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Thanks Ruth for hosting a lovely book club last Friday.

Impatience of the Heart or Beware of Pity was a fabulous read, on first glance it seemed like a dense and overly detailed account of an army officer in 19th century Austro-Hungary, probably not a topic any of us would have thought we would have enjoyed — but as soon as you started reading you were quickly drawn into this world and it turned into a totally compelling story.  Hofmillers thoughts and actions were described wonderfully, and his sense of honour and the theme of pity ran consistently through the whole story.  Edith was also a fabulous, if difficult character, given the totally limiting nature of her life, and Hofmillers burning shame when he realised her feelings for him was one of the stand out passages, in a book full of wonderful writing.  Once into the book it was very hard to put down, as the descriptions and writing were so rich and textured, and whilst the action described took place over quite a short period of time, it was emotionally exhausting to read.  Within the room we had 3 different translations, but our reactions to the book were very similar, and after reading the same passage from each, the translations didn’t seem too different — so perhaps the original text is so good, that it always translates well.  Totally recommended bookers — if you skipped this one you’ve missed out on what is already one of the books of the year, and that’s a challenge to you all to choose something better!

Next month we have a complete contrast from Steve: How should a person be? By Sheila Heti.  Meeting on Friday 13th May at Steve’s.

Then in June we have a change of date, we meet on the third Friday — 17th June — for a reunion book club with some Special Guests, who have chosen our next book: Civilwarland in bad decline by George Saunders.

see you all there!

Thanks all for coming round last Friday for a slightly chaotic book club, and welcome back to some members not spotted at book club for many a month.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle was a dark gothic comedy which sparked a lot of discussion and questions which were hotly debated.  Was Constance quite as innocent in the family’s deaths as we thought, or did she encourage or even conspire with Merricat?  Was Uncle Julian talking more sense than it seemed?  Was Constance really planning to marry Charles?  And had Merricat in fact died during the trial and come back as a ghost?  Lots of lovely writing, wonderful focus on food and the kitchen, and a fabulous description of the house and atmosphere.  Also, an interesting interlude with the ‘riot’ and mob on the night of the fire, and the villagers’ apologies in the aftermath.  Overall, really interesting, especially as the author had a very troubled life herself but could still write such an intriguing book.

Ruth also advertised the play she is in: Frozen at Theatro Technis in Camden, towards the end of April.  Please note this is not about Disney princesses.  Some of us are planning to go on Saturday 23rd so let us know if you want to come too.

Details for next time:

Friday 8th April — Impatience of the Heart or Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig (same book, different title)

Friday 13th May — How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

Thanks John for hosting an excellent 13th anniversary meeting.

Starting with the book, we had generally all enjoyed The Little Prince, the gentle delightful fable of a prince arriving in the desert from another planet and meeting a pilot whose plane had crashed.  The prince taught the pilot to appreciate small things and we liked his meetings with the fox, and talking about taking care of his rose, saying the time he spent taking care of it made it important.  Some debate on whether using the word tamed, in relation to others, was the right one or a translation anomaly, but as Steve said the book left you the space to use your own imagination and didn’t necessarily spell everything out.  We also enjoyed seeing the Arcola production of the show to coincide with our reading — the ending in particular, was very moving.  Apparently an animated film of the book will also be released later this year, book club is very much on trend.

On with other anniversary business and congratulations Rachel for wining the raffle — enjoy your £16 book token.

The quiz turned into a major upset as the Serena Williams of book club quizzes, Gillian, was beaten!  Yes it can be done!  Congratulations Emma for claiming the title of book club champion 2016 following an excellent performance in the tie break.  Although the prize may not be the biggest in world sport, the glory of holding that title is surely beyond price.  Emma is the one to beat next year everyone.

Moving onto review of the year, and Emma triumphed again with Ethan Frome crowned as book of the year, and Stoner in the runner up spot.  Gillian’s books didn’t fare quite so well, with The Twin and Instructions for a Heatwave at the bottom of the list.

Finally your details for next time.  Unfortunately Rachel’s dad is not well so she won’t be coming in March, so for now we are putting aside QB VII and Leon Uris and instead will be reading my choice for March:  We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson.  There’s only  couple of weeks, but it is very short, so I hope people can give it go before then.  We may return to Leon later in the year when Rachel is back.

For April reading Ruth has chosen:  Impatience of the heart by Stefan Zweig.  This is also published under the title Beware of Pity, but Ruth would like you to read the recent translation if you can.

And Steve will be choosing next time for our reading for May.

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

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