Off the shelf
This month’s book was The Children Act by Ian McEwan.
Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge. Decidedly intelligent, talented and highly regarded in her profession. She now regrets her decision to sacrifice motherhood and a marriage which is failing for a profession she loves.
When seventeen-year-old Adam’s urgent case comes before her in family law, her professional involvement with him becomes personal as Adam battles with a decision based on his and his parents’ religious conviction whether or not to refuse treatment that would save his life. Fiona has to decide whether the secular court should intervene.
This was a tale of morality and McEwan had put his usual research into the professional life of the main character. A few years ago the book was dramatized on television; brilliantly acted by Emma Thompson playing Fiona. Although we all thought it was a good read, some found the storyline of Fiona’s personal involvement unconvincing. We gave the book an overall score of 7.
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Off the Shelf
The Belly of Paris
In our Zoom meeting this month we discussed Emile Zola’s ‘The Belly of Paris’. Les Halles (the belly of Paris) was the huge central market of the capital and the centre of this mid 19th century novel. Florent was wrongly imprisoned on Devil’s Island for murder in the coup of 1851. Florent manages to escape and return to his native Paris where he lives under a false identity with his half-brother Quenu and his wife Lisa, above their charcutier shop. He is found a position in the market as a fish inspector.
This is a story of intrigue, petty jealousy and rival social positioning amongst the working class of Les Halles and depicts the widening gap between the rich and poor of Paris. Florent is an ineffectual character who, after being tested to his limits by the stall holders, finally gains the respect of the market traders. However, his true identity is discovered by his sister-in-law’s jealous neighbours. Florent who has involved himself with a group of socialist activists, is turned in, is arrested and deported again.
We felt that although there was not much of a story to the plot, Zola perfectly described the market, and the lives and social conditions of those who worked there. He depicts the poverty, and the constant striving for social standing and respect by the working class. In his vivid description of the market halls, the stalls and the characters, he takes us into the homes of the traders, describes their clothes, food, habits, and language. His portrayal of the produce and the sights and smells of the market provided such an atmosphere that we felt we could be taking a live tour of Les Halles. We gave the book a score of 8/10.
Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore
Not to be beaten by the lockdown we held our meeting via Zoom. This month’s book Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore was set in Bristol during the time of the French Revolution. Lizzie Fawkes was brought up by her idealistic widowed mother with whom she is very close. Her mother has remarried but is in poor health. Lizzie is recently married to widower John Diner Tredevant whose first wife is understood to have died in Paris. Diner is an entrepreneur who has overstretched himself in building a grand crescent in Clifton. In different times he would have sold the grand houses, but the war has made potential buyers reluctant to invest. After his workmen walk out, he has to abandon his venture. Diner is a complex character, demanding and emotionally needy. The novel becomes very
dark following the death of Lizzie’s mother in childbirth. Diner’s financial problems begin to affect his personality and Lizzie has suspicions regarding the death of his first wife. This was a novel about mortality, and it was Helen Dunmore’s last novel, written during her terminal illness in 2017 when she died aged 64. We thought the relationship between mother and daughter was wonderfully described and the love between them was palpable. Her description of the walks on Clifton downs made us feel that we were walking beside her on her journeys. Overall, we gave the book a score of 7/10
‘Tombland’ by C.J. Sansom
This month, our book was ‘Tombland’ by C.J. Sansom. This was the seventh in the series of Matthew Shardlake, the hunchbacked lawyer detective.
In this case Shardlake is directed by Lady Elizabeth (the future queen) to investigate the murder involving a distant relative. In so doing, Shardlake, aided by his assistant Nicholas Overton, finds himself embroiled in the peasant rebellions of 1549 and in particular Kett’s Rebellion in Norfolk. Sansom crammed a huge amount of historical information in the book’s 800 pages but contrary to it being a tedious read, it transported us into the 16th century and we all felt that we were alongside Shardlake in his quest.
Sansom’s books were new to most of us and as we enjoyed the book so much, we felt that we would have liked to start with the first book of the series. We gave ‘Tombland’ an overall score of 8/10.
‘A Winter Book’ by Tove Jansson
‘A Winter Book’ by Tove Jansson. This is a quirky collection of short stories by an author more renowned for her children’s books about the Moomins.
