Thanks for a lovely book club and enduring the long commute round to Raines Court, it was nice to see you all last Friday!

We all had problems to a greater or lesser extent with The Evenings, the tale of Frits, bored office worker by day, and bored young man by night, always searching for something meaningful, whilst maintaining an internal commentary on the minutiae of his daily life, and his parents quirks and annoyances.

Frits had a very black sense of humour and made inappropriate comments to his friends about what he thought bothered them most – commenting that someone’s child had learning difficulties, leading one into a sick torture fantasy, and a LOT of baldness related stories.  Some of this was tough to read, whilst the characters found it relatively normal – maybe a product of desensitisation to shocking things due to the recent war?  Whilst not specifically mentioned, WWII overshadowed the action throughout the book, and its impact on daily life couldn’t be missed.  The ending was hopeful as Frits shared a bottle of ‘wine’ with his parents on new year’s eve, and had an emotional moment, where you could see he actually cared for them very much.

Sorry my choices of late have been very specific.  I promise not to choose another European book in translation with an internal monologue by a disassociated young man.

Next choices:

Friday 13 July — Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland

Friday 10 August — The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien


Thanks Ruth for hosting on 22nd, and a lovely evening of book chat.

Village of Secrets turned out to be mistitled, being about a whole area and several towns, villages and settlements on a plateau high in the mountains, but I suppose that doesn’t work well as a title….

First off, the story itself, set in France and about Jewish families during WWII is of course devastating and horrific in parts, and that can never change no matter how many times you read something about it.

This book told the true story of the plateau where a number of Jewish children were kept and hidden with other families, particularly Darbyist and Ravenist families, strict sects linked to the Plymouth Brethren.  There was quite a community of these in the area and this was one of the more interesting parts of the book, as the religions were new to us.  To begin with, the story follows a few individual children as they head for the plateau and safety, and their individual stories are interesting, moving and involving.  Before too long though, hundreds of  other people are introduced to the story, making it very hard to remember who is who or get any sort of understanding of who they are, although there are amazing individual acts of bravery and heroism described.  Some of us found her writing style quite awkward and hard to read, with odd sentence structures, and we were surprised the book was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize.  However the author has written a lot of books on various aspects of WWII, so she is obviously a respected historian/author, and there are plenty more titles to check out if you liked this.

Next month’s details:

Friday 11 May – The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan

Friday 8 June – The Evenings by Gerard Reve

And Candida is next to choose for July book club.

Finally, you might be interested in listening to a few of our book club reads which have been dramatised and are currently available on iPlayer:

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

The Idiot

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Thanks all for making the long trek around the corner last Friday, it was lovely to see you for the first book club in the new flat.

As a Man Grows Older received a mixed response – the internal viewpoint gave a very narrow picture of the world – the whole book was concerned with Emilio and his relationship with Angiolina, with no external or environmental aspect at all.  Whilst it was claustrophobic and annoying to be inside his head in this way (as he was generally an idiot), it also felt true in his indecision over the relationship, resolving to tell Ange he never wanted to see her again, but unable to articulate that when he actually saw her.  Was he an unreliable narrator and painting Ange in a bad light, or was she in fact a little minx who knew exactly what she was doing?  Some stylistic resemblance to Henry James did make the first half of the book go around in circles – but it definitely picked up when it moved on to his sister’s story and her sad end.  Parts of it were a bit of a struggle, but definitely some interest, subject matter which might have been shocking in the 1890s, and an interior perspective which influenced his mate James Joyce and others made it worth reading.

Following the initial failure of this novel Svevo gave up writing for about 20 years, only going back to it when encouraged by Joyce, and the book which followed that break is regarded as his best novel: Confessions of Zeno.

Next months details:

Sunday 22 April – Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead.  PLEASE NOTE CHANGE OF DATE!

Friday 11 May – The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan

Thanks Gillian for hosting another excellent anniversary meeting, and thanks so much again everyone for the cake!  Most delicious and a lovely celebration.  Busy night of activity so let’s crack on…..

First up, the book, The Bridge of San Luis Rey was a great choice which most of us had really enjoyed.  A monk sees a bridge collapse and several people fall to their death.  As he is anyway questioning and testing his faith, he researches their backgrounds to see if he can understand why this happened to them and why they in particular were chosen.  The book is his story of the people, who they are and what they’ve done.  Its told all the way through in lovely language but with a spareness about it which puts a lot of long books to shame – this is how to tell a great story in a short book.  Fantastically vivid characters, all interlinked, ending with no conclusions but a sort of closure.  Brother Juniper himself didn’t come to a happy end either, but overall I think it finds a peaceful ending.  Top choice Gillian.

