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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

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.

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