Book Group 1
Group Coordinator: Sue Cook, 020 8882 0423
4th Tuesday pm
The Tuesday afternoon book group continues meeting with much enthusiasm. It is held on the 4th Tuesday of each month and meets in members' houses.
Our books show a variety of tastes and genres and have generated much discussion and laughter.
2019 Book Choices included a a variety of reads from the popular and recently published works, to Costa and Booker prize winners and nominees as well as non fiction works. Read our reviews below.
OUR NEXT BOOK
January 2020: A Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
Three Things About Elsie by Joanne Cannon
I selected Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon because I am interested in books that deal with taboo subjects such as dementia and death. Joanna Cannon is a psychiatrist and so I was interested how this knowledge would inform her writing.
Some members of the group expressed concern about the plot which they felt is poor and detracts from the integrity of the novel. There was also concern that the characters are stereotypical and undeveloped. These feelings were not unanimous – so it made for a good debate! Some of us felt that the book had changed our understanding of dementia – in a positive way.
It was generally agreed that Cannon writes beautifully and provides significant insights into how dementia is experienced in an institution. Miss Ambrose, the warden, watches over the residents supported by Handy Simon – the caretaker. Despite the difficult subjects there is humour – often as we see the residential staff ‘the uniforms’ as Flo calls them through her eyes.
Florence (Flo) Claybourne is in a residential home because she suffers from dementia. She is portrayed sympathetically by Cannon who has created a strong character who is not afraid to speak out. Some of us found the relationship between Flo and her friend Elsie poignant. The reader senses Cannon’s disdain for the staff in the home – and also the medical staff who are involved in the assessment of Florence. One can’t help but agree with Flo’s criticisms of her treatment.
The plot deals with secrets that Flo has kept all her life which are resolved during the unfolding drama. For some of us this was less successful than for others. As Flo lies at the bottom of the stairs in her flat where she has fallen – waiting to be rescued – she relives parts of her life.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
What makes a book become a phenomena? That is the question we asked when looking at this book. Why were there sixty people in Enfield waiting to read it?
Based in Ireland, this book tells the story of Marianne and Connell. Marianne, plump, seriously uncool, and subject to bullying at school. Gives the opinion that she doesn't care. Connell, in contrast is popular and handsome. Connell's mother cleans for Marianne's family. The two set up a clandestine relationship but end up becoming soul mates. Both intelligent, they end up at university together. Roles are reversed. Connell turns in on himself whereas Marianne flourishes. They come together and part. They can't live with or without each other. Quite a sexual novel, Connell saves Marianne from her tyrannical, bullying and abusive brother and a mother who doesn't love, nurture, or care for her. They only realise their destiny when Connell wins a scholarship to and American University. Will he return to be with each other?
The book had mixed reviews within our book group. Could we answer the first question? Not really. We decided perhaps it was book for a younger audience.
Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent
Described as a 'who dunnit' this is Nugent's debut novel which presents an intriguing tale. Starting with a terrible shock, it follows the causes and outcomes from the point of view of a variety of characters, all of whom have met and,or influenced Oliver over the years.
The characters are memorable and the story, while disturbing, is plausible and real. It is alarming that a ruthless monster can be witty and entertaining and even famous, maybe leaving you looking round at your own acquaintances and even friends for hidden depths.
A good read
Deaf Sentence by David Lodge
A novel based on the author's own experiences. Desmond was a professor of Linguistics but retired early due to increasing deafness. He finds his situation annoying- endless days to fill. He lives with his second wife 'Fred' who has a career running a lifestyle shop with her friend Jacki. The book is humorous centring round Desmond's misunderstandings due to his deafness. At a party he meets Alex who supposedly is writing a thesis on suicide notes. Alex attempts to seduce Desmond. Only Desmond fails to realise this. The sad fact of this book is that it reflects on instances that are very familiar. The diagnosis and fitting of hearing aids and more particularly with Desmond's relationship with his slowly dementing father, who eventually dies. A good read enjoyed by the group but leading to a lot of reflection.
Deep Sea and Foreign Going by Rose George
The book was a departure from the novels, which we usually read as it was factual. Attendance was small with only 6 of us attending and in the main we agreed that the book was interesting and informative. It covered the world of the large container ships, which continually sail our oceans bringing us 90% of everything we use. They and the world of their crew are largely hidden, with large and secure container ports being found in deep water harbours to the seaward side of original ports.
The book described a journey taken by the author, Rose George from Felixstowe to Singapore over a five-week period. She travelled on the ‘Maersk Kendal’, and it is unusual for such a ship to allow a passenger to sail on a working ship. The book is full of facts, such as that trade carried by sea has grown fourfold since the 1970’s and is still growing with the biggest container ships carrying 15,000 boxes.
Modern sailors are a motley, multinational bunch. People from India, Bangladesh, Ukraine and Russia are common. Most populous of all are Filipinos, who are lured by the wages (government officials back home earn £200 a month, while the sailors' minimum pay is meant to be £354). Many work more than 85 hours a week and are given meagre provisions. It is not uncommon for them to be abandoned on ships for months without pay. The reason is economics: shipping has become so cheap, George explains, that it's less costly for Scottish cod to be sent 10,000 miles to China to be filleted and then exported back to restaurants here than it is to pay the (already small) salaries of Scottish filleters.
