Thanks Gillian for hosting a cosy book club on a chilly January evening.

We found The Twin generally quite baffling.  Although the spare writing style was well liked, we all got the feeling that more was going on than met the eye, and a lot went unsaid.  Helmer was an odd and not very likeable character, particularly the way he treated his father towards the end of his life, but also his treatment of others, including young Henk.  The whole book seemed an odd mix of strange and unexplained coincidences, why did Jaap turn up just as Helmer’s father died?  And what was Riet doing sending Henk to stay at the farm?  Lots of echoes of some of our previous reads this year, including Ethan Frome.  There was a bit too much Dutch-ness, with its talk of canals, clogs and Edam, although there was some lovely writing, but it was overall a bit unsatisfying and strange.

Next month is the anniversary, our 13th.  So don’t forget to bring £2 for the raffle, no money no entry!  There will also be a review of the year, I think we’ve had some good ones this year so should be interesting.  And I’ve also done another quiz, not as exciting as last year’s pictures, but everyone should be able to have a go…. I will say no more for now.

Your reading for next months:

Friday 12 February — The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Friday 11 March — QB VII by Leon Uris

In a happy coincidence, there is a play of The Little Prince on at the Arcola the same week as February book club!  Anyone interested?  Maybe Saturday 13th?  Tickets are £12, let me know.

Thanks Candida and Emma for joint festive hosting of book club the other week.

Ethan Frome was a great read, very short but a lot of drama and tragedy in the small lives of a rural farming community.  It reminded us of a few recent reads, including Stoner and Sister Carrie, being set at a similar time and covering similar themes.

Ethan was a sympathetic character, having had a difficult life and never managing to really be happy apart from a few short hours with Mattie.  The ending in particular was very dramatic as he and Mattie sledged towards the tree.  The story then moved on 20 years and showed the sad ending of all three lives in the Frome household, with Mattie’s injuries seeming like a fate worse than death.

Wonderful descriptions of the difficult lives and small joys, like the glass pickle dish, and an occasional trip to town, and the bleak New England setting, made it a definite hit and fabulous wintry read.

Details for next times:

Friday 15th January PLEASE NOTE CHANGE OF DATE to the third Friday in January — The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

Friday 12th February – tbc by John

Thanks Candida for hosting last Friday night, and welcome to first timer Alice — nice to see you and hope it won’t be the last time!

Portrait got mixed reviews – some truly amazing sections, our two favourites being the priest’s sermon at the school retreat – what a vision of hell and no wonder Catholics are screwed up!  And the second was the conversation towards the end with his friend Cranly in which they talked about all sorts of things, including family obligations and Stephen’s need to leave.  Many of the minor characters made very fleeting appearances, and it was only towards the end that you realised how many siblings Stephen actually had, but maybe this was a result of his introspection and and self-absorption as an adolescent.  Emma, the focus of Stephen’s affection, also only appeared sporadically, and after not being mentioned for many pages/years it was a bit of a surprise to read how much he cared about her.  Not always an easy read, and the beginning polarised the group, but Candida was pleased to have chosen it!

Those of you who enjoyed it might like to know that Stephen also turns up as a character in Ulysses — but I hope no-one is thinking of choosing that doorstop for book club ….

Next months details are:

Friday 11 December — Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Friday 8 January — The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker


Thanks Steve for hosting a mellow meeting with autumnal open fire last week.

We enjoyed Stoner, the quiet, low key story of a man from humble beginnings on a poor farm right to the end of his life as a Professor of Literature. The overall tone of the life seemed sad, particularly his relations with his wife and daughter, his parents’ hardships, and the petty squabbles of academic life. However Stoner did have moments of happiness — his affair, which sadly ended, his love of literature, and teaching to his students, and his relationship with the dean, Gordon Finch, which endured over decades.

Two particular moments when the book came alive were the beginnings of his affair with Katherine, and his arguments over the student Charles Walker, when he stood up for his principles. Some lovely writing throughout, and it seemed to tell in a very understated fashion the small incidents in any life, which are momentous to the individual, but of no great note to the world at large. One difficulty was a lot of the characters were hard to like, and seemed to have no redeeming features, in particular Edith, who had some sort of father problems which may have explained her behaviour, and Lomax, whose disability may also have contributed to his unpleasant nature.

This book was recently republished and ‘rediscovered’ as an American classic, and reminded some of us of our last read Sister Carrie, another lesser known American classic.

Two more of John Williams’ books have also been reprinted: Butchers Crossing and Augustus, for those of you wanting to try more.

Details for next months:

Friday 9th October — The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov

Friday 13th November — A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Adaptation of book club read A Severed Head starts today on Radio 4.  Details here

Thanks John and Sean for hosting book club last week.

Sister Carrie was pretty much of a hit with most of us (with one or two exceptions).  A really interesting portrait of America at the turn of the century, showing the thin line between a comfortable life and grinding poverty.  Sad to think very little has changed in some ways since the book was written.

All the characters, including Carrie, were portrayed in quite a straightforward style, showing their flaws and defects, and it was difficult to like any of them much, but the book kept you reading through Carrie’s early innocent days in Chicago, to her pick up by Drouet, to her ultimate success in the theatre and Hurstwood’s sad decline.  Some debate as to who was the worst of the men, I personally go for Hurstwood after the kidnapping and theft, but Drouet also took advantage of a young girl, and didn’t have a lot of remorse for his actions.  A shame that there wasn’t more of Ames’ story and we didn’t find out what happened to him and Carrie, however at that point in the story Carrie was obviously in a much better position than any time previously and you felt she wouldn’t allow herself to be dependent again.  Alongside this was the story of Hurstwood’s decline, such a contrast to his life in Chicago, and his eventual suicide – a really moving and sad portrait of someone who had just given up on life.

There were a couple of dissenting voices and some had found the style initially a little difficult to get into, but I think it deserves its place as an American classic, and we were glad to have been introduced to it.

Reading for next time:

Friday 11 October — Stoner by John Williams

Friday 9 November — The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov

Thanks Ruth for hosting a vintage book club on Friday evening, love the new look in your flat!

Austerlitz was a big hit with us all, a dreamlike meander through the second half of the 20th century with the spectre of World War II always looming in the background, and coming to the fore in particular sections.  The story of Jacques’ childhood and upbringing and erasure of his past by his new Welsh family was incredibly sad and moving, as was the story of his eventual return to Prague and discovery of his original identity, and what had happened to his family.  Themes and motifs kept reoccurring throughout the book, the nature of memory and the devastation of WWII running themes.  Some bookers thought he digressed a little too much and interesting that our conversation was also influenced in this way too!  Or maybe we are always like that…..  Overall, a totally fascinating and compelling read, and an original way of using the story and photos to present a unique narrative.

Fans of Sebald may also like his wander along the Sussex coast:  The Rings of Saturn, and another book with similar themes to Austerlitz:  The Emigrants.

Details for next time:

Friday 14 August — Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Friday 11 September — Stoner by John Williams


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