University of the Third Age 

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2018 Book Reviews
 


A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale - January 2018

 

At our January meeting we discussed A Perfectly Good Man” by Patrick Gale.  The novel is about Barnaby Johnson, a parish priest in a small town in the far west of Cornwall. 

 

The book starts with Barnaby being present at the suicide of Lenny, a young parishioner who was paralysed in a rugby accident.  The novel then recounts the story of Barnaby, Lenny, their families and of Modest Carlsson, a very unpleasant character.

 

The majority of the group enjoyed the book, found it to be an enjoyable and interesting read and would like to read another of Patrick Gale’s novels.

 

However as frequently happens in our group a minority didn’t like the book at all.

 

Andy Moir


The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison - February 2018

 

At our February meeting we discussed The Silent wife”.  This is the only novel written by A.S.A Harrison, a Canadian, who sadly died of cancer shortly before her novel was published.

 

The novel is about  Jodi and Todd, an affluent couple who have lived together in Chicago for more than twenty years but who never married.

The book tells the story of what happens when Todd, who has had several previous affairs, decides to leave Jodi for a much younger woman, the daughter of his best friend.

 

The vast majority of the group really enjoyed the book and one member said, “I loved this book and once I’d started, looked forward to reading it more than any book I can remember recently”.   People liked how the author told us about Jodi and Todd’s earlier lives which help to explain their characters and actions.

 

People also found the novel very amusing in parts and the twist at the end was very unexpected and we had a discussion at the meeting about who was responsible.

 

However as frequently happens in our group, a minority of members didn’t like the book.

 

Andy Moir

 
 

The Beginner’s Guide by Anne Tyler - March 2018

Because of winter break holidays and members’ other commitments, those attending this month’s meeting, to discuss The Beginner’s Guide by Anne Taylor, comprised a much-depleted group. However, the combination of a lively discussion and the inclusion of written critiques by those unable to attend, ensured the book was fully discussed. As is often the case, there were sharp divisions of opinion

 

For some, the author’s writing style was pleasing, and this was reflected in their enjoyment of the novel. Amongst the comments of those in favour were ”The novel was very funny in places and very sad and moving in others”. Another comment was “A wonderful mixture of humour and grief”. However, there were those who felt that “The whole story seemed to be lightweight, unconvincing and as dull as ditch water”. Another view was simply “Not for me”. There were also those who neither enthused over nor dismissed the book. What was a common observation with the majority was that the central character, Aaron, seemed much older than the thirty-odd years given him.

 

Another enjoyable afternoon’s discussion.

 

Harry Franklin

 


Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf - April 2018

 

At our April meeting we discussed Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf.  The novel, like all the author’s books, is set in the fictional town of Holt in western Colorado.

 

The book tells the story of Addie and Louis who are both in their sixties, retired and widowed.  They find an unusual way of cope with their loneliness.

 

The majority of the group really enjoyed the book and thought that  it was beautifully written with very believable characters with understandable motivations.

 

However as usually happens in our group we didn’t all agree and some members thought that the book was meandering and rather boring.

Andy Moir

 

Dark Fire by CJ Sansom - May 2018

 

At our May meeting we discussed Dark Fire by CJ Sansom.  Dark Fire is one of CJ Sansom’s series of historical mysteries set in Tudor times, and the fourth from the series that we’ve read in the Book Group.   

Most readers really enjoyed the book, but a minority thought that the book was rather too long and the plot too complicated. 

We all agreed that CJ Sansom is very good at taking us back in time with his meticulous research and he paints a vivid picture of life in Tudor London. We all agreed that it was not a place where we would like to live.  

Many of the themes of the book, although set five hundred years ago, e.g. inadequate and dangerous housing, beggars on the streets and pollution are still with us today. 

Overall, though, there was a positive response to this book and several group members said they’d be happy to read another CJ Sansom historical thriller. 

Andy Moir


Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte - June 2018

At our June meeting we discussed ‘Agnes Grey’ by Anne Brontë.  Anne was the youngest of the three Brontë sisters and this was the first novel she published.

 

The novel is partly autobiographical and is based on Anne’s experience of being a governess to a rich and unpleasant family.

 

The majority of the group really enjoyed the book and felt that is was beautifully written.  We also thought that it gave an interesting insight into the life of women in the nineteenth century. 

 

When the novel was published it was compared unfavourably to Anne’s sister Charlotte’s novel ‘Jane Eyre‘. However, we thought that ‘Agnes Grey’ gave a far more realistic picture of the awful conditions suffered by governesses than ‘Jane Eyre’ did.

 

We were sorry that unlike in the novel where Agnes Grey marries a clergyman and lives happily ever after, Anne died at the age of twenty-eight only two years after publishing the novel. 


Conclave by Robert Harris - July 2018

At our July meeting we discussed ‘Conclave’ by Robert Harris.  Robert Harris is a very popular author with our group and this is the fourth novel by him that we have read and discussed.  

