Chapter chat (Reading 1)
We meet on the last Tuesday in the month at 8pm in members' homes. We aim to read and discuss a book each month. The books are provided by the CWAC library Service for a small annual fee. The Library issues a 'master' list from which we choose the books we would like to read. Although in practice our choice is based on what is available that month. We have been rating each book over the course of the year and the results are quite interesting with individual scores varying enormously.
We are delighted that the library scheme we use has been able to start up again. We use the Reading Group Collection Service which ensures that we all get a copy of the same edition of the book, without having to source a copy individually.
Like everyone, over the lockdowns we have had interruptions to our meetings, but we have managed a few group reads and online discussions.
The latest book we met to discuss was Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet, which won the Women's Prize for Fiction last year. It was greatly enjoyed by most of our members although a bit too descriptive for a couple - do try it for yourself. If you want to know more, Pat has written an excellent review below, although beware - there is a plot-spoiler.
We are currently reading An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey, which we are meeting to discuss next - still online for the time being.
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell - Review by Pat Black
The story is centred round the fictionalised life and untimely demise of a boy called Hamnet who was the only son of William Shakespeare. As the book opens, the boy is young and full of life and vigour. He has a twin sister, Judith, and an older sister. Their lives are followed through the story, intertwined with the story of Will and his wife, Anne Hathaway, called Agnes in the book.
Agnes (Anne) is portrayed as a strange woman with unusual skills in the use of herbs and potions, who captures the love of Will who has been employed as a Latin tutor to her siblings at the farm on which she lives. Readers will learn that he is viewed as a dreamer and good-for-nothing by his father who is a once well-respected glover in the town but who has lost his fortune and is possessed of a violent temper, often directed at Will.
As the tale unfolds, Anne realises that Will needs to get away from Stratford and his family and although heavily pregnant, sends him off to find his fortune in London. Readers familiar with Shakespeare's history will know that he does eventually find favour with the Royal Court and leads a troupe of players to entertain the public with great success.
The arrival of the plague in England causes Judith, Will's daughter, to fall ill and the story makes much of the impact this has on her family in Stratford. Will is sent for but his journey home is long and tedious and he arrives only to find that his daughter has recovered but that his son, Hamnet, has died. Struggling with his grief, Will returns to London and finds an outlet in writing the play we know as Hamlet.
The story is well written and descriptive of life in Tudor England and is an engaging and enjoyable work of fiction, based loosely on fact.
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