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2019 Book Reviews

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens - January 2019


At our January meeting we discussed The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.  The Pickwick Papers was Dickens’ first novel and includes humour, well drawn characters and a sense of social justice, features which are also found in his later and more famous books.  It is a long book, so we had two months to read it.


The views of the group members were very divergent and a number of people did not finish reading the novel.  People who didn’t enjoy the book made comments like “I found The Pickwick Papers was virtually unreadable due to the flowery Victorian English and the tortuous plots of the chapters. Dickens uses a dozen words when he could have used three” or “Too long, drawn out and slow”.


However other group members really enjoyed the book and found it to be laugh-out-loud funny, an interesting social history of the early nineteenth century before the arrival of the railways and that it contained vivid pictures of the corruption of the courts, the debtor’s prisons and of parliamentary elections before the 1831 Reform Act abolished rotten boroughs.  


Members who enjoyed the novel made comments like “Loved it, Dickens had a marvellous command of the English Language” or “Loved all the characters and Dickens sense of social justice. Enjoyed rereading it.”


Despite our disagreements the meeting was friendly and good-natured, and we all enjoyed it.



Andy Moir

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes - February 2019


At our February meeting we discussed The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes.  The novel is a gripping fictionalised account of Shostakovich’s life living under Stalin and his successors in the USSR.


The first section is set during Stalin’s reign of terror in the 1930s and describes extremely well what it must have been like to live there and to be in constant fear of arrest and execution.  Shostakovich narrowly avoided being implicated in a fabricated plot against Stalin which would have led to his probable execution, only because his interrogator was himself purged.


In the later sections of the book Shostakovich’s life was no longer at risk, but his integrity was.  The novel illustrated how even the USSR’s most famous living composer was forced to make terrible compromises in order to be able to continue to write music and to get it performed. 


Unusually for our group everyone at the meeting had enjoyed the book and found it very interesting and moving.  One member said that “at times I felt that I was inside Shostakovich’s head”.  Another member said “You can hear the irony and protest in his music, an incredible book I couldn’t put down.”

Andy Moir

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson - March 2019

At our March meeting we discussed Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.  Almost without exception, members appreciated the skill of Kate Atkinson’s writing, but again, with almost one voice, they also felt that the novel was both too long and too convoluted. There were those who didn’t finish the book. In particular, the skipping from one calendar period to another, without any apparent link, frustrated some readers and puzzled others.


There was praise for the section of the book that dealt with the Blitz which was regarded as both horrifying in its description of the death and destruction but realistic in its telling. Several members felt that certain sections of the story could well have been omitted because they felt them to be irrelevant to the main story.


The several different “lives” of Ursula, the main character, left some readers wondering which, if any, was the true one. Did she have a child after being raped as a teenager? Did she have a child when married to a Nazi officer and living throughout the war in Germany?  Or was Ursula the spinster that was portrayed at the end of the book?


A good read in all, but a hard slog for most.

Harry Franklin

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy - April 2019

At our March meeting we discussed Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.  It was Thomas Hardy's fourth novel and his first major literary success. The novel is the first to be set in Wessex, a fictional area of rural southwest England in early Victorian times.


The novel includes themes of love, honour, and betrayal, against a backdrop of the seemingly idyllic, but often harsh, realities of a farming community in Victorian England. It describes the life and relationships of Bathsheba Everdene with her lonely neighbour William Boldwood, the faithful shepherd Gabriel Oak, and the thriftless soldier Sergeant Troy.


Three members of the group had first read the novel as an O level English Literature set book more than 50 years ago.  They didn’t enjoy the book as teenagers but on a second reading, along with the majority of other group members, they really enjoyed it.  People liked the descriptions of Wessex countryside and of rural life in the early Victorian period, the well-drawn characters and some of the amusing incidents.


However a minority thought that the book was too wordy for a modern reader and the characters unbelievable.  It was an enjoyable afternoon discussion.


The Children Act by Ian McEwan. - May 2019

At our May meeting we discussed The Children Act by Ian McEwan.  The novel is about Fiona Maye a High Court judge who presides over cases in the family court. Whilst she is well respected for her judgements in difficult cases, her marriage of thirty years is going through a crisis.

She is asked to try an urgent case. Adam, a seventeen-year-old boy, is refusing for religious reasons the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents agree with his wishes.

The judge must decide whether the court should overrule a sincerely expressed faith. In the course of reaching a decision she visits Adam in the hospital.  The meeting has a dramatic effect on both their lives.


Most of the group enjoyed the book and found it well written, easy to read and with an interesting and thought-provoking plot.  People enjoyed the insight it gave into the difficult decisions that a High Court judge had to make.


The book provoked one of the longest and most interesting discussions that the group has had. Especially when we discussed an absent member’s view that “Ian McEwan is a closet misogynist”.





This page last edited on 02 June 2019