Viet Thanh Nguyen.
Our real 200th book!
Sebastian Barry got consistently high praise for his writing from the group, particularly his descriptive passages that captured particular places, events or moods in such a way as to make them entirely real – though they were in fact the addled part-memories of a functioning alcoholic.
Jack McNulty came across as the genial barfly who, through his ability to adapt to almost any situation (as long as he had a pint of whisky inside him). The only situation who couldn’t adapt to was one that involved emotion or empathy or the ability to understand the needs of another person. In the case of his wife and chldren, this was to have catastrophic and lifelong effects on them all.
Barry’s powers of description, which made his writing so powerful, were also (for some) his downfall. Critics felt that, sometimes, the descriptive pieces went just that bit too far, causing some to glaze over a little and speed-certain passages.
Luckily we had some fans of Barry’s work to provide a little background. Knowing that Barry shared a bed with his grandfather, himself a “temporary gentleman” and great storyteller, helped make sense of a lot of the book’s content and narrative style.
And here’s the man himself, reading that extraordinary opening passage. (Wish I’d watched this earlier: it made me rethink Jack as a much more robust character!)
Simon 8, Helen 8, Marion 7, Judith 7, Wendy 8, Karen 8, Jo 7, Suzanne 8, Charles 8, Jane 7, Mark 6. Average = 7.45.
The second part of our double-header, Harper Lee’s “new” book.
Oh dear. I read this “first” book second, and was bitterly disappointed. No other way to put it. The most startling revelation of the night was that the two manuscripts were produced about three years apart. Can that even be possible? Did Lee go to the crossroads and sell her soul to the devil or something?
This was a dull affair: flat characters, turgid dialogue, poor plotting and pace. Obviously not the one that Truman Capote wrote.
Marion 4, Judith 4, Jo 6, Helen 5, Wendy 5, Karen 5, Charles 5, Suzanne 6, Simon 4, Mark 6. Average = 5.
What’s going on with me? I didn’t like it and yet I give it 6? And, scrolling down the blog, I see that I gave We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and 8, and yet this month I couldn’t even remember what it was about?
The first part of our traditional double-header of the Christmas / New Year period: Harper Lee versus Harper Lee.
Which one to read first? We all approached this aspect of the big read differently, and part of the discussion did circulate around how much “order of read” affected the reader’s enjoyment (or not) of the companion volume.
Remarkably, there were a few people present who had made it into late adulthood without ever having read TKAM. Personally, I’ve always been a miserly marker and of the opinion that no book deserves 10 as that leaves you with nowhere to go, but after re-reading Mockingbird I’ve ditched that philosophy. To me, it’s as good as a work of fiction can get.
Marion 8, Judith 8, Jo 8, Helen 8, Wendy 8, Karen 9, Charles 10, Suzanne 9, Simon 8, Mark 10. Average = 8.6
We did have a book that we’d all chosen and agreed upon. But then we all forgot what it was called, and who the author was, and we realised that none of us had actually written it down. How can this happen? Are we really all that dotty? Apparently so.
In its stead we went back to a classic, in this case Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm, which claimed the #57 spot in the Guardian’s best novels.
This was one that divided us, not quite evenly. I do think that Charlie needs to write up the report for this one, as the only member who – as a youth – could quote passages at length, a la Python.
Sadly, it didn’t do it for me, but it averaged out moderately well.
Charles 7, Judith 8, Karen 7, Jo 7, Simon 3, Helen 5, Suzanne 7, Marion 5, Mark 5, Wendy away. Average = 6.
What a difference a month makes. We met at Judith’s as poor Jo was indisposed. Thankfully we had a good book to discuss and lift our spirits.
Judith 7; Helen 8; Wendy 6; Simon 8; Charles 6; Karen 7; Mark 8; Suzanne (postal vote) 8. Average = 7.25
A packed house at Helen and Simon’s! When did we last have everyone there? (I could look this up on my phone, but I haven’t got a spare three hours.)
Andrew O’Hagan’s The Illuminations was well received by everyone, the only difference of opinion was whether it was better than Be Near Me or not (majority consensus: it was).
The twin stories of Anne, falling into the abyss of Alzheimer’s in a Scottish coastal sheltered home for the aged, and that of her grandson Luke, a soldier serving in Afghanistan, offers an unlikely coupling at first. But O’Hagan works hard at creating believable worlds; indeed, the world of the soldiers (and their endless nagging, abbreviated banter) was an aspect of the book that everyone felt was strongly executed. Similarly, the push-pull of Anne’s neighbour Maureen, with her needy but barbed relationship with her family was immediately recognisable.
One of our books of the year.
Wendy 7; Charles 7; Karen 8; Helen 8; Judith 7; Simon 8; Jane 7; Jo 7; Suzanne 8; Marion 7; Mark 7. Average = 7.37