The second part of our double-header, Harper Lee’s “new” book.
The first part of our traditional double-header of the Christmas / New Year period.
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 have gone back to a classic, in this case Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm, which claimed the #57 spot in the Guardian’s best novels.
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
What happened? No review?
Karen 6; Wendy “8 and 6”; Jane 7; Jo 8; Marion 8; Suzanne 8; Charles 4; Mark would not could not read. Average = 7 or 6.7.
We had a skinnied-down group for David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, but for those who could make it there was the usual lively discussion and good company.
For some, this was their first taste of Mitchell, while others had read several (or all) of his previous books. Sadly, The Bone Clocks was universally considered to be a poor effort. We were pretty well united in our feeling that the book was simply too long. It started well, with Holly Skyes’s adolescence in London being well painted and supported by convincing dialogue. But from there on in …
Each episode, in which a character from an earlier episode was revisited, could be said to be well presented but the overall lack of single clear narrative (other than the increasingly silly conflict between the Atemporals and The Other Lot Whose Name I Can’t Remember) left readers cold. The presence of some entire sections seemed inexplicable: what did the enitre Crispin Hershey bit add, other than a few laughs? And the rebirthing in the Russian peasant girl? And it was way too long.
This was a shame because sections of the writing were often engaging, funny and well drawn. It had the sense, however, of a literary author who has had success with a particular structure shoe-horning a rambling tale into that structure, adding a bit of fashionable vampire fantasy and ending with … a horrible mess. And – did I mention this? – it was waaaay too long.
The “climax” was utterly lacking in tension. We all knew that Xi Lo would reappear, and that Holly would have to find her way out of the labyrinth using Jacko’s amulet map. The tacked-on ending in a dystopian Ireland of the not-so-distant future summed up the book: cleverly imagined and executed, then botched with a twee finale.
Reviews in the UK have apparently been kind, though the NY Review of Books was less complimentary, describing it as “undisciplined”. That’s about the kindest thing anyone could say about it.
Judith 4; Wendy 6; Suzanne 6; Simon 6; Helen 6; Jane 6; Mark 3. Average = 5.3
Chigizie Obioama’s The Fisherman was our May book. This report from Simon, with thanks.
Thank you all for your attendance at Charlie and Karen’s on Tuesday night, to discuss Chigozie Obiama’s The Fishermen. It was a great pleasure to welcome Mark back to the fold, following his sojourn back home, nursing his dad through his final days. We were sorry (but not too sorry) for Wendy and Jo, who had to miss an enjoyable and lively discussion. Both are currently flitting about the USA and probably not missing us at all.
The book was generally well received, but with reservations. Suzanne enjoyed it thoroughly, with Jane not far behind, but the rest of us were somewhat critical of the writing style. Obioma is a fiction fellow (a what?) at the University of Michigan, but one of our members was heard to suggest that his work sometimes read like something from Creative Writing 101. Personally, I couldn’t decide at various points whether he was trying to present the narrative in the voice of a young boy, or if it was just the way that he writes. (Judith correctly pointed out that, at the time the narrative was presented, the boy was an adult. Right.) Descriptions were good, but overly wordy. We came away with a good idea of what life in Akure is like, but perhaps we could have done without some of the information.
Disclaimer: I accept no responsibility for the accuracy, or otherwise of the above, since I had been on the go since about 4.30, including a trip to Sydney and back (obviously)!
[In the email, there’s a photo which for some reason I can’t repost. Simon’s caption reads: This is a photo of 1993 presidential hopeful MKO Abiola, who died in military detention after winning the public vote. He appears in the story, but I wasn’t quite sure why…]
We must be a critical bunch, because almost all of the reviews I came across raved about it! Some gushing I came across included: “One of the most amazing books I have ever read”; “This book is astonishing”; “Best book I’ve read this year”; “A powerful novel that reaches toward myth” (That one’s the winner)
I think the general opinion could be summed up by saying that we liked what Obioma tried to do, but we weren’t overly impressed by how he did it.
However, none of us disliked it enough to actually give it a bad mark! (See? We’re quite nice, really)
Marks: (Recorded by… Mark)
Marion 6; Suzanne 7; Simon 6; Karen 6; Charles 5; Helen 6; Jane 7; Judith 4. Average: 5.9.
Philipp Meyer’s The Son is the follow up to American Rust, which was a favourite from a year or so ago. This report came from Wendy:
In keeping with our history we were divided in our appreciation and enjoyment of the book. For some it was inhaled with gusto. For those it was the narrative, characters, structure and history that contributed to the pleasure.
For some who did not enjoy it the personality and actions of the characters as a representation of American history and culture made it difficult to read. We revisited our theme of balancing unlikeable characters with fine writing, particularly when assigning a mark.
Points of general agreement were that Eli’s story during his time with the Commanches was a good read. For some the other 2 characters were less engaging and most felt that Jeanne’s story had elements of confusion in the way it was presented. We were divided in how well we thought using the 3 personal threads worked.
Overall most people think Meyer is an important “young” writer.
Here are the marks.
Jo 8; Jane 6; Karen 8; Marion 4; Charlie 7; Suzanne 6; Simon 5; Helen 7; Wendy 8; Judith 9.
Guardian review here.