Book Club 1 - Reviews Oct '15-Mar '17
The titles and authors of the books we have read so far are listed below. A description of each follows the list. For books we have read since March 2016 there are also notes with key details of our discussions and ratings of the books.
October 2015 book selection; The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.
November 2015 book selection; The Children Act by Ian McEwan
Fiona Maye, a leading High Court judge, renowned for her fierce intelligence and sensitivity is called on to try an urgent case. For religious reasons, a seventeen-year-old boy is refusing the medical treatment that could save his life. Time is running out.
She visits the boy in hospital – an encounter which stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. But it is Fiona who must ultimately decide whether he lives or dies and her judgement will have momentous consequences for them both.
December 2015 book selection; The Road Home by Rose Tremain
Lev is on his way from Eastern Europe to Britain, seeking work. Behind him loom the figures of his dead wife, his beloved young daugher and his outrageous friend Rudi who - dreaming of the wealthy West - lives largely for his battered Chevrolet. Ahead of Lev lies the deep strangeness of the British: their hostile streets, their clannish pubs, their obsession with celebrity. London holds out the alluring possibility of friendship, sex, money and a new career and, if Lev is lucky, a new sense of belonging...
January 2016 book selection; Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.
During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.
What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?
Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.
February 2016 book selection; Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Northern Iceland, 1829.
A woman condemned to death for murdering her lover.
A family forced to take her in.
A priest tasked with absolving her.
But all is not as it seems, and time is running out:
winter is coming, and with it the execution date.
Only she can know the truth. This is Agnes's story.
March 2016 book selection; I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
A tragic accident. It all happened so quickly. She couldn't have prevented it. Could she?
In a split second, Jenna Gray's world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.
Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating.
We met on Thursday 10th March and discussed our March book selection; I let you go by Clare Mackintosh.
This debut novel had received some great reviews though, interestingly, those were mostly from individuals in the literary world rather than the media. Examples are:
A terrific, compelling read with an astonishing twist that floored me. I loved it and did not want it to end (Peter James)
[A] sensational debut . . . an astonishing intensity that drags you in and never -- ever -- lets you go . . . searing twists. Even if Mackintosh never writes another thriller as good as this -- though I think she will -- she should be vastly proud of this one' (Daily Mail)
The characters are well-developed individuals; the mean streets of Bristol and the idyllic Welsh coastal village are equally well-drawn; the writing is skilful and well-balanced; and the plot has enough twists enough to satisfy the pickiest reader, not to mention a final kick that sent shivers up my spine (Mystery People)
A clever thriller that boasts fine writing, compelling characters, and mind-bending twists (Booklist)
All members agreed that it was a very impressive novel and all had found it to be compelling reading. We compared it to a very good "whodunit" because of the very clever twists and turns, plus some notable "red herrings." Our only minor reservations concerned one particular (non) relationship. The "chilling", sinister actions of one of the characters was generally agreed to be graphic but credible.
The author herself had previously served in CID and we thought that helped to make some aspects of the story particularly credible.
APRIL 2016 BOOK: Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
We met on Thursday 14th April and discussed our April book selection; Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
Captain Corelli's Mandolin is set in the early days of the second world war, before Benito Mussolini invaded Greece. Dr Iannis practices medicine on the island of Cephalonia, accompanied by his daughter, Pelagia, to whom he imparts much of his healing art.
Even when the Italians do invade, life isn't so bad--at first anyway. The officer in command of the Italian garrison is the cultured Captain Antonio Corelli, who responds to a Nazi greeting of "Heil Hitler" with his own "Heil Puccini", and whose most precious possession is his mandolin. At first he is ostracised by the locals, but as a conscientious but far from fanatical soldier, whose main aim is to have a peaceful war, he proves in time to be civilised, humorous - and a consummate musician.
When the local doctor's daughter's letters to her fiancé, Mandras, a young, uneducated fisherman and a member of the underground, go unanswered, the working of the eternal triangle seems inevitable. It isn't long before Corelli and Pelagia are involved in a heated affair--despite her engagement to Mandras. Love is complicated enough in wartime, even when the lovers are on the same side. For Corelli and Pelagia, it becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate the minefield of allegiances, both personal and political, as all around them atrocities mount, former friends become enemies and the ugliness of war infects everyone it touches.
