University of the Third Age
2011 Book Reviews
Secret Alchemy” by Emma Darwin – January 2011
A Secret Alchemy by Emma
Darwin is an intriguing novel set partly in recent times and partly
during the time of the Wars of the Roses. The contemporary story is
centred on Una Pryor, recently returned to
There was a duality about the group’s responses, mirroring the duality
in the novel, some enjoying it as a tale well told, others irritated by
the time switches and the lack of historical accuracy. This novel
certainly engendered some lively debate and discussion.
There was a duality about the group’s responses, mirroring the duality in the novel, some enjoying it as a tale well told, others irritated by the time switches and the lack of historical accuracy. This novel certainly engendered some lively debate and discussion.
| "Dreams from My Father" by Barack Obama – February
“Dreams from My Father: A
Story of Race and Inheritance” ,
States President, Barack
Obama, was the book discussed by the Book Club at its meeting
on 21 February. It was published in July 1995, when Obama was still only
33, a young age for an autobiography. In fact, the account finishes even
earlier, when Obama was 26 and was shortly to enrol at the
was born on 4 August 1961in Honolulu,
His parents were Barack
Obama Sr., a black Kenyan, and Ann
Dunham of Wichita,
Kansas, a white American of mostly English descent. They had
met as students at the University
of Hawaii. They married in 1961, separated when Obama was 2
and divorced in 1964. Obama's father returned to
1967 Obama’s mother married Lolo
Soetoro, a student from Indonesia.
The family moved to Jakarta,
where Lolo proved a very conscientious step-father to Obama. In 1971,
Obama was sent back to
school, Obama moved to Los Angeles
and enrolled at Occidental
College, where he describes living a "party"
life-style of smoking, drug
use After two years at Occidental, he transferred to Columbia
College at Columbia
University, in Manhattan, New York City, where he majored in
second period of his life described by Obama is that following his
graduation. He moved to
three years in
Book Club members felt that Obama came across well - as a good person,
pleasant, hard-working and very committed to his work. However, it was
also commented that there was not much evidence of humour; that he
seemed quite parochial - there was little indication of interest or
concern in wider, world issues (a marked contrast to the present time);
and that, especially early on, he seemed very self-absorbed and not
particularly at ease with himself and others– possibly because of his
unusual background and because he was reflecting a great deal on his own
personal experiences with race and race relations in the United States.
book was extremely well-written, and very detailed, frank and personal,
so much so that Obama had to change some names to protect people’s
identities. The overall view of Book Club members was that they had
found the book both enjoyable and interesting. Some would like it to
have covered a longer period of time, certainly to have included
Obama’s student days at Harvard. A number have been encouraged to go
on and read Obama’s later book, “The Audacity of Hope”. In due
course Obama will no doubt write his account of his presidential
campaign or campaigns and his term or terms of Presidential office –
that should be a very interesting read indeed!
and Prudence’ by Barbara Pym - March 2011
was a mixed response, from lukewarm to very enthusiastic, to ‘Jane and
Prudence’ by Barbara Pym, but the book also stimulated a lively sharing
of ideas and experiences. It
was published in 1953 and focuses on the lives of the two main female
characters in post-war
character Prudence was considered in the book to be ‘on the shelf’ at
29 – unheard of now – and we commented upon how much women’s lives
have changed. Everyone agreed
that prospective readers should not be put off by the cover or misled by
Jilly Cooper’s name on the front since she wrote the introduction but
not the book. The book is a
non-racy, easy, quick read, which we all finished and several members said
that they would read another book by Barbara Pym.
Catcher in the Rye’ by J D Salinger - April 2011
The Catcher in the
The book was either liked or disliked - about 50:50 it seems. One reader thought it was written before its time and others could not work out what exactly was wrong with the hero.
The boy was obviously disturbed but when the book was written the condition had not been diagnosed. I feel it was much more than teenage angst. The hero was very hard to like and the swearing got a bit boring after a while.