Next up was the raffle and congrats to Candida, winner of the book token this year, WHEN IS IT MY TURN, so pleased you’ve won.  Let us know what you buy!

Next it was the hotly anticipated quiz, and John proved himself to be king of anagrams, just beating everyone else with 9 correct.  I thought this would be an easy quiz and worried about most people getting them all right!  But it turned out to be fiendishly difficult.  Anyway, hope you enjoyed your prize John!  Although the glory of being champion is surely more than enough.

Review of the year was as usual hotly debated with tactical voting / non-readers all adding to the fun.  Overall winner was 1984, with The Bridge of San Luis Rey and The Golden Notebook in joint second.  In 12th place was I was Amelia Earhart, disappointing book about an incredible woman, and My Animals and Other Family came 11th, it was just a bit slight.

Finally just time to look at next month’s books before we all headed home:

Friday 9th March — As a Man Grows Older by Italo Svevo

Friday 13th April — Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead

Thanks Ruth for fabulous hosting on 15th, and also thanks for excellent book choice!  1984 was dark but had some scarily believable elements in this world of fake news and history revision.  We felt sorry for and frustrated by Winston who seemed to accept his fate in the end, and wondered if Julia had known more than she was letting on?  Although futuristic, the book also felt like a product of its time, written just after WWII with echoes of the German state and its network of informers, and reflecting the everyday hardships and poverty affecting most ordinary people.  This also contrasted with the wealth and comfort enjoyed by O’Brien and the ‘establishment’.  Room 101 was indeed pretty scary, although some of the worst elements were only hinted at rather than spelled out, perhaps making it even more chilling?  Overall great choice, and looking forward to seeing it on stage next year!

Next months:

Sunday 12th November – please note change of date!!

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes


Friday 8th December

The Bell by Iris Murdoch


See you all there!

Thanks Emma for hosting a cosy August book club!

We had mixed feelings about Agnes Grey — whilst it told of the lot of women of the time very well, it was a bit slow to get going, and didn’t really come alive until Agnes went to work for the Murrays, the second family she governesses for.  At that house the children seemed to be rounded people in themselves, and a bit more real, with all of their flaws (and some redeeming features).  Interesting comments on the times as none of the women had many choices, even the wealthy ones.  Rosalie was pushed, in fact encouraged, into a miserable marriage by her mother, who knew full well what it would be like, and Matilda struggled to find her place, as she liked dogs and hunting rather than needlework and dresses.  And Agnes was just miserable as she thought her students weren’t very nice and wasn’t near her own family.  Over sweet happy ending for me, but I guess it had to be!  Interesting social commentary, and worth sticking with, but I would recommend Anne’s other book The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as a better read.

Details for next month:

Thursday 7th September — please note change of date!!

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

Friday 13th October

1984 by George Orwell

I will also attempt to find a date for those of us interested in the stage version of Slaves of Solitude at Hampstead Theatre, if anyone else wants to come let me know and I’ll include you.

see you all on 7th — potentially the last book club at number 130 so hope you can make it!

Thanks Gillian for hosting book club last Friday, and welcome Chris!  It was lovely to meet you and hope to see you at book club again soon.

We really enjoyed The Golden Age, set in a rehabilitation home for children with polio in 1950s Australia, telling of the initial meeting of two patients, Frank and Elsa.  This was the starting place for lots of other stories, including of Frank’s family, Jewish Hungarian refugees, dealing with a new country and some pretty terrible times during the war.  Also Elsa’s typical Australian life and family (Nance! and mean sister Sally), and the nurses and the care they showed for their patients, but in particular Nurse Penny, and the way she had chosen to make a life for herself.

The book was really well written, and got across the atmosphere and sense of place brilliantly, as well as a real portrait of many of the characters, including their ‘onset stories’ which they all told of how the disease first affected them.  A lot of real stand out moments including Frank’s encounters with the poet Sullivan which shaped his life, the images of people inside iron lungs, and the nearby netting factory always present and operating in the background day and night.  The only point which jarred with us was the final chapter, and in particular, the description of Frank looking after a friend’s child.  This seemed a strange passage to include, but as Joan didn’t waste words it was obviously there on purpose.  Was it just showing Frank could have shared his life with someone?  That he empathised with a child being on their own?  Or something a bit more sinister?  It was left ambiguous, but perhaps its ok for a good read to leave us with some questions.

Joan fans might also like her previous novel Gilgamesh, set during WWII in Australia and Armenia.

Next months reading:

Friday 11th August — Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Thursday 7th September (CHANGE OF DATE!) – Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

Plus a theatre alert:  The Slaves of Solitude is on at Hampstead Theatre in October/November – any takers?