University of the Third Age
2014 Book Reviews
“The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger – January 2014
our January meeting we discussed The
Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey
The novel tells the story using alternating first-person
perspectives of Henry DeTamble (born 1963), a librarian in Chicago,
and his wife, Clare Anne Abshire (born 1971), an artist who makes paper
have known each since
Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and they were married when Clare
was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. This was possible because Henry
has a rare genetic disorder, which causes him to involuntarily travel
novel was an international best seller selling more than 7 million
copies. However with only a
few exceptions our group did not like the novel and a number of members
didn’t even finish the book.
Most of us agreed that it was too long, confusing and too far fetched and unrealistic. One member wondered of the 7 million people who bought the book how many actually finished reading it!
‘The Resurrection Men’ by Ian Rankin February 2014
our February meeting we discussed ‘The Resurrection Men’ by Ian
Rankin. The novel is the
thirteenth book in the very successful series featuring Detective
Inspector Rebus, the unorthodox Edinburgh-based detective.
plot, as in most Rebus novels, was very complicated and many of us
didn’t follow it all. For
those of us who know
group was almost equally divided between those who enjoyed the book and
would like to read more Rebus novels and those who didn’t. It was as
usual an enjoyable and good natured discussion.
'How it all began' by Penelope Lively March 2014
views expressed when discussing Penelope Lively’s recent book How it all began could fairly be broken down into three categories,
Those whose enjoyment of the book was unreserved, those who found it
pleasant, but no more than that and those, surprisingly in the majority,
who simply disliked the story.
with the latter, opinions were of the order “her writing was clipped,
cold and posh”. “characters were selfish and introverted”
and in one instance “a pox on them all!” (the characters).
Another member spoke of being “disappointed and found the book boring
and the style irritating”.
were others who although not overly enthusiastic, nevertheless enjoyed the
book to some extent, but spoke for instance, of “nothing happened much,
pretty far-fetched and predictable”. “Pretty far-fetched, predictable,
a bit wishy-washy, NOT VERY LIVELY”.
as a saving grace, there were those who were more favourably disposed to
the story. One member enjoyed the domino effect of how one incident
experienced by a character had a repercussion on another which in turn had
its own impact. Comments such as “Characters were realistic”, “Liked
the short, expressive sentences”, “Thoroughly enjoyed” were
'The Good Father' by Noah Hawley April 2014
For the book of the month of May we
chose "The Good Father " by Noah Hawley.
He has written four novels but this is the first one to be
As is usually the case, it was met
with very mixed feelings by the Group. Some readers found it gripping and
thrilling and were unable to put it down, others were not so keen.
The story concerns a father who has
just been informed that his son has shot a Senator at a rally. The boy had
been helping with the Senator’s campaign.
The father has to come to terms with
his divorce from the boy's mother some years ago. In fact the substance of
the book is the father's looking back to the past and working out if he
had been a good father.
The reason that the boy shot the
senator seems to be quite irrelevant. The father's angst and soul
searching is the theme. The
book is well written but it is hard to feel sympathy for the father who is
NB For anyone who wishes to know
more about the work of this author the series "
“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald – June 2014
June we read The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald.
Great Gatsby is a novel published in 1925 which tells the story
of group of people living in the fictional town of
of us enjoyed the book, with many commenting on Fitzgerald’s vivid
style which they found easy to read.
Some found the characters shallow and Gatsby’s obsession with
Daisy unrealistic whereas others thought the book was a highly
entertaining well-structured story full of irony and contradictions, of
surface layers which hide something very different underneath.
were interested in the suggestion that the book is autobiographical, and
wondered how Fitzgerald could live that aimlessly hectic Jazz Age
partying lifestyle and write so critically of it at the same time.
He apparently modelled Daisy, a spoilt, empty-headed, amoral
society girl, on his own wife, to whom he dedicated the book.
opinions ranged from ‘all daft and no sense, no purpose’, to ‘a
highly entertaining condemnation of the state of American Society in the
1920s, foreshadowing the crash of 1929 and the financial shenanigans of
our own time.’
“Dominion” by C. J. Sansom – July 2014
the July meeting we discussed Dominion by C.J.Sansom.
Most members present at the meeting had read and enjoyed this
author’s “Shardlake” stories and had approached “Dominion” no
doubt in anticipation of a further enjoyable, if different experience.
this it was apparent that their expectations were not entirely met.
Almost without exception, members felt the book was too long and would
have lost little in the narrative had it been considerably shorter. On
balance, it would appear that there were fewer who found the book a good
read, than those who were less than enthusiastic. Comments varied from:
“Enjoyed. I lived through
that period and thought that Sansom’s imagined state of the nations
“Enjoyed as an alternative
“ Enjoyed. Gripping in
even these positive comments were diluted by an acknowledgement that the
plot was unconvincing and the characters weakly drawn. And several
members agreed that some of the episodes describing events were glaring
examples of simply bad writing. There were others whose reaction to the
book was neither positive nor negative in any strong sense but were on
the lines of
“Easy to read,
“ Prefer Shardlake but
length here not a problem. Intend to read again”
then there were those who simply disliked the book, with comments such
written in a turgid style and too many sloppy mistakes in certain
“Didn’t finish and
don’t want to. Dislike the use of historic figures in fictitious
as was the story. Too much like a Boy’s Own”.