There are some secondary characters - the drunken priest, the strongman, the fisherman who swims with dolphins, who are interesting added dimensions in the story.
The author tells his ever-darkening tale from many different perspectives. It is intended to work on many levels, principally as a love story and a war story.
Press reviews of this book have, for the most part, been positive and favourable, for example:
"A tall tale and a serious work of literature…its reputation suggests that one “should” read it, and so far I would have to agree" (Nigel Rodenhurst Times Higher Education)
'A wonderful epic novel' The Times
AS Byatt compare it to the work of Charles Dickens and Evelyn Waugh.
It was hailed as "absolutely brilliant" by the television presenter Jeremy Paxman.
The book became a publishing phenomenon of the late 90s, selling many million copies. It clocked up nearly 250 weeks on the bestseller list, made its author, Louis de Bernières, a rich man and sent an electric current through the tourist industry on the island of Cephalonia.
For countless British enthusiasts, it was an enchanting literary tour de force, an epic wartime love story with the authentic flavour of Greek island life; the ideal beach accessory for the discerning holidaymaker.
Amazon reader reviews were also predominantly good, for example:
“Possibly the best book I've ever read! Absolutely enchanting and beautifully written - would recommend to anyone!”
“The outstanding novel of the 20th century – excellent.”
The Amazon average customer rating (out of five) was 4.3, based on 472 reviews. Another equivalent site recorded an average of 3.92 based on 59,115 reader ratings.
So; we gave our own ratings. Based on 9 members at the meeting; our average was 3.39, comprising some 3s, some 3.5s and two 4s.
WHAT WE LIKED (generally):
- the middle section of the story
- the character descriptions, including those who were somewhat secondary in the story; our views on some of the characters changed in the course of the book
- the diatribe against Mussolini
- the discussion of Greek traditions
- the challenging vocabulary, calling for use of a dictionary right from the initial pages!
WHAT WE DISLIKED (generally):
- the somewhat slow, ponderous starting sections that made the book difficult to get into
- the extremely rushed end sections with a long time period covered very quickly
- the lack of credibility concerning the absence of contact between the former lovers despite regular subsequent visits to the island by Corelli
For those who had seen it, another strong dislike that was widely shared concerned the film version of the story.
It emerged that in Cephalonia, where the story is set, veterans felt that their campaign against the Nazis had been defamed. They widely regarded it as a mish-mash of distortions and untruths about their island's wartime history. For the Cephalonian resistance veterans themselves, and for one uniquely-placed Italian officer and survivor of the Nazi terror on the island, Captain Corelli's Mandolin is a travesty - an inexcusable attempt to rewrite the story of their lives.
Therefore, even allowing for all the extra income that has been generated, large numbers of Cephalonians are deeply ambivalent about the “Corelli phenomenon”.
MAY 2016 BOOK: PAYING GUESTS by SARAH WATERS
We met on Thursday 12th May and discussed our May book selection; PAYING GUESTS by SARAH WATERS
It is 1922, and London is tense. In south London, on genteel Champion Hill, in a hushed Camberwell villa still recovering from the devastating losses of the First World War, life is about to be transformed.
Widowed Mrs Wray and her daughter, Frances - an unmarried woman with an interesting past, now on her way to becoming a spinster - find themselves obliged to take in lodgers. The arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the 'clerk class', brings unsettling things with it: gramophone music, colour, fun. Open doors offer Frances glimpses of the newcomers' habits, sounds travel from their rooms to hers, and the staircase and landing have never seemed to her so busy.
As she and Lilian are drawn into an unexpected friendship, loyalties begin to shift. Secrets are confessed, dangerous desires admitted; the most ordinary of lives, it seems, can explode into passion and drama. And in the house on Champion Hill, no one can foresee just how far the disturbances will reach.
OUR DISCUSSION ON THURSDAY 12TH MAY
Our views on this book were strongly held (and similarly expressed when we met!) and they certainly differed!
