Thanks Gillian for hosting the last meeting to discuss Instructions for a Heatwave.

We had mostly enjoyed this book, it was a page turning lighter read than recent books (no bad thing!) and depicted the endless drought and scorching summer of 1976 very well.  We also enjoyed reading about the local north London setting, and the relations between the siblings and their mother, which seemed very believable.  However some of the plotlines seemed a bit far fetched and soap opera like, especially for the more conservative 1970s, and the end section in Ireland was a bit of a letdown with everything tied up too neatly for some.  Overall – interesting, some nice family dynamics, and a fun summer read.

Those of you who are fans of Maggie and want more may like to try The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, recommended by some members.

Details for next books:

12 June:  Life after life by Kate Atkinson

10 July:  Austerlitz by WG Sebald

Thanks Geoff for hosting a very full book club in your amazing pad, nice to see a few old new members making an appearance.

Zen proved to be quite a challenging book, but very interesting that we all got something different out of it, from the travelogue, to fixing things, to relationships with sons, to the philosophical arguments.  Amazing to think that the book was published at all following all the rejections, and also that it still endures 40+ years later.  The afterword, particularly about the tragic death of Chris, was especially sad to read as you felt you’d really got to know him through their road trip.  Anyway, an interesting if difficult choice with a lot to talk about.

Details for next months:

8 May – Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

12 June – Life after life by Kate Atkinson

Thanks Emma for hosting a fine meeting on Friday night.

A lot of love in the room for Zora, both her and the book, describing the story of a woman making her own way in life, pretty unusual for those days.  The descriptions of the episodes in Janie’s life, always tough, but some better for her than others, were wonderfully described in lush and beautiful language, giving you a real sense of the places she lived in and the atmosphere and relations with her husbands and other people in her life.  Some debate as to whether Tea Cake did really care about her or was just a wrong’un, but she definitely had a much happier life after meeting him.  The devastation after the flood was also wonderfully written and the whole thing very visual.  The dialogue and dialect were more difficult to read and, for me, not particularly enjoyable, but overall a great read, and Zora has now been elevated to goddess status by some bookers.

Reading for next time:

Friday 10th April – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig

Friday 8th May – Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

Choosing next for June’s reading: Rachel.

Thanks Candida for hosting a fine anniversary meeting on Friday 13th, lots to pack in so straight on with business…..

Kicking off with the book, we had all enjoyed A Study in Scarlet and the introduction to Sherlock Holmes, as seen through Watson’s eyes, showing how the two met and his first impressions of the famous detective.  Holmes’ techniques were very clever, and it was interesting to read how he came to his conclusions about people and cases through his different observations and way of looking at the world.  Some of the techniques used, whilst commonplace nowadays, would have been novel in their day.  The second part of the book was at first confusing, switching the action quickly to Utah, but was interesting in its depictions of Mormons (evil villains) and to explain the conclusion, and how Jefferson Hope came to kill Drebber and Stangerson.  It was also an interesting and experimental technique to use for a first novel.  The language was a bit over excitable at points with lots of exclaiming and cries, but overall a thrilling and very entertaining read, which enticed us to read more of Sherlock’s adventures.

Those of you interested in the man himself may like the TV adaptation of another book club read Arthur and George, coming soon to ITV, and starring Candida’s mum!

There is also a Sherlock Holmes exhibition on at the Museum of London until April, if anyone is interested in a school trip at some point, let me know.

Next was the all exciting raffle draw, this year won by Geoff — congratulations on your £14 book token win.

And new for 2015, another quiz. I have to congratulate Gillian on her hat trick victory (can anyone else ever win…..?) and scoring a very impressive 9/10.  Clues and answers will be up on the blog soon for anyone who wants to see if they can match that.

Finally, review of the year, it was noted that generally the standard this year had been pretty high, with some good reads, and no standout duds.  A close vote in the first round ended in a 4-way tie for best read, between The Goldfinch, House of Sand and Fog, The Boys from Brazil and A Study in Scarlet.  A second round of votes narrowed this down to The Goldfinch and A Study in Scarlet as joint winners.  At the other end, Nana won the wooden spoon, with Youth in 11th place.

