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Posts Tagged ‘book group’

Title: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Author: Haruki Murakami

Genre: Novel

Rating: 3/5

How I’m doing: 38 to go.

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Title: Neverwhere

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fantasy novel

Rating: 5/5

How I’m doing: 38 to go.

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Title: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Author: Susanna Clarke

Genre: Fantasy novel

Rating: 5/5

How I’m doing: 41 to go.

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Title: The Grasmere Journals

Author: Dorothy Wordsworth

Published: 1991

Genre: Journal

Blurb: ‘I went &sate with W & walked backwards & forwards in the Orchard till dinner time – he read me his poem. I broiled Beefsteaks.’

Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals are a unique record of her life with her brother William, at time time when he was at the height of his poetic powers. Invaluable for the insight they give into the daily life of the poet and his friendship with Coleridge, they are also remarkable for their spontaneity and immediacy, and for the vivid descriptions of people, places, and incidents that inspired some of Wordsworth’s best-loved poems.

The Grasmere Journal was begun at Dove Cottage in May 1800 and kept for three years. Dorothy notes  the walks and the weather, the friends, country neighbours and beggars on the road; she sets down accounts of the garden, of Wordsworth’s marriage, their concern for Coleridge, the composition of poetry.

How I came to own it: I bought this from Gower St. Waterstone’s after we decided to read it for book group.

What I thought: Two things in particular struck me about this journal. The first was the lack of introspection. Dorothy’s gaze is fixed firmly on the outside world, on nature and on other people. The second is the contrast between the mundane details recorded, quite unconcerned in the lack of interest – “It rained today,” that sort of thing – with the flashes of brilliant poetic, evocative description that recreates her world so vividly. The two, side by side, combined with the divisive nature of a series of short, daily journal entries, made the book very difficult to ‘get into’ and I struggled to keep attention.

Rating: 3.5/5

How I’m doing: 41 to go.

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Title: The Crow Road

Author: Iain Banks

Published: Abacus, 2010 (originally 1992)

Genre: Novel

Blurb: ‘It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.’

Prentice McHoan has returned to the bosom of his complex but enduring Scottish family. Full of questions about the McHoan past, present and future, he is also deeply preoccupied: mainly with death, sex, drink, God and illegal substances….

How I came to own it: I bought it for book group.

What I thought: I did something utterly out of character. I left a book half-finished. I have decided that life is too short to read books I’m not enjoying.

The really irritating thing is that I don’t really know why I wasn’t enjoying it. It was well-written. It was funny (okay, it was slightly funny – I felt it was trying rather too hard). The narrative structure was interesting: the focus was on Kenneth and his son, Prentice, and their relationship, jumping around in chronology to different episodes in each of their lives. The story just failed to grip me. Sorry, Mr. Banks.

Rating: 2/5

How I’m doing: The pile now stands at 47.

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Title: Charity Girl

Author: Georgette Heyer

Published: Pan, 1971

Genre: Historical fiction: Regency romance

Blurb: When Viscount Desford befriends a forlorn runaway, his only thought is to keep such a pretty girl as Cherry Steane out of mischief.

Soon the chivalrous Corinthian is in a rare bumble-bath, so baulked by Cherry’s lickpenny grandfather and card-sharping father that all his efforts to help lead only to some new confusion or misunderstanding. Even Henrietta Silverdale, his childhood playmate, has certain reservations…

How I came to own it: I first heard of Georgette Heyer on the BBC programme ‘Guilty Pleasures’. The guilty party was none other than Mr. Stephen Fry. I am a great admirer of Mr. Fry and so I had been keeping an eye out for Heyer. I stumbled across ‘Charity Girl’ for 20p or some other similarly ridiculous sum in Oxfam a few years ago and have been meaning to read it ever since.  I recently persuaded my book group to take it on. I was a bit nervous, actually: the blurb doesn’t exactly scream ‘compelling and profound’ and I rather felt that I would be held responsible if it was crap.

What I thought: On the back of this edition, The Evening Standard warns us to ‘never doubt that Georgette Heyer can at times match the ironical skill of Jane Austen’. No, Evening Standard, I’m afraid not. This novel is lively, frothy and very funny, and it has Jane Austen’s influence all over it, but it isn’t really ironic and it lacks the depth of an Austen novel. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it immensely. It was silly and it was fun. It was also very engaging: plot-wise, it was more than just a farce and I found myself genuinely caring what happened to Cherry. Although the pairing of Desford and Henrietta was hardly unexpected (so Emma and Knightley), I had had a terrible fear that Heyer was going to try and pair Desford and Cherry and that would have annoyed me immensely. I thought Cherry’s stupidity was a nice touch. I could see Heyer trying to sidestep producing the dullness of a stereotypical Regency romance whilst simultaneously, tongue-in-cheek, embracing it. At times, it verged on parody.

The novel owes much of its liveliness to its dialogue and to some of the most splendid slang I have ever heard. I must share it with you. Someone needs to compile a Regency slang dictionary. A ‘bumble-bath’ is, of course, a mess, or a tricky situation. There are some wonderful insults: ‘a skitterbrain… slibberslabber here-and-thereian… a damned scattergood… a shuttlehead… muttonhead… rascally scrubs… a curst care-for-nobody… a jackanapes… old humbugger’ – and that’s just the first few pages!

Great literature it ain’t but I doubt this will be the last Georgette Heyer I read. Too funny, and it’s lovely to just breeze through a book sometimes. I’m not sure what my book group will have thought, though!

Rating: 4/5

How I’m doing: Back down to 49.

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Title: The Great Gatsby

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Published: Penguin, 2007

Genre: Modernist fiction

How I came to own it: Bought on Amazon, for book group.

What I thought: I was surprised at how witty this novel was! Somehow ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald’ doesn’t sound like the name of a witty person. Appearances deceive. I thought this novel’s real strength was in its description, both of character and atmosphere, and in the minutiae of observation which brought the world of the novel to life. The narrator was ideal in his observational skills and his abundance of leisure time in which to hang around observing idle people, but a bit more characterisation and, well, interest with regard to him would have been nice.

Rating: 3.5/5

How I’m doing: 43 to go.

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