OFF THE SHELF
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
OFF THE SHELF
“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.
OFF THE SHELF
“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
OFF THE SHELF
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.
OFF THE SHELF
“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
OFF THE SHELF
“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.
Our Book Club members gave this a score of 9 out of 10
OFF THE SHELF
“EDUCATED ” by Tara Westove
Tara Westover tells the story of her family and upbringing in rural Idaho. It is fascinating and at times quite scary. Her father ruled the family, and they were all at the mercy of his extreme ideas. In retrospect, she is convinced that he had schizophrenia; it was hard to live and cope with his behaviour and restrictions. None of the children were allowed to go to school or consult doctors; they had to wear old-fashioned clothes and had no life of their own. Her mother was complicit with these rules. She did at times seem to encourage Tara, but ultimately always supported her Father. One of her brothers and her father were very cruel and vicious at times, with seemingly no care for Tara or anyone else.
Tara had great strength of character and an independent spirit; eventually, she managed to leave home, go to University and eventually to study in Cambridge, England. At the time of writing her family would still have nothing to do with her.
Most of us found this book to be a real page-turner but some did not enjoy it because of the cruelty and unpredictability of the family. As a group we scored it 7/10.
OFF THE SHELF
My Mother’s House by Lily Tobias was written around 1930, so the style of writing is different, in so far as it is lyrical, explanatory and very vivid.
The story concerns an intelligent boy who wants to break away from Judaism. The beliefs and actions of Judaism are well explained during that time.
The story is fascinating and examines the meaning of having a faith and feeling a foreigner in your own country. The book was well received by the Book Club with a score of 8/10 and we can recommend that you read this book. Ann Gill
OFF THE SHELF
“The Confession” by Jessie Burton
A young girl called Elise Marceau, life model, meets the dazzling, older and alluring Connie Holden. Connie is a very successful author and Elise is easily encouraged to follow Connie to the glamorous and glitzy Hollywood, as her latest book is being turned into a film. Elise is unsettled and an event changes her life’s direction which has many consequences.
The narrative switches to the future where Rose Simmons, another lost soul, is seeking answers to the disappearance of her mother. After realising that Connie Holden, now a reclusive novelist, had a connection to her mother she entangles herself in a story to find the threads of her past.
The themes of the book are concerned with motherhood, pregnancy and independence and the characters of Rose and Elise do mirror each other. Given these themes it is surprising that we all agreed the relationships are rather unconvincing. You do not get the impression that the characters actually really care for or love each other. Having said this, we all enjoyed the book possibly because Jessie Burton knows how to hook you into a plot. It does have a slow start but definitely worth a read. We gave this book a score of 8/10.
OFF THE SHELF
This month’s book was On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming.
In 1929, Betty, the author’s mother then aged three, was kidnapped from a beach in Chapel St Leonard. Within a week or so Betty reappeared unharmed and throughout her childhood the secret surrounding her birth and subsequent adoption was kept by the village.
Laura Cummings, who has a background in art history, discusses the work of famous painters as a means to unravel her mother’s experiences. Most of us found this acutely irritating. Betty had a fascinating story to tell and for us, being taken up endless artistic cul-de-sacs detracted from, rather than enhanced Betty’s bitter narrative. On a more positive side, Cummings gave a brilliant description of Chapel St Leonard and Lincolnshire in general which delighted those in the group who were familiar with the area. We were all pleased that we had read the book but could only award it 7/10.