Rolleston's Book Clubs News 2017

Winter 2017 News

2nd Chapter

Long holidays and lazy summer months have caused us to meet on fewer occasions this quarter although members of Second Chapter joined with those of Chapter and Verse to run the book stall at Rolleston Gala at the end of August to raise money for charity. Always pleased to welcome browsers and buyers to our stall, each year we still manage to go home at the end of the day with more books than we arrived with. How does this happen? Happily, St Giles Hospice are the beneficiaries of our surplus stock.

We have, however, during September found reading Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood a real pleasure giving us plenty of food for thought. The novel, published in 1996, tells the true story of Grace Marks, a serving girl, who in Canada in the late 1800s was convicted together with a fellow servant, James McDermott of the murder of her employers. McDermott is hanged but Grace is sentenced to life imprisonment. To present the story, Atwood uses a fictional character, Doctor Simon Jordan who is interested in studying Grace’s state of mind, a new science at the time, and conducts interviews with her to get her to reveal the events leading up to the murders. As readers we were always in doubt as to Grace’s culpability and at times were divided as to the extent of her guilt. Atwood paints her protagonist as demure with an air of innocence but we know beneath the surface she manipulates her interviewer whilst in turn is manipulated by others. Although the narrative holds several big surprises, the central question: was Grace Marks dupe and victim or seductress and instigator of an appalling crime? remains tantalisingly ambiguous.

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

Chapter & Verse

Way back at the end of July we discussed ‘Remarkable Creatures’ by Tracy Chevalier, an historical novel set in Lyme Regis in the 1820s and 30s, tracing the lives of two remarkable women and their importance in literally unearthing fossils to a disbelieving world.

Mary Anning was a lowly born native of Lyme, endowed with unusual gifts of observation and acuity, and taught by her father, she scoured the beach for fossils to sell to supplement the family income. Elizabeth Philpot, a middle class spinster, recently moved from London, also became interested in fossils. She admired Mary’s talent, wanting to help her, and for some years they walked the beaches together. To Elizabeth it was intellectual stimulus and an interesting pastime. To Mary it was a means of earning a living and, especially after her father died, to keep the family from starving. Their relationship ebbed and flowed due to circumstance, petty jealousies and misunderstandings and the author has woven an imagined human story connecting the facts and pointing up the inequality of women, the struggle of the lower classes and the prejudices and beliefs of the time. We all agreed that this was a fascinating story. For Mary in particular, the road was hard, and it is extraordinary to realise that she was responsible for some of the first large marine fossils to go on display in the British Museum. She has only recently been properly recognised for her contribution to Science. Elizabeth Philpot’s fish collection is displayed at Oxford.

Our book choice for September was ‘The Gustav Sonata ’by Rose Tremain. The author was inspired by a true story of a Swiss police chief who sacrificed his career by continuing to offer sanctuary to Jewish refugees after the official cut-off date. The novel spans 65 years and as suggested by the title there are three movements, with reoccurring themes of betrayal, neutrality and friendship. Rose Tremain plays clever variations with these themes and ideas, showing deep compassion and empathy for the suffering of her characters.

Gustav, the main character is 5 years old in 1947, he adores his mother but it is very much unrequited love as his mother nurses her own bitterness and depression. She insists Gustav must always master his feelings and be strong, and he learns not to complain or ask for love. Their lives are shrouded in poverty. His isolation ends when he befriends Anton at kindergarten, a wealthy Jewish boy and gifted pianist, doted on by his parents who have great expectations and ambitions for him. Gustav is loveable, thoughtful and kind whilst Anton is volatile, unpleasant and completely insensitive to the feelings of others. The second part of the book deals with the 1930s, covering the reasons for Gustav’s mothers’ bitterness and his father’s dismissal from his job. The themes of neutrality and betrayal are developed and their consequences portrayed. In the final part we meet Gustav and Anton in their sixties and discover how differently their lives have developed through both circumstance and personality, finally leading to a satisfactory conclusion. The book was well received by all and provoked a lively and lengthy discussion.

Our future books are:-

Monday 23 October
The Dust that Falls from Dreams - Louis de Berniere
December - Christmas Party
Tuesday 9 January
My Life in Houses - Margaret Forster

Maggie Gawthorpe

Autumn 2017 News

2nd Chapter

The novel Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry was our reading for the spring. The story opens in 1971 at the time when India went to war with what was to become Bangladesh. The main character is Gustad Noble, a man who lives a modest life, who makes his living as a bank clerk in Bombay and is a man devoted to his family. Yet sorrows come into his well-ordered life as his young daughter falls ill and his promising son defies his ambitions for him. We saw him as the only reasonable voice amidst the ongoing dramas of his neighbours. One day he receives a letter from an old friend asking him to help in what at first seems like a heroic mission, but he soon finds himself unwittingly drawn into a dangerous network of deception. Compassionate, and rich in details of character and place, the novel charts the journey of a moral heart in a turbulent world of change. Mistry gently draws us into Gustad’s world in a sympathetic manner; as readers we always wanted him to succeed.

Our second choice was a classic richly deserving a second read for some and an introduction to the works of John Steinbeck for others. The Grapes of Wrath could have seemed out-dated having been published in 1939 at the time of the end of America’s Great Depression but the parallels with the plight of the migrant workers in the novel resonated with that of migrants today wishing to come to Europe for a better life. The story tells the plight of the Joad family, turned off their land in Oklahoma by the government and the greed of bankers, who take the long trip to California in the hope of a better life. Their trials and tribulations as they travel along Route 66 and finally arrive in California only to find nothing is as promised, leaves the reader bereft. The imagery is powerful throughout the novel and the story telling interspersed with chapters on the reality of the day a masterful control in structure and technique. A thoroughly good read.

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

Chapter & Verse

Our choice of book for April was ‘The Trouble with Goats and Sheep’ by Joanna Cannon. The story follows two ten year old girls, Gracie and Tilly, as they try to discover the whereabouts of a missing neighbour, Mrs Creasy, in the hot summer of 1976. Most of us could recall that time so there was much discussion as to the accuracy of description regarding the searing heat, arid conditions, Elvis at the top of the charts and the tendency of women to wear mules! Although the story rambled and was at times difficult to follow, it visited the interaction of neighbours and community, religion and prejudice in a powerful way and all through the eyes of children, though we felt the girl’s thoughts and conversations were rather too mature for their age. The description of characters was very good, probably a result of the author’s work as a doctor and her specialism of psychiatry – her first novel.

‘The Colour’ by Rose Tremain was a very different scenario. Set in the mid19th Century it describes the emigration from Norfolk to New Zealand of a young couple searching for new beginnings, plus an aged mother who is doubtful of the whole venture. The difficulties and privations of farming and surviving a first winter in South Island are vividly drawn, and when Joseph, the husband, becomes wildly obsessed with finding gold out West we are made aware of the physical and moral wilderness entered by those who chase the seductive dreams of ‘the colour’. A wonderful book, enjoyed by all.

Our next books are:-

Weds 26 July
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
Mon 11 September
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

For more information contact Maggie Gawthorpe on 812621
NB - We are running a second hand book stall at Rolleston Village Gala and would be pleased to receive book donations beforehand and welcome your custom on the day!

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: 12 November 2017