“Disappointed. Found the
alternative history difficult to cope with”
“Showed his weakness as a
To summarise, it would appear that for those who had found pleasure in the Shardlake books, Dominion was a disappointment and for those new to Sansom, this was a poor introduction to his work.
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx - August 2014
our August meeting we discussed the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The
Shipping News by Annie Proulx. The
Proulx often uses words that can’t be found in regular dictionaries, but
are used by the Newfoundlanders. She
also uses many images to describe the weather and the setting, painting a
very vivid picture of this harsh and unforgiving place.
A place that the vast majority of us would not like to visit, let
alone live there.
parts are hilariously funny, for example the description of an
outrageously drunken leaving party, but we didn’t find ourselves
laughing at the characters.
the book wasn’t to everyone’s taste, most of us enjoyed it and we
agreed that we would like to read and discuss another book by Annie Proulx.
We liked the story of people who face disadvantages but rise above their difficulties to enjoy life and each others’ company. In spite of all the trials and tribulations the story has a happy ending.
and Andy Moir
The Ghost by Robert Harris - September 2014
our September meeting we discussed The Ghost by Robert Harris. The
fictional narrator of The Ghost,
whose name is never revealed, is a professional ghost writer, who is hired
at short notice to finish the autobiography of a recently deposed British
prime minister named Adam Lang, a thinly disguised version of Tony Blair.
previous person who had been ghosting his autobiography has just drowned
in mysterious circumstances. The
narrator soon suspects foul play and stumbles across evidence of a
possible motive, buried in Lang's past. Having located what may be the
lethal secret, the ghost writer begins to fear for his own safety.
Meanwhile, because of a leaked memorandum, Lang has been accused of war crimes by Rycart a. former foreign secretary sacked by Lang whilst still Prime Minister. He is now at the UN and threatens to indict Lang at the International Criminal Court. After the narrator contacts Rycart with his suspicions he becomes under increasing danger from the CIA.
we were not unanimous the vast majority of the group really enjoyed the
book and found it a well written, very enjoyable and interesting read.
book also led to a lively discussion about the political issues raised in
the book and our thoughts about Tony Blair and his legacy.
We agreed that we would include another of Robert Harris’s books in our future programme.
About Face by Donna Leon - October 2014
our October meeting we discussed About Face by Donna Leon. This is the
eighteenth novel in her series of books featuring police
commissioner Guido Brunetti.
All of Donna Leon’s Brunetti novels are set in and around
Donna Leon’s novels are very popular and we were looking forward to an
However nobody at the meeting liked or enjoyed reading the book.
Whilst some people thought that the book was easy to read and did
at least paint a vivid picture of the corruption within Italian society we
all agreed that the story was disappointing, the plot development was very
slow, the story had an unsatisfactory ending, the characters were
unrealistic and the main character, Guido Brunetti, was extremely
The group was particularly put off by the pretentious and unnecessary use of
Italian words and phrases which were scattered through the book.
We may have been unlucky with the particular Donna Leon novel that we chose and some members had read other books which were better but as a group we agreed not to include any more of her books in our reading list.
The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene - November 2014
our November meeting we discussed “The Honorary Consul” by Graham
Green. The novel is set in
the 1960’s or early 1970’s in
strikes up acquaintance with the British Honorary Consul in
some of Plarr's former friends from school visit him. They are now
rebels fighting against the Paraguayan dictator.
They tell Plarr that his father is alive in a jail in
were differences of opinion about how much people enjoyed the
theological discussions been one of the kidnappers, who had been a
Catholic priest, and the Honorary Consul.
However we agreed that we would like to include another Graham
Green book in our future programme.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - December 2014
At our December meeting we discussed “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. The members at the meeting all enjoyed the book and thought that it was very well written and we agreed that we would like to include another John Steinbeck book in our future programme. The following review was written by one of our members:
writes with such compassion and understanding of the people and the
terrible conditions that the combination of
When he writes in the present tense, he captures perfectly the speech idioms and inflections of these dirt-poor share croppers, to the extent that the reader can almost hear the characters speak. And in those descriptive passages, when he sets scenes and backgrounds to what is happening outside the immediate environment occupied by the Joads, his prose takes on an almost biblical cadence.
He is masterly when describing the sheer poverty which drives men, women and children to undertake work, any work that will provide a few hard-earned dollars so that the family can eat that night or buy a gallon of petrol. If there is a criticism to be made, perhaps it lies in his portrayal of the almost Utopian way that families with almost nothing to eat or drink themselves, nevertheless manage to share their meagre supplies with those who have even less. I thought that the way in which he describes the egalitarian regime in which the government camp of Weedpatch was organised was, perhaps, a little too idealistic. When I read those passages I thought, maybe a little cynically, that his sense of social democracy was just too good to be true.
When I finished the book, having long decided that there would be no miraculous salvation for the Joads, or all the other families, 1 was left wondering what their fate would be. And I felt that for the likes of Tommy and Al and eventually perhaps even Winfield, the Second World War would be some kind of wonderful salvation from the poverty trap they found themselves in. But for Ma and Pa, Rose of Sharon and Ruthie, what?
can well imagine that in pre-war, isolationist