The book was generally enjoyed by members, but some of us found the formula of each chapter expanding on a related issue a bit formulaic. The pollution resulting from our need for so many goods and the risk shipping poses to marine life were thought provoking. One month on we are still quoting interesting facts from this book to friends and family.
Milkman by Anna Burns
This novel, set In a nationalist community in Belfast at the height of 'The Troubles' won the Booker Prize in 2018. Several of us found its first person description of the life of 18 year old 'middle sister', the violent society that she lives in, and her stalking by the creepy paramilitary Milkman, pretty gripping. It creates a very strong impression of life in a closed, embattled community, where a strict moral code and social control are enforced by neighbourhood gossip, and at gunpoint if necessary.
Others weren't so sure. We agreed that it was quite a difficult read, especially in the print version - it has extremely long, verbose sentences and few paragraph breaks. Despite this, we all took part in a very lively discussion of the many relevant issues it raises, all the more so when the Irish border is once again topical. We also laughed a lot, because it is very funny, despite the darkness of its setting.
Circe By Madeline Miller
Madeline Miller has created a novel about Circe who features as a minor goddess in Greek mythology. She is the daughter of Helios and lives in his kingdom where she is generally ignored and treated badly by her siblings. She meets a fisherman who she loves but he too rejects her. In a jealous rage she transforms a rival into a monster by her newly discovered magical powers. She is banished to an island as a punishment. Circe lives alone on the island and through visits by other Gods and mortals her story is told.
Through the story telling Madeline Miller weaves in many Greek Myths that are well known such as the Minotaur, Golden Fleece, Seige of Troy and Cyclops. These are moralistic tales which guided and explained man’s mortality and gave meaning to life. The myths explained the spiritual world of where we came from and where we are headed and provided instruction.
This is a story of what men will do for power and greed and what women do for love. It is also about loss and abandonment. Circe is one of the few female characters who is able to live independently and make her own decisions.
Circe is a well written book with believable characters. It is a good introduction to myths where timeless stories are explored from a modern perspective. It is easy to read although sometimes times to remember who is who and their relationship to each other. It was enjoyed by the group.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
This book was the winner of The Women's Prize for Literature 2019. It tells the story of Celestial and Roy. Roy is jailed after being accused of rape in a miscarriage of justice. he is eventually freed after 5 years. The book revolves around what happends to their marriage.
We all, unanimously, enjoyed American Marriage and would like to read more books by Tariya Jones if ,and when, they become available in the UK.
The general feeling was that the person with the most character was Big Roy. Celestial we felt was a bit wooden and we doubted very much that the marriage with Roy would have stood the test of time even if he hadn't been incarcerated. Their different upbringing and backgrounds would have meant their life goals would have been too diverse. Andre came over as particularly weak.
The book did portray the injustices of the American justice system towards the black Americans. We presume the lady who had been raped was white and hence the quick arrest of Roy. Would it have been the same if the accuser had been black? Like Sue P said it did cover many other issues. Loyalty, grief, hopelessness and more.
We also felt well able to recommend this book to friends.
Free choice. Books we have been reading over the Summer
Books we read:
House of Names by Colm Toibin
Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks. Both of these read by Gloria
- Please Mr Postman by Alan Johnson. Read by Anne
- The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Both of these read by Frances
- Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan. Read by Cath
- The Farm by Joanne Ramos. Read by Roz
- The Secret River by Kate Grenville. Read by Sue Papaspyru
Eleanor Marx: A Life by Rachel Holmes. Read by Mick.
Property by Lionel Shriver
The book was titled Property by Lionel Shriver and has 12 short stories all roughly entering around property/ownership etc. Very well written and although serious subjects also extremely funny. A lot of us saw ourselves in some of the stories
I have picked out some which made me think about my attitudes but mostly made me laugh.
Domestic Terrorism. 32 year old son who refuses to leave home and “do something with his life” his mother’s views, not his!
Vermin. Raccoons making their home in a ten inch gap between a wall and the house. Embraced when the tenants are happily renting but got rid of when they become owners of the property
Paradise to Perdition. Villain escaping to a luxury resort in Spain. Tires of the good life with no arguments , no company and Gives himself up to return to prison to relieve the boredom.
Killers of The Flower Moon by David Grann
In November we read 'Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann'.
The book traces how the Osage Native Americans were forced to leave their tribal lands to live on a barren piece of rocky land in Kansas. Soon oil was discovered and this was the beginning of a series of terrible injustices and murders brought about by the Osage becoming rich. The FBI was in its infancy and aided the investigation.
Most of the group found this an interesting and informative book, and quite an easy read. Although historical non-fiction it almost reads like a thriller. The paperback edition comes complete with photographs which help to identify the different characters, of which there are many.
The author is a journalist who was able to use both archive material, and information from descendants of those involved, to embellish his book. A good read.