with the local landed gentry.
Before his death in 2011, at the age of 96, the first part of this journey was described in two other published books. However this book was put together by his publishers from his diaries and an early draft written in the 1960s. It covers his journey from the 'Iron Gates' on the Danube to Mount Athos in northern Greece. His portraits of the divers people and customs, and the hospitality - or lack of it - that he encountered on the way, are enlightening and give a background to the turmoil in that part of Europe as the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires disappeared and national identities were being reestablished after the 1st World War.
A very interesting book that would benefit from a more prolonged study than we were able to give it. Not really a quick read!
Our future books are:-
The Jane Austen Book Club
Karen Fowler Wednesday 24 August
All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr Tuesday 4 October
For further information please contact Maggie Gawthorpe on 812621
Our choices for the Spring 2016 could not have been different although they did have as their setting a World War.
The first choice was On The Beach by Nevil Shute. The World War in question here was WW Three. The novel, published in 1957, is set in Australia in the aftermath of a devastating nuclear war which has destroyed most of the known world. The characters stranded now in Melbourne await their fate as the nuclear cloud makes its way horrifyingly towards them. Among them is an American submarine captain who struggles to resist the knowledge that his wife and children in the USA must be dead. When a faint Morse code signal is picked up, transmitting from somewhere near Seattle, Captain Towers leads his submarine crew on a bleak tour of the ruined world in a desperate search for signs of life. Many of the group had read this novel in their youth but in today’s more cynical world and with the wisdom of age (!) we found the writing dated and character development, particularly of the women turgid. That said the novel as a whole is a convincing portrait of how ordinary people might face the most unimaginable nightmare.
It is the Second World War that provides the setting for our second choice: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The plot is about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of the Nazi occupation of St.Malo in August 1944. The primary focus of the novel is what war does to ordinary people. We are able to understand the emotions of both French and German people and particularly how ordinary people in Germany were swept along with the relentless Nazi regime. The structure of the novel, not enjoyed by everyone, told the development of the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner through alternate chapters and a slipping of time. The most compelling element, however, is Doerr’s use of language in his descriptions of physical detail and use of stunning metaphors. The visual content of this book is quite astonishing.
Next time we are reading Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. If you would like to know more about this Book Club contact: Margaret Clarke on 01283 813709
Chapter & Verse
The evenings were still dark when we met to discuss The Green Road by Anne Enright. This novel is set on Ireland's Atlantic coast in County Clare. It is a story of a family, their selfishness and compassion. The 3 of 4 children of Rosaleen Madigan leave the West of Ireland for lives they never could have imagined - in Dublin, New York and various third world towns. In her early old age their difficult and manipulating mother announces that she has decided to sell the family home and divide the proceeds. Her adult children come back for a last Christmas, perhaps with the feeling that their childhoods are being erased, their personal history bought and sold. The first part of the book is given over to separate episodes in the lives of the four siblings. We not only learn about them and their hopes and dreams but about the other members of the family and their relationships with each other.
Anne Enright is a well acclaimed contemporary writer and although some may find her subjects difficult and characters unpleasant she writes beautifully and provides us with poignant descriptions of personalities, relationships, hopes and fears. She also has the ability to make the mundane interesting. Her work is well acknowledged both here and in Ireland. She was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2007 and in 2015 appointed the first Laureate for Irish Fiction.
With the lighter evenings in April, the group looked at Jessie Burton's prizewinning best seller The Miniaturist. The story was inspired by a holiday visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam where the author saw a cabinet house, traditionally given to Dutch girls to instruct them in the art of housekeeping and filled with miniature replicas of the furnishings of the household. The tale begins with the marriage of Nella Oortman who is gifted the house by her new husband - perhaps not the most promising of starts to any marriage - and the story then develops the theme of what makes a marriage and what Nella's role in her new home is as her husband's sinister sister, Marin, seems to be the one really in charge. However, far from being a replica for the new home she lives in, the cabinet house becomes the focus of mystery as new items are delivered that seem to presage the future of its occupants and the mysterious figure of the Miniaturist seems to know more than is humanly possible.
Although some felt this supernatural theme was not fully developed, the pictures of historical Amsterdam were beautifully and accurately drawn within a fast moving story full of twists and turns. The books subject matter despite being set in Seventeenth Century Holland queries topics such as homosexuality, the roles allowed to women and men, the power associated with wealth and race relations - all just as relevant today as to its time.