Some members thought that the book started very slowly and only “kicked-in” after the pivotal point in the story (no spoilers here). One person thought that the whole narrative was totally predictable at every stage. Several considered the book to be too long and a minority thought that there was “too much information” about the sexual side of the story.
Other members disagreed with all of the views expressed in the last paragraph!
We didn’t even agree on the generic nature of the book! It was variously categorised as a love story (though others considered that dimension was just lust), a melodrama and a story about inter-war domesticity. There was general agreement that the social class aspect was very well described, particularly inter-class relationships, and that social nuances were also apparent. The class issue was particularly relevant in the context of one of the suspects in the trial.
Divergence of opinions was also demonstrated by some saying they nearly abandoned the book early on; others that they would not have read it if it had not been on the list and that, therefore, they expected to be asked questions about it at out meeting. Other members really liked the book and will seek out others by the same author.
Unrelated to the book, we also demonstrated the dangers of average ratings! Our average rating (on a 1-5 rating where 5 is very good and 1 is poor) for the storyline/ overall plot was 2.62 but this was made up of 3x4; 4x2 and 1x1. The equivalent ratings for representation of the characters were, overall, 2.38, based on 2x4; 1x3; 3x2; and 2x1.
The Amazon reader reviews average, based on 929 reports, was 4.0. However, that makes no allowance for the possibility that readers who enjoyed the book MAY BE more inclined to submit a review.
JUNE 2016 BOOK: OUTLINE by Rachel Cusk
We met on Thursday 9th June and discussed our June book selection; OUTLINE by RACHEL CUSK
A woman arrives in Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Once there, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives.
Beginning with the neighbouring passenger on the flight out and his tales of fast boats and failed marriages, the storytellers talk of their loves and ambitions and pains, their anxieties, their perceptions and daily lives. In the stifling heat and noise of the city the sequence of voices begins to weave a complex human tapestry: the experience of loss, the nature of family life, the difficulty of intimacy and the mystery of creativity itself.
This is a book that ensured an interesting discussion, in that it was enthusiastically reviewed by many journalist critics, whilst within our group we had alternative interpretations.
Professional reviewers suggested, “This has to be one of the oddest, most breathtakingly original and unsettling novels……. the narrator engages in a series of conversations in which people simply unload themselves – marriages, families, failed love affairs………. there's no conventional narrative arc – you frequently forget who is speaking, there's no one you can root for or even believe in very strongly……… it doesn't matter – every single word is earned, precisely tuned, it is a triumph of attitude and daring, a master-class in tone………. there are episodes of unparalleled weirdness, there is outlandish humour, it has a sublime fanfare of comic non-sequiturs…….. this novel is a cool-headed meditation on the doomed nature of relationships, on the perennial and devastating distance that exists between people.”
On our “marks out of five” points system, though, our average award was two points, with a range from one to three and a half.
People that disliked it really disliked it, with comments such as, “A series of ten, un-coordinated chapters ………. no story line or plot ……. it had a start but no finish ……….. couldn’t relate to anything in the book ……….. no real interest in the characters ………. nothing I particularly liked about the book ……… I would not recommend this to friends ………… page after page of solid print …….. didn’t identify with any of the characters ………. I didn’t like the book.”
Amongst the positive comments, people though the book beautifully written, enjoyed the overall tone of the novel, enjoyed some of the characters and were looking forward to reading more work from this award-winning author.
A book to take on holiday, then, but have another in reserve in case it fails to captivate.
JULY 2016 BOOK: HALF THE HUMAN RACE by ANTHONY QUINN
Summer of 1911. English society is on the brink of change. The streets of London ring with cheers for a new king's coronation and the cries of increasingly violent suffragette protests.
Connie Callaway, fired up by the possibilities of independence, wants more than the conventional comforts of marriage. Spirited and courageous, she is determined to fight for 'the greatest cause the world has ever known'.
Will Maitland, the rising star of county cricket, is a man of traditional opinions. He is both intrigued and appalled by Connie's outspokenness and her quest for self-fulfilment.