On one level they are an easy read but also have depth and gravitas. They are written from the point of view of a naive child and are simple and non- pretentious. The descriptions of scenery are vivid, and it is easy to picture the situations and even smell the smells from the text. A sense of humour pervades the stories which reflect the bohemian upbringing of Tove. We all enjoyed the stories and recommend giving the book a score of 8/10.
Book review: ‘Elizabeth and Her German Garden’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim
This book is a delightful read which gave a glimpse into the life of a wealthy German lady in the 1800s, who gently mocks the conventions of marriage and motherhood. The chapters show her life through the seasons and depict a rural world that seems long past. Elizabeth truly lives for her garden, but her precious time outdoors is often interrupted by her three children and playing a rather reluctant host to visitors and wife to her ‘Man of Wrath’.
The fictional Elizabeth finds consolation in the beauty of nature and keeps her sanity and humour by remaining outside the conventions of society and the demands of ‘feminine duty’. Off the Shelf Book Club gave this book a score of 9 out of 10
‘The Age Of Innocence’,Novel By Edith Wharton
This month’s book was ‘The Age of Innocence’, a 1920’s novel by American author Edith Wharton. The book is set in the 1870s, in upper-class New York Society. Although we appreciated Wharton’s attention to detail, we found the book introduced too many characters in the first few pages and we discovered that we needed a family tree to catch up. When we established who was who, we found ourselves immersed in the plot.
The story is centred around Newland Archer a young gentleman lawyer who finds himself attracted to Countess Ellen Olenska, his fiancée’s cousin. The countess has a tainted background and is thus shunned by elegant society. The book demonstrates the boundaries and restrictions associated with wealth and class and one’s position in society. We couldn’t agree whether Archer’s fiancée Mary was actually an innocent in the proceedings (as suggested by the title) or manipulative in trying to save her marriage. We all agreed this was an enjoyable and insightful read and gave it an overall score of 8/10.
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At this stage we envisage that we will be staying in the existing library building for at least this winter. Therefore, we are endeavouring to make the building a brighter, warmer and more inviting place to visit. We would welcome suggestions from the village to help us achieve this.
Summer Reading Challenge
We are delighted with the number of entries for this year’s challenge. Children can still sign up at the library and read six library books of their choice to complete the Challenge. There are exclusive rewards to collect along the way, and it’s FREE to take part!
London trip Saturday Nov 30th
Tickets are now on sale in the library. The cost of the trip is £22
Off the Shelf – Normal People by Sally Rooney
This book has been in the best sellers list for quite some time. It is a well written coming of age novel and an easy read. Set in a small town in contemporary rural Ireland young people are trying to make sense of themselves and their peer group. We follow Connell and Marianne’s journeys of self-discovery from school through university in Dublin. The vulnerabilities and uncertainties of developing young adults are explored. The characters are well developed, and the author describes how their social interactions and lives in the two places are almost reversed. Some of us rated it higher than others, but all thought it an interesting read. We gave it 8/10
The Cuckoo’s Calling
This month’s book was Robert Galbraith’s ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’. This is the first of the Strike detective series written under a pseudonym by J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series. Rowling’s identity was leaked before the televised series of her third book was launched.
Cormoran Strike is a war veteran whose injuries resulted in the amputation of a leg. After a period of convalescence, Strike opens a London-based private detective agency on borrowed money. Strike’s story opens with his break-up from his glamorous but disturbed girlfriend and we find him camping out in his office. Robin Ellacott is sent by a secretarial agency to work for Strike and her initiative helps him solve the murder of a supermodel who plunged to her death from her balcony. Despite Strike’s financial difficulties, Robin proves her worth and her position is made permanent.
As with the Potter books, Galbraith’s vibrant attention to detail gives readers a vivid description of the characters and their surroundings. One of our group found this irritating and related that much of the first quarter of the book was distended and longwinded, but thereafter found it to be a page-turner. We all thought that the book was an enjoyable light read and that the protagonist proved to be more than the stereotypical hard-drinking private detective that had fallen on hard times. Galbraith painted a tawdry picture of mostly shallow people and we were all surprised by the choice of crude language which punctuated Strike’s thoughts and conversations. However, this was probably influenced by our knowledge of the identity of the author more than our sensitivity. Overall, we gave the book a score of 7.5 and might take the next book in the series as a holiday read.