Life in the Shadow of the Crown

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  Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown by Anne Glenconner


This month’s book was Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown by Anne Glenconner

This memoir was written in 2019 at the age of 87 by Anne Veronica Tennant, Baroness Glenconner. A British peeress who after a brief engagement to Johnnie Althorp, father of Princess Diana, was married at the age of 23 to avid socialite, and extremely wealthy Colin Tennant, the future Baron Glenconner. Tennant was part of the fast-living London set and a former suitor of Princess Margaret. He was a difficult, explosive man, and a philanderer whose idea of a Parisian honeymoon was to take his wife to visit a brothel.

Anne (Lady Glenconner) grew up with close connections to the royal family, her paternal grandmother was Edward VIII’s mistress, and her father was equerry to George VI. A confidante of Princess Margaret, she became her lady in waiting 1971 until the Princess died in 2002. She reveals many royal escapades in her book but does not disclose confidences. Soon after their marriage Tennant purchased the island of Mustique on which he gifted a plot of land to the Princess as a wedding present.

Lord and Lady Glenconner had five children, three sons and twin daughters. The couple were married for 54 years until Lord Glenconner’s death in 2010. For at least half their marriage they kept separate residences — hers in Norfolk, his in the Caribbean — and yet the marriage endured.

The insight into the Glenconners’ personal life was breath-taking. Tennant was handsome, witty, and a bully. He insisted on telling his wife about his holidays with his many girlfriends, he was mentally unstable and had several breakdowns. Lady Glenconner didn’t appear at all fazed at the arrival of an illegitimate son, fathered after Glenconner’s dalliance with an artist’s model. “I married all of my husband,” Lady Glenconner writes. “Colin could be charming, angry, endearing, hilariously funny, manipulative, vulnerable, intelligent, spoilt, insightful and fun’. Only a very few confidants apparently knew of the physical abuse she suffered and which she only divulged after writing the book

There was a final insult of mischief and malice from beyond the grave when it was revealed that Lord Glenconner had made a new will shortly before his death in 2010 aged 83 in which he left his £20 million estate, to his valet. The family contested this will, and after a legal battle that lasted several years, the estate was divided between the servant and the fourth Lord Glenconner.

Although autobiographies are not the preferred genre of some, the reading group thought this to be an entertaining read. Members objected to the excesses of Glenconner, but the group had great sympathy for the long-suffering author. Anne wasn’t a victim and was admired for getting on with life in her own way. The part many found most interesting was the author’s efforts in supporting her adult children. She suffered the death in adulthood of two sons; a third son Lady Glenconner nursed back from a six-month coma following a horrific motorcycle accident. At such time, money didn’t help.

Overall, the group found the book to be good read and gave it 8/10.

 



 

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

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  Book Review for Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami


Norwegian Wood by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, is a modern literary depiction of depression, suicide and the sense of grief born from loss. Although the novel deals with heavy themes, it leaves us with a positive message: ‘even though we may be lost, we can continue to live as long as we try’. The above review is beautifully said. The book became tedious in parts, but it holds your imagination and takes you to Japan. The characters are beautifully described, and I had great empathy for them. I would recommend his more recent novel, where I think he has progressed into a great writer, as he’s grown older.

Anne Gill



 

Cold Comfort Farm

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  Book Review for Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons


The plot is simplistic and was written as a comedy about rural life in the 1920s. When it was first published in 1932 it was not without its critics, but it did sell very well. Flora Poste, the main character, was orphaned at 19 when her parents were both carried off by the 1919 Spanish flu epidemic, and she was left penniless. Her only option is to throw herself on the charity of her remote Sussex relatives, the Starkadders who live in Cold Comfort Farm. This desolate and ominous place is full of miserable, brooding, and overpowering characters, where even the animals are all full of gloom. Big Business the dominant bull, reigns over a hopeless herd of Jersey cows, ridiculously named: Graceless, Pointless, Aimless, and Feckless. They do all add to some memorable, comical, and bizarre accounts, such as the references to the cow with three legs, which reminded one group member of the cleverly written Monty Python sketches. Cousin Amos preaching hellfire and damnation to the congregation of the Church of the Quivering Brethren is another such high point in the book.

As the rustic mayhem unfolds, Miss Poste, who is a modern bossy-boots, decides that it’s her mission to bring a “higher common sense” to the lives of her relatives.

