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Our next Book Club choice is Laline Paull's Pod - and we meet to discuss it on Monday 27th February, 6.30pm or Wednesday 22nd February at 10am for the Walking Book Club (please book for the WBC, just turn up for the evening discussion).

Laline will also be visiting The Bookshop on Thursday 23 February, 7pm. Tickets available online.

Do come and join us for any - or all! - the events.

January Book Club notes

 

Our January choice was A Girl in Winter by Philip Larkin. Written in 1947 the novel is divided into three parts. The first part is set in a grey and gloomy industrial town during the Second World War. We meet Katherine Lind who is working in a library, clearly over qualified for her role. Katherine has sent a letter to her former summer exchange, Robin, hoping to get back in touch. The possibility of a reply hovers over the story. Part two takes us back to the pre-War halcyon summer when Katherine visited Robin’s family in England – and fell in love with him. The third part brings Katherine and Robin back into contact with each other.

Originally Larkin set out to write a trilogy with Jill,  his first novel representing innocence, then A Girl in Winter representing loss of innocence and it's consequences, and an unwritten third standing for a future with hope. The brooding uncertainty of this novel and the loss of innocence represented by the War as well as by their coming of age, was certainly felt by us all.

As one would expect with Larkin the book is beautifully written (he turned down the position of poet laureate in 1984). There is a gentle turn to the phrases, and vivid descriptions not only of the town and the rural summer, but also of character and feelings. I reveled in his descriptions of toothache, train journeys, that unsettled feeling of being a teenager. One felt that everything in this novel was deliberate: there is no mention of where Katherine was from and yet, her surname is Lind (Austrian or German we wondered?) and on her first evening in England she goes to supper dressed in a brown skirt, shirt and tie – Hitler youth? Possibly a Jewish refugee?

There was a feeling that the characters were less formed than they might be. At the end of the book you didn’t feel you particularly knew any of them. I wondered if this reflected the uneasiness of the War, not wanting to get close, and for Germans (and Jewish Germans especially) it was essential to keep a distance between yourself and your neighbours. People in this novel are never quite what they seem, and they all seem to be playing some kind of role.

We talked a little about the form of this book. The cover, by Holly Ovenden, is both beautiful and tactile; the blurb is enticing. Both have resulted in this book selling very well over the winter months. We were all pretty sure that we wouldn’t normally have picked up something by Larkin for a cosy winter evening’s read. Did we enjoy it? Mixed feelings – some loved it, one didn’t bother finishing it, most were pleased to have read it but weren’t certain they would be looking out for Jill.

Other books the group were reading included Jess Kidd’s Nightship, (sea voyage historical fiction), Tim Marshall’s The Power of Geography (a book club favourite) and Simon Jenkin’s 100 Best Railway Stations (highly recommended). Bookshop Chris been stuck on a sofa recuperating and whizzing through 100 years of Annoying the French – brilliant and funny, Karen Swan’s Last Summer – easy historical fiction about the evaculation of St Kilda, and The Book of Hope, Jane Goodall’s four reason to be hopeful about our future (picked up as an antidote to the Larkin….). Our resident science teacher was reading Emily Levesque – anecdotal stories in the same vein as Dave Goulson (ie really good research) but about Astronomy – thoroughly recommends for the layman as well as the science teachers. Our resident book worm charged through The Six Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (historical - not as good as Daisy Jones, both by Taylor Jenkins Reid), a Richard Osman and Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Susan Vreland: “not just another book with a Vermeer on the dust jacket...[but] an illuminating meditation on the nature of art....This beautifully imagined and written book...is a work of art itself'”, Sunday Telegraph. Another of our members was loving a Book Club choice from last year: The Book of Form and Emptiness, for which Ruth Ozeki won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022: a stunning read tackling all of the societal concerns of today head on and a fabulous read to-boot. Then there were a couple of Robert Galbraith’s, the Stanley Tucci (a meander through the history of Italy through food and recipes), The Salt Path (Raynor Winn) – very helpful in thinking out of the box about illness, Silence of the Girls (Pat Barker) and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihari – very dark but well worth the read.

Gosh – what a wonderful reading community, full of thoughts and ideas! We all went away with plenty of titles to put on our ‘must read’ list…….

Next month’s book is Pod by Laline Paull (who also wrote The Bees). Laline will be in The Bookshop on Thursday 23 February, 7pm – do join us for a glass of wine and to hear her talk about her work, and about the power of story in bringing about change. Tickets available from the shop on 01342 322669 or from the website.

 

As well as meeting on the 23rd February to hear Laline speak, we will meet as a book group on Monday 27th February – don’t forget it’s 6.30pm.

 

See you then!

Helen

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