‘Conclave’ is about a papal conclave in the Vatican set sometime in the near future. The pope has just died and the cardinals are gathering to elect his successor.  This might not sound like a topic for an interesting and enthralling read, but the vast majority of the group thought that it was.  

As usual Robert Harris has clearly done an enormous amount of research to enable him to write an excellent fictionalised account of a process that very few people have witnessed.

 

The majority of the group were taken by surprise by the revelation at the end of the story though one or two people had guessed what was going to happen.

 

A very enjoyable book and an interesting afternoon’s discussion.


 

The Muse by Jessie Burton - August 2018 

A well-attended meeting discussed the July selection, The Muse, the second novel written by Jessie Barton. The majority of those present had read and enjoyed Ms Barton's first book "The Miniaturist" and expressed disappointment with this second work. For some, the characters lacked credibility and several members spoke of a struggle to maintain interest, with one member giving up halfway through. It was clear that most found the story unconvincing and in one particular, the transformation from unsophisticated Spanish girl Teresa to the very sophisticated, apparently English Marjorie Quick, the possessor of a desirable property on Wimbledon Common and the tenure of a managerial role in a city art gallery. Unconvincing.

 

One of the repeated criticisms was the  author's use of anachronistic situations and expressions as they were portrayed  for that section of the story based in the sixties. A reference to smokers gathered together outside a building was clearly out of place at a time when it was the norm for everyone to smoke indoors and the use of forms of management-speak simply didn't arise back then. These small anachronisms contributed to a general lack of enthusiasm  for what was regarded as a well-written but unsatisfactory second effort. It was also felt that the background of the Spanish civil war as portrayed here lacked conviction.

 

However, it is necessary to state that in spite of its reception, the meeting was, as is customary, an enjoyable discussion of the merits or lack of them of The Muse.

 

Harry Franklin


The Humans by Matt Haig - September 2018

At our September meeting we discussed The Humans by Matt Haig.  The novel looks at the human condition from the perspective of an alien narrator who comes from a planet where life is based around maths, logic and rationality, with no messy emotions to clutter up his immortal existence.

 

The alien has been sent to Earth because a professor of maths at Cambridge University has solved the Riemann hypothesis, a real mathematical problem involving prime numbers, which holds the key to space travel, and the narrator's job is to exterminate the professor and anyone to whom he has divulged his discovery.

 

The alien starts off determined to carry out his commands, but finds himself falling for some of these beings, despite their foibles and irrationality.

 

The lively discussion at the meeting was one of the most polarised we have ever had with widely different opinions of the book.

 

Some members who really liked the book, found it easy and enjoyable to read, particularly the alien’s insights into human society and would like to read another book by Matt Haig.  Other members disliked the book and were unable to finish it.

Andy Moir


The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith - October 2018

 

 

Our October meeting met to discuss The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling). Whilst there was a significant divergence of views, almost without exception there was a consensus by members who felt the novel was too long. Opinions expressed included the likelihood that if someone other than JKR had been the author, the editor would have insisted on a reduction by a third.

 

Some members were impressed by the authentic description of London locations but for others this was offset by the book being “stodgy and too wordy”. “too convoluted with too much detail”. There was a sharp difference of opinion when the dialogue was discussed, with some saying that the language used was authentic whilst others disapproved of the scatological content, with one reader abandoning the book in disgust.

 

There were more positive reactions, such as it being a good holiday read and a good logical story and several members said that they’d be happy to read more Cormoran Strike novels in the future.

 

Although somewhat depleted in numbers this session, the meeting was enjoyed by all those present.

 

Harry Franklin


The Late Show by Michael Connelly - November 2019

At our November meeting we discussed Michael Connelly’s The Late Show.  It is his first book in which Renée Ballard is the main character.  She works on the night shift, hence the title, and group members commented on her strange lifestyle, living in a tent on the beach with her faithful dog, and using her grandmother’s address as hers.  One group member pointed out that the author was inspired to write his novels by Raymond Chandler, who had a private detective as the main character, and although she’s an LAPD detective, Renée Ballard does resemble Chandler’s characters as she likes to do her own investigations and is very tough with great reserves of energy.  However, inevitably, her seniors don’t approve …

 

In the past, one of her seniors sexually harassed her, and her partner detective who witnessed this wouldn’t give evidence against the perpetrator when Renée Ballard made a formal complaint.  It was interesting to read a book written by a man in 2017 in which this issue is sensitively described.  Connelly also describes Ballard’s inner thoughts and feelings, which readers said they appreciated.

 

A slight majority of us at our meeting enjoyed the book, with remarks such as ‘Gripping’, ‘Rattled along’, ‘Consumed by it’.  Others weren’t keen on the crime, violence, Americanisms and acronyms, of which there were many!  The book is also 432 pages long and there are several plot strands, which some found too much. 

 

Our meeting revealed an interestingly divergent range of reactions and we all enjoyed hearing others’ points of view as always.

 

Jenny Moir 

 

 

 


This page last edited on 02 December 2018