Our next books is:
Before the Coffee Gets Cold, Toshikazu Kawaguchi (or anything in this series).
A Japanese novel, read in translation.
Monday 30 October, 6.30pm in The Bookshop.
We had all found the book very relevant to the world today, despite being set in the 1600s. The relationship between the Head of State (both Kings and Cromwell) and parliament brought a discussion about Brexit, Boris and the proroguing of parliament. Laura Kuenssberg’s ‘State of Chaos’ (now on BBC i-player) was recommended (which I have since watched and is excellent!). The novel is also about religious extremism. The Puritan zeal if the 1600s which is akin to the religious fervour prevalent in our society today. We acknowledged how easy it is to take ‘the right side’, and how much we had enjoyed being given both sides of the story. We particularly enjoyed getting the back story from Ned’s biographical writing: a clever literary device. Post-meeting the book has taken on a new relevance with what is going on in Israel and Gaza. The existence of safe rooms in the Israeli village houses, the rapid polarisation of position, the firmly held views on both sides that they are in the right.
The tale was, on the whole, gripping, tho’ many found it waned a little about two thirds of the way through before rushing to a close. Was Harris right to imagine a happy ending for his protagonists? We increasingly get customers asking for good books with happy endings. With so much turmoil going on around us our ‘escapist reading’ needs to challenge and inform – but perhaps not terrorise us more than we are already terrorised by world news.
Before our meeting I’d read a review which criticised the book for having a cover which was ‘too blokey’. Within our mixed group several women agreed they would never have picked this up had it not been a book club choice, but everyone had enjoyed the story and were keen to read more by Robert Harris. (I particularly recommend ‘An Officer and a Spy’ about the Dreyfus affair, others recommended the Cicero trilogy and ‘Fatherland’.) After the meeting I wondered what a more general cover might look like – and couldn’t come up with an answer.
Was it bland? No. It was multi-layered, gripping and had plausible, believe characters. It didn’t have inconsistencies and errors which brought the reader up short. It informed and left us with that ‘ah bisto’ feeling – and a desire to read more!
Road signs, New Haven
Other recommendations this month included:
Claire Kilroy, ‘Soldier Sailor’ – on motherhood, a visceral book.
C J Carey, ‘Queen High’ – a follow on from Widowland, chilling historical thriller
Hallie Rubenhold, ‘The Five’ – about Jack the Ripper’s victims (reviews note this as one of the best books on Jack the Ripper)
Karen Swan, ‘The Stolen Hours’ – sequel to ‘The Last Summer’. Tells the same story (leaving St Kilda) from the perspective of a different character.
Chetna Maroo, ‘Western Lane’ – short and subtle, very tight writing about grief and loss.
Elif Shafak, Island of Missing Trees – set in Cyprus, a Romeo and Juliet tale of love and loss.
Alice Winn, ‘In Memoriam’ – boarding school/WW1, grizzly details of the trenches.
Michelle Ogundehin, ‘Happy Inside: How to harness the power of home for health and happiness’ – interior design and how to organise your home for happiness!
Act of Oblivion, Robert Harris
At last a book which got unanimous approval. I’m not sure whether that is a good or a bad thing… we are such a diverse group of readers which is in part what makes our meetings so interesting, so to find a book that appealed to everyone really made me think. Was it bland? After reading Karen Swan’s ‘Last Summer’ I wrote about what makes a book good – something that triggers your imagination, sends you to other places, teaches you something new. There is also good writing – but appreciation of writing styles differs for everyone. This certainly met our criteria for being a good book – everyone loved learning about this particular bit of history. Only two of the group (of fourteen) had studied the Stuarts for A’level (alongside the Tudors) and knew about the Regicides, so we found the story ‘interesting and compelling’ and felt like more interesting people with this new (for most) bit of knowledge tucked into our caps. Our American Bookclubber told us that the Regicides were quite celebrated in New Haven, US, with wall plaques marking where they had lived, major roads named after them, and Regicide hiking trails taking you to their hiding places.