Their lives become inextricably entangled just as the outbreak of war drives them further augapart. Buffeted and spun by choice and chance, Connie and Will struggle against the aftershocks of war and the changes it wreaks. This is a deeply affecting story of love against all the odds.
There was lively discussion of this book. Members considered that the book conveyed well the social situation of the time, particularly the role and situation of women. Other positive points were that the book had a beginning and an ending and gave a useful insight into the game of cricket! Some of the descriptions of events of the era were particularly praised.
The main criticism was that the story contained a large number of coincidences that, in some cases, were predictable. Several aspects were felt to be unresolved at the end of the story. Some members thought that the story had good potential as a film.
The average 1-5 rating by Amazon readers is 4.0 (based on 54 readers.) Our average, based on 11 members, was a little lower at 3.7.
August 11th discussion,"Tremarnock" by Emma Burstall
Emma Burstall is an accomplished author and journalist who graduated from Christ College, Canterbury with her degree in English. She has written several novels and writes extensively for women’s magazines and national newspapers, including the Guardian.
Her novel Tremarnock is reportedly the first in a trilogy about a Cornish fishing village, complete with blue and white cottages bedecked with flowers and a beautiful harbour. Some book review websites gave the book a score of 3.92 out of 5 and suggested the book would, “Have readers eager to book a Cornish holiday as soon as possible.” Our group struggled to be as enthusiastic, would probably holiday elsewhere and the most common rating was 2 out of 5.
With dozens of characters featuring in the book, some with little impact or relevance, it was hard to keep contact or to associate strongly with them, although the strength of the bond between mother and daughter, Liz and Rosie, is apparent throughout. We failed to associate, sympathise or connect with too many of the other characters.
Another regular criticism was that the novel was formulaic and full of clichés. There was the village as a sanctuary, an absent husband, a mother working from very early to very late in order to provide, a daughter with cerebral palsy and a brain tumour, a bully and an unsympathetic head teacher, financial loss and, happily, a love interest named Robert.
Robert is not the typical lead male. He may “wavy tousled hair, bright hazel eyes, a square jaw that is finely defined and fullish lips” but he is also afraid of heights, doesn’t like tomatoes and isn’t keen on swimming in the sea.
A book, then, about which we all had opinions, a book that generated comment but probably a book we would most recommend mostly as a light read – on the beach, at the airport, somewhere gentle.
The Long Song, by Andrea Levy, reviewed September 2016
Andrea Levy’s parents sailed from Jamaica to England in 1948. Levy was born in London in 1956, growing up black in what was still a very white England. She began writing at a time when little had been written about the black British experience in Britain. Her first three novels explored the problems faced by black British born children of Jamaican immigrants. In the Long Song, Levy goes back to the origins of the relationships between Britain and the Caribbean.
The book is set in early 19th century Jamaica, during the last few years of slavery and a period immediately after emancipation. It is the story of July, a house slave on a sugar plantation and is narrated by July herself, now an old woman looking back on her eventful life. She tells us that she has no desire to weigh herself down with any historical burden and recommends that if we want to know more, we do some homework ourselves!
The Independent reported, “A well-researched book that wears its scholarship lightly ……….. an immensely readable and well-paced book”, a review which the majority of the group concurred with. We felt it was absorbing, vibrant and colourful. It was well-balanced with some wonderfully comical sections alongside the more serious elements of brutality and racism, but the subjects were never trivialised. It also made some of us feel ashamed and guilty as it was a story of our history too. Most of the characters we felt were realistic and we could empathise with their story – although not much compassion was felt for the white planters.
Some of us found the style difficult to get used to but overall the majority of us found it hugely enjoyable
and we rated it four out of five.
The Cleaner of Chartres, reviewed 13th October 2016
Our September 2016 choice was a fascinating story set in Rouen and Evreux but centring on Chartres and its famous cathedral of Notre Dame.
Agnes Morel, abandoned as a baby and brought up by nuns in Evreux, arrives in Chartres and shelters in the cathedral. Over the next twenty years she plays a quiet but important part in local life. Slowly we learn of her troubled life from the many people she has encountered since childhood. We read of traumatic loss and second chances, of friendship and loyalty, but discover that faith, love and mercy can transform the tragedies of the past.