Our future books are:-
The Daughter of Time Josephine Tey
Monday 23rd May
The Broken Road Patrick Leigh Fermor
Monday 4th July
For further information please contact Maggie on 812621
Second Chapter have read two novels during the months since the New Year. The first was The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It concerns a professor of genetics, Don, in his quest to find an answer to The Wife Problem. Rosie comes into his life and is dismissed as someone quite unsuitable. She has an agenda of her own in that she wishes to discover who her father was. This becomes The Father Project and the plot is spun around Don helping her to do this, putting his own project to one side. An unlikely partnership develops between Rosie and Don and he must confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie. He has to admit that despite best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you. We considered Don to be quite an unusual character and wondered if he was suffering from Asperger’s syndrome. Our discussions initially focused on this issue but realised that Don teaches us to see the funny side of our own incomprehensible behaviour.
Our second read was The Ghost by Robert Harris. Harris a onetime friend of Tony Blair, calls his main character Adam Lang and the plot follows him as ex-prime minister of Britain now living in the USA being accused of war crimes. The narrator, his ghost writer, works with Lang to craft a memoir of his time in office. The reader may perceive that Harris had Tony Blair in mind when he wrote the novel. The ambience is right, the spinning is familiar, the dialogue fits, the main characters tally and the cynicism is normal. But we enjoyed the book on several levels not least as a parody of Blair and his retinue but also of the publishing world. Much of our discussion at our meeting was political but also around Harris’ motivation for writing the book.
Next time we are reading the vintage classic On The Beach by Nevil Shute. If you would like to know more about this Book Club contact: Margaret Clarke on 01283 813709
Chapter & Verse
Last November we discussed 'Travels with Charley', one of the later books by John Steinbeck describing a journey across America in the 1960s. The author had spent the previous 25 years traveling abroad and felt the need to re-connect and "rediscover this monsterland". Setting off in a purpose built camper van he had just one companion - Charley his French born large poodle who attracted plenty of interest and whose idiosyncrasies provide much humour along the way. This is a gentle story of discovery seeking the rural roads and places, with some heart-warming stories of people met along the way. He delights in the differences between States not only topographically but in the language used and attitudes shown. However there is a certain despair at the modern tendency to gear all services to efficiency and speed to the detriment of human contact and conversation, and he voices particular concern at the polarity of views witnessed in the South on the subject of race. All these experiences prompt some philosophising along the way making it as thought-provoking as we would expect from Steinbeck. A well recommended read.
Our Christmas read was also harking back to past times. JL Carr in 'A Month in the Country' writes a short but haunting tale describing the experiences of Tom Birkin - recently returned from the horrors of WW1 and commissioned to uncover an ancient mural in a small country church in North Yorkshire. The people he meets and the friends he makes, indeed the complete rural idyll, provide a healing balm for this damaged soldier. A short, gentle story told directly and with humour, yet thought provoking due to the human conditions described. Underlying it all is a profound sense of loss, the vulnerability of human emotion to passing time. The book provoked much discussion and some of us have been moved to seek out other books by Carr, sadly they are hard to come by.
Books for future discussion:-
The Green Road Anne Enwright
Tuesday 1 March
The Miniaturist Jessie Burton
Thursday 14 April
For more information ring Maggie Gawthorpe - 812621
Our reading this quarter began with a novel by Jodie Picoult: My Sister’s Keeper. It tells of the harrowing and heart-breaking family life of a couple whose daughter has been diagnosed with terminal leukaemia. Her younger sister, Anna, conceived through IVF to be a genetic match for her dying sister has donated stem cells, tissue, and bone marrow and now is expected to donate a kidney. Anna decides to take her parents to court for the rights to her own body. Each chapter is written from a different perspective which adds to the depth and complexity of this book. Despite containing much that is controversial, notwithstanding the shock ending, the novel is well written and provoked considerable discussion on the ethics and morality of the issues.
In complete contrast, we read the psychological thriller Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Several of us had seen the film so our judgement was coloured somewhat by that. In common with the earlier novel, the story is told from the perspective of different characters: Amy Dunne – the girl who has gone – and her husband Nick. Amy disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary. Their house is disturbed in such a way as to suggest she has been abducted. Although no body is found Nick finds himself suspected of murdering his wife. We learn of their meeting and subsequent marriage from Amy in the form of a diary. But is the diary to be believed? Nick tells the reader about the state of his marriage from his own perspective and not surprisingly, it differs from Amy’s account. The plot is full of twists which keep the reader guessing and its conclusion is surprising and either satisfying or a damp squib, depending on whether the reader liked either of the protagonists or hated them.
Our next read will be The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.
If you would like to know more about this Book Club contact: Margaret Clarke on 01283 813709
Last updated: 12 November 2016