And not forgetting your books for next time:

13th March – Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

10th April – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig

Choosing next for May’s book club:  Gillian

Thanks all for coming round on Friday, nice to see members old and new at book club!

The Boys from Brazil was a page turning thriller with a scarily believable storyline about ageing Nazis and their new plan for world domination, and an equally ageing Nazi hunter determined to stop them.  The story had lots of twists and turns as you weren’t sure why certain men were being singled out for assassination, or what the outcome would be, and whilst the conclusion was mostly satisfying, there was also a small chilling element of ambiguity at the end.

Minor flaws included a bit of difficulty getting into the book, as the writing style took a bit of getting used to, and it was also unclear what was happening initially and even where they all were (a Japanese restaurant in Brazil, obviously…), however the action soon got moving and from then on it was difficult to put down.

Good choice me!  There is a film starring Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier which might be worth a watch.  I can also highly recommend A Kiss before Dying for anyone who would like more Ira Levin.

Candida has chosen next month’s reading: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle.  Meeting on Friday 13th February.  This will be our exciting anniversary meeting with a review of our year’s reading, vote on the best and worst books of the year and the book token raffle – please bring £2!  I may also try another quiz.

For March’s meeting, Emma’s choice is Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

And Geoff will be choosing for April.

Thanks Steve for hosting a most lovely book club on Friday, and special mention to Steve and Gillian for finishing the epic book for this month.

The Idiot, despite its length, was highly enjoyable, full of interesting characters and set pieces.  The Prince himself was mostly sympathetic, and apparently partly based on the author himself, who was also epileptic.  His journey through life with his trusting, innocent manner contrasted well with many of the other characters who were calculating, manipulative and much more worldly wise than the poor prince.  Best moments included the party game, where everyone had to reveal the worst thing they’d ever done, leading to some crafty interpretations of the game by the older and wiser members of the party, and Ippolit’s frightening and strange dream (maybe drug induced due to his illness?).

Major downsides were the length (as Sean pointed out, it may well have been severely edited had it been published today) and also the confusing Russian names, where the same person could be called several different names within the course of a page — a list of characters was very helpful.

Overall, a lot in it felt very contemporary, despite being published 150 years ago, we thought it could be made into a film set now — the psychological insights, how the characters behaved towards one another, Russian oligarchs, cult of celebrity — would all be very relevant today.

Details for next time:

Book:  The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin

Date:  Friday 9th January 2015

Then for February, Candida has chosen:  A Study in Scarlet by her great uncle Arthur.

Choosing next for March reading:  Emma.

November book club – thanks Sean!

Well, four brave pilgrims made the trek over the rail lines to the open Northwold wetlands (Alison sent her comments from Venice) and were kind enough to leave me with most of the cake which made it easier to cope with the miserable and damp weekend we experienced – word to the wise: lemon cheesecake goes well with lemsip!

Netherland was well received by all although with reservations, some relating to the dampness of Hans’ personality, others were deeply affected by the uncaring character of his wife (apparently a trait not necessarily shared by others with the same name!) and wanted him to tell her to go f#ck herself – those same souls found the ending to be incredibly sad because Hans (the drip!) got back with his missus.

A particularly juvenile reader of the book was fixated on how poor the bit about the twin towers and posh pencils on the final page was and that it ruined the ending for him.

The quality of the descriptive writing was unanimously praised. However, most had reservations about the credibility of Chuck, although all enjoyed the stuff he dished up.

The author managed to make the cricket bits quite interesting to non cricket fans and appeared to use cricket as a stabilising backdrop to a story about an uncertainly world pervaded by melancholy.

The line of the book most commented on: ‘Everyone disappoints in the end’ or words to that effect.

That’s it for November rain!

Next up we have Steve’s choice: The Idiot by Dostoevsky, and the meeting date will be on 12 December.

For January, Alison has chosen The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin.


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