The cathedral of Notre Dame is central to the story of Agnes, with its mysterious labyrinth and glorious stained glass windows. Here she finds shelter, friendship and finally love.
There was mixed reaction from the group about this book. Some people thought it jumped backwards and forwards in time too much. Most of us thought the large number of characters were realistic and kept us interested.
Whilst some members scored the book 2 out of 5, the majority gave a score of 4 or 5 and would recommend it to others
The Unknown Bridesmaid by Margaret Forster (reviewed 10th November)
The narrative of this book jumps back and forth in time focussing on the central character, Julia, a child psychologist. Julia’s own life history slowly unfolds portraying her as a bright child with an unsettled family background, few friends and one who likes to push boundaries. In many ways, it is an exploration of dysfunctional family relationships, of jealously, resentment and above all guilt. For Julia, it seems that lies just roll off the tip of her tongue!
Throughout the novel Julia is presented as a very private person who appears to find it difficult to form close relationships. With a short failed marriage, and frequent house moves she seems unable to put down roots and no mention is made of her undertaking any pastimes outside of her work life. In essence it is almost as if she is being portrayed as a woman entrenched with the demands of her job and one who is struggling to come to terms with the actions of her past.
Julia does not appear to be close to any of her work colleagues. Also, when she succeeded in becoming a magistrate, she clearly didn’t want to interact with her fellow JP’s either preferring just to get on with the business in hand. Clearly she is a bit of a loner and not a character that you can readily warm to, however, in her professional capacity, Julia is presented with many challenging children which she deals with very clinically in an adept manner. You see another side of her, more caring, displays of empathy - as if she sees in some of her patients the path that she herself could so easily have taken.
At the end of the book, when a case prompts her to make the decision to contact her estranged cousin, Iris (to confess all) she ends up unveiling / offloading all her innermost secrets of a past that she is not particularly proud of, however, at this stage she does appear to be pleased to have confronted her demons; almost self-satisfied to have finally exposed the guilt that has plagued most of her life. The consequences of this action are not really that convincing and as such the end is therefore rather non-plus in this respect.
This book provoked a very lively discussion and members of the group particularly liked the thought provoking questions – they provided a good framework for discussion. The mean average for the book was 3 (scores ranging from 1.5 – 4).
Bring up the Bodies, reviewed December 2016
Our book choice this month was Hilary Mantel's sequel to Wolf Hall, “Bring Up The Bodies”, in which the author explores the destruction of Anne Boleyn. It is 1535 and Thomas Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith, is far from his humble origins and is now Chief Minister to Henry VIII. Henry has broken with Rome and created his own church, forcing England into dangerous isolation. Anne has failed to produce a son to secure the Tudor line and when Henry visits Wolf Hall, Cromwell watches as he falls in love with Jane Seymour. Cromwell eases his way through the politics of the court to satisfy Henry and secure his own career.
The book provoked much discussion on religion and faith, on Henry's attitude to his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and to his daughter, Mary .We did not regard him as a sympathetic character. Some of us enjoyed the vision of Tudor England, the clever writing, descriptions and symbolism, and felt that the references to Cromwell as he and use of the present tense made the disconcerting happenings more realistic.
Others felt more detached from the book , although they admired certain aspects of the writing .Our average mark was 4 out of 5.
THE SIEGE BY HELEN DUNMORE, reviewed January 2017
John Mullan, writing in the Guardian in 2011, said that realism of the senses is at the heart this book, which imagines the experience of enduring the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War. Also, he wrote that it is an agonising read, but a numbing one, where, “Characters themselves seem buried under the thickening snow, with all sense of time, beyond the difference between night and day, lost to them.”
We, of course, really enjoyed it and this review looks at the discussion about the book, rather than looking at the plot, the context or the characters. The meeting was particularly interesting, with all in attendance agreeing it was a great novel, achieving a rating of 4.78 out of 5, our highest ever. Right from the first comments, there was spontaneous positive reactions to the book.
