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

Thanks to Rachel for excellent hosting for your first book club choice on Sunday.

Overall Life after life went down well, despite not being quite what some people had expected.  In particular, the sections set during the blitz were extremely vivid, and the technique of restarting the action from various viewpoints gave a real insight into different people’s experiences of war.  Some bookers weren’t keen on the beginning, and felt that there was too much detail about Ursula’s childhood, however the action definitely picked up after her 16th birthday and the (many different) pivotal events which happened that day.  It was interesting to read something which was stylistically so different to a traditional linear narrative, and very clever how motifs and even speech reoccurred in the different stories.  I can highly recommend a second reading to get even more out of it.

Those of you who enjoyed it might also be interested in A God in Ruins which is a companion novel to Life after life, telling Teddy’s story.

Details for next time:

10 July — Austerlitz by WG Sebald

14 August — Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Choosing next for September’s book club: Steve

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


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.