February book club notes
This month’s book club, Pod, followed hot on the heels of Laline Paull’s visit to The Bookshop – a wonderful evening, with a writer who is passionate about using her work to harness change. Book Club members were (as ever) marmite. There was a feeling that Pod was quite didactic, bending the natural world to fit environmental messages. However, everyone found that message fascinating! Laline Paull’s pen astutely turns dry research into unforgettable images. Long after I had finished images stayed with me – trippy fish, gender switching dolphins, an underwater world we don’t often get to see. Dolphins are often characterised as gentle and fun but this was (almost literally) blown out of the water as their violent, subjugating behaviour propelled the plot along: domineering patriarchs and equally domineering matriarchs, tribal warfare, sexual prowess and sexual conquest. Did it require trigger warnings, as some on-line sites have suggested? East Grinstead readers said definitively No: the animal world is a violent place – and as readers we should both expect and respect that in our reading.
We all agreed there was a lot going on in this novel. Some wanted a character list, others just wanted less characters. Why was it so hard to keep track of them all, we wondered? Perhaps it was because they were sea-life with non-human names? We loved the mythology, adding a wonderful extra dimension (a feature of all Laline’s novels). One reader said she referred back to the prologue several times, others re-read it at the end. The prologue is a beautiful piece of writing, worth going back to re-read if you haven’t done so yet.
Many of the Book Club had already read The Bees, and are looking forward to reading The Ice, a human thriller set in the Artic which questions who is to blame for our climate crisis. The denouement comes with an inquest in which each piece of evidence given is effectively a different perspective on exactly that.
Finally, I offered everyone the chance to start scoring our monthly book so we can have a numerical comparison! The scores on the doors for Pod? A rock solid 7.5/10!
We had some debate over next month’s choice. However, for stock reasons, and with some apologies – although not that many (it’s brilliant), we are going with Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Gamus. I am confident that it will inspire an interesting conversation… There are a couple of The Girl in Hyacinth Blue in the shop, but not enough for everyone.... sorry: I will keep trying.
What else were we reading? There was a wide range recommended this month. Bid me to Love by HD, a roman a clef set in the First War. If you are at all interested in HD (Hilda Doolittle) you might enjoy Mo Moulton’s Mutual Admiration Society – a biography of Dorothy Sayers and her Oxford friends who were all rather amazing, ground-breaking women. I have been trying to turn Bookshop-Chris into a romantic and had some success with I capture the Castle (Dodie Smith) – one of my all time favourites. She loved it, but quickly moved back to science with The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. This is an extraordinary book which tells the story of a poor black tobacco farmer whose cancer cells were taken without her knowledge and used as the basis of pretty well all cancer research. Chris described it as ‘beautifully told’ and ‘deeply worrying’ - I’m looking forward to reading it next. If you are feeling worried and/or unsettled at the world around us Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now was recommended as a useful way to re-root yourself – a bit culty perhaps, but the general ideas are good and useful. Raynor Winn of course resorted to walking when her life became un-settled (literally). Two different Book Clubbers were reading The Salt Path and Landlines (her latest one, paperback due out this May), and both were enjoying the calmness of her well-paced writing in these very personal memoirs.
In terms of fiction, we were recommended The House of Bells, a gothic thriller by J T Croft, Patrick Gales’ Notes from an Exhibition, and Rosamund Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers - recently featured by Rick Stein, sparking a re-read and found to be as good second time round. Two of our readers had found the endings of their books frustrating: Still Life (Sarah Winman – didn’t manage to tie-up all the pieces), and The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul (Deborah Rodriguez) which, interestingly, sparked a general chorus of ‘don’t read her next one!’. One of our members had been to the rather wonderful sounding Crystal Palace Art Fair where she had met Christopher Bowden. Not only was he clearly very charming but she was enjoying the Mr Magenta (each of his novels has a colour in the title) which is full of secrets, kept and broken.
Apart from all this there were year 11 papers to be marked, readings on Buddha and Tibet (I can’t find the exact titles, sorry!) and a wonderful recommendation from someone’s Grandfather – that each day you should read something you want to read, and something you don’t. This idea brought her to The Golden Spruce – A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed by John Vaillant about the logging industry in Columbia: sounds brilliant.
Of course, I had been devouring Laline Paull – re-reading The Bees and Pod in preparation for the event, and finding The Ice for the first time. I loved all three – and thoroughly recommend them if you haven’t tried her before.