Some members not attending expressed difficulty in identifying with the story or the people as it was so far beyond experience but others relished the focus on characters, the story as an example of people pulling together and the excellent descriptive writing. The novel highlighted an important historical event and generated further interest in the subject, including the tight control on communist society even in a siege context. Despite the story-line, the story is uplifting rather than depressing.
Group members thought the story informative, a brilliantly written depiction of contrast that allowed the reader to almost experience the cold, smell the decay and relate to the human qualities expressed.
The group could feel as though riding beside the narrator on her bicycle and sledge. It was a book people wanted to keep reading, couldn’t put down and that impressed by historical accuracy and description. It gives insight on the country and its history, provides first-class descriptive writing and sheer, uplifting emotions.
Because of the great interest aroused by the book it was agreed to add the follow-up "The Betrayal" to our future list.
THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold, reviewed Thursday 9th February 2017
This was a book that divided opinion among the 15 members attending. There was a general lack of enthusiasm, with the feeling that it was morose and miserable, simply unenjoyable, whilst a minority thought it well-written. Particular and strong criticism was registered concerning the ending, variously described as a “shambles” and having “killed off” the story. “Going into the other body” was seized on as a particularly bad feature.
3 or 4 members present said that they liked the book but commented on the “bizarre” section involving the “body transfer”. Another 2 sent in their reactions and enjoyed the book.
An earlier Guardian review of this book found it “timid and sentimental”, which seems surprising in a novel about child murder, narrated from heaven and inspired apparently by the author’s rape experience as a teenager.
“The victim, whose bones are shut in an old safe and discarded by her neighbour, spends the book watching and narrating, from her adolescent heaven, the tale of her loss and the rupture her murder brings about in the lives of her family, her killer and her friends. However, after the first 50 pages the energy dissipates and something much blander than the opening has promised starts happening both in the writing and in the narrative. It deadens the narrative.
“The Lovely Bones is so keen in the end to comfort us and make safe its world that, however well-meaning, it avoids its own ramifications.”
Alternatively, the New York Times said, “In spite of the horrific act at the centre of the story — the rape, murder and dismemberment of a 14-year-old girl — the novel is not depressing or assaultive but rather, somewhat perversely, warm, hopeful and even occasionally funny.
“The author pushes the dead-child narrative to an emotional extreme, and at the same time undermines its exploitive tendencies, by means of a simple and radical formal device. She makes the victim, an omniscient, beyond-the-grave narrator, with a comfortable perch in the afterlife from which to survey the doings of her family, her friends and the neighbour who killed her.”
In our meeting, the scores ranged from 2 out of 5, up to 4 out of five, so not one of our best-received offerings. (2 non-attenders gave a score of 5). Comments included, “some bits implausible, left me cold / enjoyed overall but the ending was bizarre / not up to the highest standards / didn’t enjoy it at all / enjoyed but didn’t like the ending / had lots that is good but the ending killed it / not for me / description of family dynamics good but didn’t like ending / too morose, unsatisfactory / disappointed by ending / enjoyed it / family dynamics interesting.
Our average rating was 3.2, compared to the Amazon score of 4.1.
Next month’s book is “the Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend – copies are available at the library. Sheila has agreed to introduce that book and lead the discussion.
The Woman who went to bed for a year,by Sue Townsend, reviewed 9 March 2017
This was not a book that divided the group members – nobody was inspired by it, which was a pity as we had looked forward to reading something, “hilarious and totally Townsend”, as suggested by the Daily Mail, whose reviewer, “laughed until I cried.”
Some group members thought the story superficial, with characters that were not attractive or interesting and, although there were funny parts, some didn't think the book was as rewarding as the Adrian Mole series. Alternatively, others enjoyed it as a light book with quirky humour and found it an enjoyable, amusing novel.
Whereas the publishers described the work as a funny and touching novel, some thought the characters rather pathetic and very sad, somewhat unbelievable. Perhaps we should end with the Sunday Times review, “Something deeper and darker than comedy.”
The overall group score was 2 out of 5, with a smatter of 3.5s being the highest mark awarded
Sue Townsend, the bestselling author sadly died in 2014.