There were divided opinions on the book as some felt that there were too many questions left unanswered, the ending was too simplistic and there was a condescending pitch that the Starkadders’ lives needed ‘mending’. Generally, a well-liked book and the group scored it 7 out of 10.

 



 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

 

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This month’s reading was a classic novel written in 1852. Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Harriet Beecher Stowe was the best-selling novel and the second best-selling book of the 19th century. One million copies were sold in Great Britain alone.

The emotive story features Uncle Tom, as a long-suffering black slave around whom the stories of other characters revolve.

Reading the novel more than a century and a half after it was written gave us mixed feelings. On the one hand, the brutal reality experienced by many slaves at that time was hard to digest. The racist language which represented the attitudes expressed by slave-owners of the period was difficult to read. On the other hand, we felt that the novel was over-sentimental in its depiction of slaves as being able to endure any form of hardship and mistreatment if only they had the Christian belief in a heavenly reward for their suffering.

Beecher Stowe was herself a fervent Christian and an anti-slavery activist. Her powerful novel was influential in aiding the abolitionist cause. It was also instrumental in stereotyping black people of the time as simple child-like, faithful creatures, eager to serve a good master.

Nevertheless, we considered the book a good if uncomfortable read, giving us a brutal insight to our shameful past. It was a particularly pertinent read in October’s Black History Month. We gave the book a score of 7.5/10

 



 

Sleepwalk on the Severn/The House of Trelawney

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Several members were away in July and so we discussed two books at our August Meeting.

Sleepwalk on the Severn by Alice Oswald

Oswald is a contemporary award-winning poet, and this was our first venture into poetry.

The slim volume is one long poem set at night on the Severn Estuary. It describes the effect of moonrise on people, water, and voices during the five phases of the moon. Characters and events based on real people talk towards the moment of moonrise and are changed by it. The moon is personified as she keeps watch over the estuary and the writing paints beautiful dreamlike pictures of the landscape

Poetry is not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, so some members of the group were more enthusiastic than others. Overall, we gave it a score of 8/20.

The House of Trelawney by Hannah Rothschild

We all agreed that this was a good summer read. It is a comic satire on the English Aristocracy and their estates over time. There is the history of the long dead ancestors who founded and added bit by bit to the house and its surroundings. Then there is the quandary of their modern descendants left with the crumbling, dilapidated castle, a shadow of its former glory. The variety of characters of different generations are well described. The way they ultimately address their dilemma is the final twist in the story. It was a fun read enjoyed by all. We gave it 9/10

 



 

Because Cowards Get Cancer Too

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Because Cowards get Cancer too


This month’s book was Because Cowards get Cancer too. Many of us remembered journalist John Diamond revealing his cancer diagnosis in his Times column. He was just forty-four, the husband of Nigella Lawson, and a self-confessed hypochondriac.

Hypochondria normally comes in two varieties. The chronic version, which turns every twinge into a cardiac event, every spot into a melanoma, every cold into pneumonia, is the worst because of the not knowing. By comparison, the acute version, in which a doctor with a real medical degree tells you that you do have some actual minor illness and that you can look ill when you tell people about it in the pub, is, in its way, rather cheering. But this is beyond those conditions. Nobody can tell me that the fear of being put under for an hour or so while they cut your neck open is an irrational one.

Diamond was the first journalist to take his readers on his cancer journey both in his column and in TV documentaries. His three-year cancer experience began with an optimistic prognosis, treatment led to remission and faith for a healthy future only for the cancer to return and his hopes of survival shattered. Light-hearted and even humorous in parts we found his story harrowing and disturbing and his fear palpable. An insightful but not an enjoyable read. We gave it 7 out of 10.

 

 

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

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The Colour of Magic” by Terry Pratchett


 

(His first Discworld novel)

‘A fantastic book that is quite absurd and I really didn’t expect to like it at all, in fact I’m furious that I actually enjoyed it’.

Quote from a book club member

The Colour of Magic is set on a world sitting on the back of a giant turtle (sex unknown). The main characters are an avaricious but inept wizard called Rincewind, who becomes completely beguiling as the story unravels, and a naive tourist called Two Flower, whose rather menacing luggage follows closely behind moving on hundreds of legs. There are dragons aplenty, who only exist if you believe in them. Many eccentric adventures occur which take twists and turns as the travellers are whisked ever nearer to THE EDGE of the planet.