The story which took place over three days was simply written, with glimmers of insight appearing.
All of us agreed we were glad
to have read it and everyone finished it but Salinger did not win any
None of us could speak from
experience of Boarding School and his experienced difficulties sprang from
the hero himself.
‘Small Island’ by Andrea Levy - May 2011
month we read ‘
majority of the group enjoyed the book and the use of the parallel
narratives of the four main characters, who, it was felt, are well-drawn,
although opinions diverged as to their likeability.
For example, one member wanted to slap Hortense while others leapt
to her defence.
themes of War and Racism brought back memories, not all of them
comfortable as group members remembered with a sense of shame at the way
the West Indian immigrants had been treated.
Those who had seen the TV series felt that the book offers much
more, especially in the coverage of these themes.
were particularly lively contributions about the ending, with most feeling
that the baby’s adoption was the only viable solution.
Our new member hadn’t had the book long, but vowed to continue
reading and finish what the rest of us had mostly found an interesting,
‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Toibin - June 2011
Is the novel ‘
All these opinions and many
others were expressed at our June meeting, leading to a lively discussion
about this story of a young Irishwoman’s emigration to
We all agreed on one thing
– the book was a quick read, and most group members did feel, however
grudgingly, that they got something out of it.
One identified with Eilis’ retail experience and another felt
that the depiction of Irish provincial life in the early 1950’s was spot
As last month, the ending
sparked off the most animated exchange of views.
We had to agree to differ about whether Eilis’ behaviour was just
a bit flighty, totally morally reprehensible or an example of identity
confusion. We look forward to
our meetings, where everyone has their say, with every shade of opinion
‘Middlemarch’ by George Eliot - August 2011
At our August meeting the
Book Group discussed Middlemarch by George Eliot; Middlemarch is a very
long and thoughtful novel so we had two months to read it.
Middlemarch, subtitled "A Study of Provincial Life," was
published in 1871 and is set in the fictitious Midlands
with our group we had a very lively discussion with some very varied
opinions on the novel. Some
people didn’t finish the novel because of its length and slow pace but
most of those who did finish reading the novel enjoyed it and found it a
riveting and interesting read. We
had a particularly animated discussion on one of the characters, Casaubon,
where the group was divided by gender with the men feeling sympathetic to
him whilst the women strongly disliked him!
usual it was a lively and enjoyable meeting.
Poetry Festival – September
Our September meeting was different to our usual monthly meetings because we didn’t discuss a book that we had all read. Instead as part of the Essex Poetry Festival a local poet, Tim Cunningham, attended the meeting and read us some of his poems.
Cunningham grew up in Limerick in the
well as reading us a number of his poems Tim Cunningham explained what
inspired him to write the poems.
One poem I particularly enjoyed was inspired by him seeing a blind
man and his guide dog at a London Station.
From the ticket office
To the stairs
Then at the escalator top
The blind man
Gathers up his dog
also had a lively and interesting discussion and as usual it was a
stimulating and enjoyable meeting.
‘The Island’ by Victoria Hislop - October 2011
book of choice for October was “The Island” by Victoria Hislop, wife
of Ian Hislop. This was her first novel and received much acclaim.
tale covered the time spent in a Leper Colony on the
The heroine’s mother has also spent her last years on the island.
story explained how the mainland could be seen from the island, in fact
most of the lepers could see their own village.
giving the plot away, the agony and despair of the lepers was well
described. The dreaded
diagnosis meant, to adult or child, exile to the island with little or no
hope of returning to their families. The
symptoms of this ancient and terrifying disease, now well documented, were
of us felt the characters lacked depth but others felt that Hislop had
shown us a situation we had known little about. The majority of the group
liked it and felt it was a light holiday read. We were of the opinion it
had been written by a journalist rather than a novelist. The overriding
message is that while the disease has been eradicated in Europe it still
remains in the
one redeeming factor is that it can be cured and is not as contagious as
was once believed.
usual it was a lively and enjoyable meeting.