A few years ago the Book Club read Francis Spufford’s debut picaresque novel ‘On Golden Hill’. Described as a frolicsome, exuberant romp, all of us really enjoyed it and we were therefore keen to read his next novel, Light Perpetual’, a title taken from the Requiem Prayer. Continue reading “Hadlow Down Book Club Review – March 2021”
‘Piranesi’ by Susannah Clarke
This month we have been reading Susanna Clarke’s ’Piranesi’ (2020)
‘The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite’
I have to admit that I was reluctant to read this book – not my usual sort of thing at all – and to begin with I made slow progress. However, the beauty of the descriptions and the mystery and suspense that develops drew me in and I found it a rewarding book to read.
It is set in the ‘House’, a fantasy world made up of Halls filled with classical statues. Some Halls are very beautiful, others are sinister and potentially dangerous. The Halls are washed by the tides of the sea and periodically high tides cause flooding while clouds drift across the high walls. Within these Halls lives the narrator known as Piranesi. He is alone apart from ‘the Other’ who he believes also lives in the House and who meets him twice a week for research. Sometimes the Other brings Piranesi gifts, like shoes, vitamin pills, a ham and cheese sandwich. Continue reading “Hadlow Down Book Club Review”
This month we have been reading Anne Tyler’s ‘Redhead by the Side of the Road’, one of the shorter and more bittersweet of her novels but, nevertheless, quietly profound and longlisted for the Booker Prize.
It is about Micah Mortimer:- a man in his 40s, the youngest of a chaotic family of sisters; the only one to go to university and then have a professional job, but who opted out of corporate life and now scrapes a living running a one-man computer repair business and caretaking his block of flats, giving him free accommodation. His family regard him with affectionate bewilderment.
Continue reading “January Book Club Review”
During this lockdown the Book Club has been reading “Gilead” by Marilyn Robinson, published in 2004 and winner of the Pulitzer Prize 2005, often on lists of best or most influential books.
I think that Barack Obama gives one of the most succinct summaries in his interview with the author for New York Review of books (2015) ‘One of my favourite characters in fiction is a pastor in Gilead , Iowa, named John Ames, who is gracious and courtly and a little bit confused about how to reconcile his faith with all the various travails that his family goes through. And I just fell in love with the book.’
It takes the form of a journal and memoir, as written in 1956 and is addressed to the narrator’s seven- year- old son. John Ames is 76, ill with angina and wishes to leave something of himself to his son. He has led a lonely life: his wife and baby daughter having died many years ago. In old age he married a young woman, a wanderer of little education but has wisdom and sensitivity. Some of the loveliest passages in the book are as Ames watches his young son and his wife together. Continue reading “‘Gilead’ by Marilyn Robinson – Book Club Review”
Imagine a world where there is no illness or suffering; where embryos are created in test-tubes and raised in hatcheries – their caste determined by the chemicals the State injects into them, brainwashed as they sleep. Where the concept of family, mother or one sexual partner is repugnant – ‘everyone belongs to everyone else’ – and death itself is sanitised and painless. Where doubts and worries are soothed by ‘soma’, which creates virtual worlds, and where games and lighthearted play are constantly encouraged; solitude and books actively discouraged.
Continue reading “Book Review – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley”
“A wonderful book”; “I absolutely loved it”; “I started to re-read it immediately” – these were some of the book club’s comments on this month’s book ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell which has just won this year’s Women’s prize for Fiction.
Hamnet (another way of spelling Hamlet) was Shakespeare’s son, one of a twin with his sister Judith. Little is known of him but he died in 1596 aged 11, and four year’s later his father wrote ‘Hamlet’. This is a fictionalized account of what might have happened. Continue reading “Book Review – Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrel”
‘We order our lives with barely held stories’ This month we read another novel set in the aftermath of WW2 – Michael Ondaatje’s 2018 ‘Warlight’. It is narrated by Nathaniel, now 28 years old looking back on the strange adventures of his adolescence.
The novel is in two parts. The first is set in 1945 in the twilight world of post-war London and much of the action takes place at night. Fifteen year old Nathaniel and his sister Rachel have been left by their parents in the care of a mysterious figure called The Moth. Their parents have ostensibly gone to Singapore for their father’s’ job but it is their mother, Rose, who is behind the flight and we gradually discover that she leads a double life as a spy. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Warlight’ by Michael Ondaatje”
Our choice in July was ‘Love is Blind’ by William Boyd. Like many of Boyd’s novels (e.g. ‘Any Human Heart’) it follows the protagonist’s life, in this case ten years of Brodie Mancur’s life at the beginning of the 20th century as he flees around the world from a pursuer bent on revenge. It is therefore a picaresque adventure story owing much to one of Boyd’s heroes, Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as to Chekhov – another influence on his writing. Continue reading “Love is Blind by William Boyd”
Becoming’ opens with an anecdote that sets the tone of warmth throughout the book. She tells how, having left the White House, and hungry in the night, she goes down to her own kitchen and makes a cheese toastie to eat on her back doorstep, suddenly becoming aware of her newly-found freedom to do something that would be impossible in the White House. So starts the memoir of a woman who grew up in a humble black-district in the south side of Chicago and rose to become America’s First Lady with many achievements in her own right. Continue reading “‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama – ‘wife, mother, dog lover’”
‘ It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. Again.’
Last month the Book Club read Ali Smith’s ‘Autumn’. Published in 2016 soon after the Referendum, it is the first of four seasonal state of the nation novels and was shortlisted for the Mann Booker Prize. It is a novel that has haunted me since reading and re-reading it, largely due to the poetic flow of the language, which has been described as ‘a beautiful poignant symphony of memories, dreams and transient realities’, but also to the complexity of the ideas, the richness of literary allusions, the use of symbolism and the treatment of time. It is an elusive, multi-layered novel. Continue reading “Autumn by Ali Smith”