Terry Pratchett takes the seriousness out of the usual fantasy genre and replaces it with a really wicked sense of humour. He creates a beautifully imagined world with wonderfully described characters. This is obviously an excellent place to start reading Pratchett’s novels as it gives the background history of the main characters. The action starts in Ahnk Morpork, a city that becomes firmly implanted in the memory.

This is perhaps the first book read by the group which has left us unsure who to recommend it to! We did all agree that it was terrifically written, and if you managed to persevere past the first three chapters it was all great fun.

An overall score of 7 was finally agreed

 



 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This month’s book was Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Two stories are entwined into the main character of Kya, who grows up in the 50s in the marshes of North Carolina. Her mother walks out on her abusive, alcoholic father leaving her youngest child Kaya and her siblings in his care. One by one her siblings leave. There is a short period when her father tries to care for his young daughter, but he soon returns to his drinking and gambling, he abandons Kya leaving the seven-year-old to fend for herself in their remote shack. Ever resourceful, Kya becomes self-sufficient by growing her own vegetables and picking and selling mussels to local trader Jumpin’ and his wife who take her under their wing. Despised by the ‘respectable’ people of the nearest village where she is known as the filthy ‘marsh girl’ Kya keeps to herself and avoids going to school. Finding her mother’s water colours Kya paints the flora and fauna of her surroundings. Although illiterate Kya has become a knowledgeable naturalist. As a teenager she becomes friendly with Tate who teaches her to read and write. Kya goes on to write illustrated books on nature and becomes a popular writer. The second part of the story involves Chas a wealthy spoilt boy who takes advantage of her. The story ends with a surprising twist.

It’s difficult to believe that this brilliantly crafted story is the author’s first novel. It rapidly became a bestseller and is about to be made into a film. It transported us to a different place and time, and we were gripped by the poignant struggles and triumphs of this little girl. Most of us thought it was one of the best books we had read and gave it 9/10 points.

 



 

American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins

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“American Dirt”, by Jeanine Cummins


 

American Dirt is a 2020 novel by American author Jeanine Cummins, about the ordeal of a Mexican woman who had to leave behind her life and escape as an immigrant to US with her son. At the opening of Jeanine Cummins’s devastating and timely novel, bookshop owner Lydia and her eight-year-old son, Luca, are the only survivors of a targeted massacre by the Mexican cartel that dominates and terrorises their hometown of Acapulco. Sixteen of their relatives have been shot at a family barbecue, including Lydia’s husband and Luca’s father, a journalist who had been investigating and reporting on the drug traffickers.

What follows is the story of a mother’s desperate attempts to keep her son alive, away from the cartel whose influence stretches across Mexico and from whom she knows they will never be safe. It is through their ordeal that Cummins humanises the migrant crisis, delivering a powerful portrayal of the extraordinary lengths people will go to in order to save their loved ones. It is a moving portrait of maternal love and an unflinching description of the experiences of displaced people on the move.

As members we really enjoyed reading this book. It was very well written, had powerful descriptions throughout and the turn of events were easy to follow. Although these were menacing at times and difficult to read, we persevered and appreciated its honesty. The characters were powerful and the main characters Lydia and Luca extremely likeable. We would recommend this book and gave it a score of 9/10. Chris Munroe

 



 

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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“The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder

This is an autobiographical children’s novel written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She shares with us the harsh conditions of being brought up as a child in the late 19th century in one of the hardest winters of South Dakota. It is the story of a close-knit family’s struggle to survive the freezing temperatures and food shortages, as the severest of blizzards rages on for seven months. Each chapter unravels the unimaginable struggle that this isolation brings. The chapters can seem repetitive, but this cleverly reflects the claustrophobic life the family has to endure. Even when homes are only ‘just across the town’s street’ the high-density snowfalls obliterate any pathway to a neighbour’s door. If they are to be reached many townsfolk are also bereft of fuel, food and energy. The rail and road links have been completely wiped out, but hope exists because the family is creative, resilient and resourceful. It is a wonderful social history book suitable for adults too as it is full of lessons about relationship building and survival. Possibly a similar reflection on our current situation and there are many excellent tips on good parenting, which are still relevant to today.

Isobel Davies

Our Book Club members gave this a score of 9 out of 10

 



 

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