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2014 Book Reviews

The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger – January 201

At our January meeting we discussed The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  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 sculptures. 

They 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 through time. 

The 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!

Andy Moir


‘The Resurrection Men’ by Ian Rankin February 2014

At 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.  

The plot, as in most Rebus novels, was very complicated and many of us didn’t follow it all.    For those of us who know Edinburgh the book was very good at painting a vivid picture of the city.  

The 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.

Andy Moir

 


'How it all began' by Penelope Lively March 2014

 

The 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.

 

Starting 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”.

There 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”.

 

However, 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 expressed.

 

Harry Franklin


'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 published in Britain and has met with some success.

 

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 very self-obsessed.

 

NB  For anyone who wishes to know more about the work of this author the series " Fargo " on television at the moment is also his work.

Sheena Fraser  


The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott  Fitzgerald – June 2014

In June we read The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald.  The Great Gatsby is a novel published in 1925 which tells the story of group of people living in the fictional town of West Egg on prosperous Long Island in the summer of 1922. The story primarily concerns the young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his passion and obsession for the beautiful and married Daisy Buchanan.  

Most 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.   

We 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.  

Our 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.’

Jenny Moir


Dominion” by C. J. Sansom – July 2014

 

At 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.

 

In 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 credible”

“Enjoyed as an alternative history”

“ Enjoyed. Gripping in places”

 

However, 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, unconvincing”

“ Prefer Shardlake but length here not a problem. Intend to read again”

 

And then there were those who simply disliked the book, with comments such as:

“Utterly depressing, written in a turgid style and too many sloppy mistakes in certain situations”

“Didn’t finish and don’t want to. Dislike the use of historic figures in fictitious settings”

“Characters unconvincing 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 story teller”

 

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.

Harry Franklin

 


The Shipping News by Annie Proulx - August 2014

 

At our August meeting we discussed the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Shipping News by Annie Proulx.  The location is Newfoundland , unforgiving in its climate, geology and current socio-economic position.  The book paints a vivid picture of a society very dependent on one commodity i.e. fish and what happens to that society when, as a result of over-fishing, quotas and foreign trawlers, their livelihood disappears. The end result is unemployment and emigration particularly of the young, leaving an aging population.

 

Annie 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.

 

Some parts are hilariously funny, for example the description of an outrageously drunken leaving party, but we didn’t find ourselves laughing at the characters.

 

Although 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.

Jenny and Andy Moir 


The Ghost by Robert Harris - September 2014

 

At 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. 

 

The 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.

 

Whilst 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.

 

The 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. 

Andy Moir


About Face by Donna Leon - October 2014

 

At 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 Venice . About Face is about industrial pollution of the environment, the corruption within Italian Society at all levels and the takeover of legitimate businesses by the mafia.

 

Donna Leon’s novels are very popular and we were looking forward to an enjoyable read.  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 annoying. 

 

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. 

Andy Moir


The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene - November 2014

 

At our November meeting we discussed “The Honorary Consul” by Graham Green.  The novel is set in the 1960’s or early 1970’s in Corrientes , a quiet, subtropical backwater in northern Argentina, near the border with Paraguay . The main character, is Eduardo Plarr a young doctor of English descent who as a boy left Paraguay with his Paraguayan mother while his English father remained in Paraguay as a political rebel.

 

Plarr strikes up acquaintance with the British Honorary Consul in Corrientes , Charles Fortnum, who is a divorced, self-pitying alcoholic.  Fortnum marries Clara, a former prostitute, at least 40 years younger than him.  Plarr becomes obsessed by Clara and they begin an affair and Clara becomes pregnant.

 

Then 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 Paraguay , and that they have a plot, for which they need a doctor's assistance, to kidnap the US ambassador on his trip to Corrientes . They will demand the release of political prisoners in Paraguay , including Plarr's father, in return for the ambassador.  But the rebels kidnap the wrong man; Charley Fortnum, the Honorary Consul.  The rest of the novel charts Plarr's efforts to get Fortnum released.

 The members at the meeting all enjoyed the book and thought that it was very well written especially the dialogue and we had a very interesting discussion.   

There 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.  

Andy Moir

 


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:

 

Steinbeck writes with such compassion and understanding of the people and the terrible conditions that the combination of America 's Great Depression and the devastation of the Dust Bowl that hit Oklahoma and adjoining states in the Thirties, had upon them.

 

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?

 

I can well imagine that in pre-war, isolationist America , Steinbeck would have been regarded with suspicion, a socialist, even a communist. That his book won the Pulitzer testifies to his brilliant story telling that managed to overcome any prejudice his politics may have generated.

 

Harry Franklin

 

 

 



 

 

 


This page last edited on 02 January 2015