Rolleston's Book Clubs News 2017

Summer 2017 News

2nd Chapter

Our choice of book to start the year was The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. Lacuna means gap either physically as in a geographical feature such as a cave or tunnel the main character of Harrison Shepherd finds when he is swimming off the coast of Mexico as a child or something missing, a meaning the novelist employs to describe how important in life are the things we know the least about. The plot revolves around the life of Harrison Shepherd, a fictional character, but Barbara Kingsolver weaves his story into the lives of real people such as the artists Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera whose lives in Mexico are well known particularly as they sheltered Leon Trotsky. The character of Shepherd was present at his death carefully woven into the plot. Shepherd spent the second half of the novel becoming a writer in America at the time of the McCarthy witch hunts in a fever of anti-communism in the 1950s. With deeply compelling characters, a vivid sense of place and a clear grasp of how history and public opinion can shape a life, Barbara Kingsolver creates in The Lacuna a daring work of literature which stimulated the group on many issues.

The choice for the spring was Never Mind by Edward St Aubyn. This book is the first in a trilogy of the life of Patrick Melrose. When we first meet him he is only five years old living in the South of France with his upper class parents: his father, a vicious, cruel, bullying snob and his mother an alcoholic, pill-popping ineffectual woman who Patrick’s father has married for her money. The first chapters of the novel reveal a set of obnoxious self-seeking characters who will converge at a dinner party held in the house in France. Along the way we learn about the life of the child Patrick who is abused physical and mentally by his parents. What saves this novel is the brilliance of the writing, the evocative description of place and characters and the sheer wit and comedy which peppers both description and dialogue. Despite its dark subject matter the book is wonderfully compelling.

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

Chapter & Verse

Our first meeting was in January. The post-apocalyptic zombie novel is not a genre many of us would count as our favourite, and there were some initial misgivings when some members started to read ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ by M R Carey. However, everyone persevered, and we all felt we had been rewarded by a thought provoking and entirely compelling narrative. The plot though not elaborate, owes something to the road movie concept, in which the characters, as well as travelling, also move forward in self-knowledge and personal development. The personalities, especially that of the eponymous girl Melanie, are very well drawn, and the book has a great deal to say about what it means to be human and the nature of parenting, as well as raising ethical questions about actions which promote the greatest good for the greatest number, and the consequences for individuals. The ending is startling but satisfying; everyone really enjoyed the read, despite it being not being something they would normally pick up.

In March we met to discuss ‘The Essex Serpent’ by Sarah Perry, a book which has attracted much critical acclaim and is currently being serialised as radio 4’s Book at Bedtime. Despite her young age the author had an unusually secluded childhood, devouring literature of all sorts, especially 19th century novels and her interest in the social history, role of women, medical and scientific advances conflicting with religious beliefs during that period are central themes in this book. The atmospheric wetlands of Essex in 1893 are beautifully described when the central character, Cora, recently widowed (having suffered an abusive marriage) moves there on impulse to follow her enthusiasm for geology and natural history and becomes curious about the apparent sea serpent terrorising the villagers. Her relationship with the local vicar and his family as well as a young surgeon carrying out pioneering heart surgery, take the reader back and forth from Essex to London where Cora’s companion, Martha, becomes involved in campaigning to improve the living conditions in the slums. There was lively discussion and diverging opinion as to the wealth of issues covered in the book however we all agreed it was a worthwhile and interesting read.

Our next books are:-
Monday 24 April
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, Joanna Cannon
Monday 5 June
The Colour by Rose Tremain

For more information contact Maggie Gawthorpe - 812621

Spring 2017 News

Chapter & Verse

Back in November we discussed The Witch of Exmoor by Margaret Drabble - a social novel set in the post Thatcher period of the mid-nineties.

It follows the rather selfish dysfunctional Palmer family - the mother, Hilda Haxby; her two daughters and son; their spouses and children. Hilda Haxby is a writer. Her upper middle class offspring think she's mad, as she sells the family home to buy a large near-derelict house on the edge of a cliff on Exmoor. She goes to live there alone and write her memoirs. Her children are vaguely concerned as to her well-being, but care more about their potential inheritance, and she cares little for them. Her favourite grandchild is her half Guyanese grandson and it is to him that she decides to leave everything. The pressures give him a nervous breakdown and Freda Haxby goes missing. After many twists and turns questions are answered and each member of the family's destiny is revealed, not without tragedy.

The Witch of Exmoor is a bizarre book, very much of its time, but much of the social comment is still valid today. It is very well written, easy to read and hard to put down with plenty of black humour and social observation to make you smile. It has received mixed reviews but in general we enjoyed it and it generated some good discussion.

In December we had our joint Book Club Christmas party, courtesy of Helen, which was great fun and enjoyed by all.

Our first book of 2017 has yet to be discussed so the line-up will be:-

The Girl with All the Gifts
M R Carey Monday 16 January

The Essex Serpent
Sarah Perry Monday13 March

For more information contact Maggie Gawthorpe on 812621

2nd Chapter

Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom was our choice for October. The story unfolds quietly revealing the stiff upper lip, public school breeding of its central characters. The story begins in late autumn 1940 amid the rubble of Madrid when Spain has been devastated by civil war. Franco is in power. Harry Brett is sent from England to Madrid as an agent of British Intelligence. There are five central characters – unassuming spy Brett, shady businessman Sandy Forsyth and Bernie Piper, a communist who is assumed to have been killed in the early part of the conflict fighting the fascists, and Red Cross nurse Barbara who was once Bernie’s lover and is now Sandy’s girlfriend. There is also Harry’s Spanish lover, Sofia. Their lives intertwine and head slowly to the novel’s dramatic and breath-taking climax. We found the intricacies of the factions and brutality of Franco educational as well as interesting.

We shared a celebration of Christmas with Chapter and Verse friends where good food and wine made the evening go well. We played games appropriate to a literary group and ended the evening sharing our favourite pieces of poetry. Thank you to Helen Richardson for her hospitality.

Our read for the New Year has been historical novel Merrivel: A Man of His Time by Rose Tremaine. The novel is a sequel to an earlier one: ‘Restoration’. In places the novel looks back at earlier times when Sir Robert Merrivel was first a courtier to King Charles II which gives a richness and depth to the character as he reflects on how he has lived his life. He skims over incidents from his earlier life and reveals in part a debauched life. Overall, an excellent book.

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

Last updated: 1 June 2017