Sunday, 30 September 2007

The siege and not joining a book club

It would probably be difficult to find two more contrasting reads than the two books I'm reading now. Helen Dunmore's The Siege is a beautifully written story of a family during the siege of Leningrad in 1941. She describes the winter with its beautiful snow and deadly cold with language that is particularly poetic, but when describing the feelings of the main characters, the language is more prosaic and down-to-earth. This contrast adds to the tension in the story - will these people whom we have come to know, survive the winter and the siege. A really compelling read, and should lead to some interesting discussions at the reading group meeting. The other title is No, I don't want to join a book club by Virginia Ironside. Much more brittle, about a woman reaching sixty and becoming a grandmother within a few months. There are a few "they didn't have those in my day" statements which, being sixty, are just plain wrong, as I can remember for a fact that they did. Very much a Londoners view of life, too, as the diarist spends her time visiting the Tate, various expensive restaurants and talks about her Freedom card. However, despite these few carping critiicisms, its quite fun, and hasn't made me want to hurl it across the room, as I did with Bridget Jones Diary. As this is also a Book Club read, the comments from the other readers should prove fascinating.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Author talk

On Wednesday evening, had a busy time with first a meeting of the Reading Group I belong to, dicussing Audrey Niffenegger's The Time traveller's wife, which, once I and a couple of other group members had got over the challenge to the imagination at the beginning of the story, found fairly enjoyable as the story of a relationship. It did more or less hang together. However two members couldn't get on with it at all, and really struggled; one of them didn't finish it, as she disliked it so much. I have to say that I tried to read it about a year or so ago and didn't really get over the challenge at the beginning, so gave up on it, but I did persevere when it was suggested as a read for the group.
This briefer than usual meeting was followed by a talk about her first published novel , Three Mothers, by Sonia Lambert. She gave a brief outline of how she came to write it and mentioned that it was strongly autobiographical - she had done a little bit of research into her family background, and although she was brought up in Southampton ( the talk was held in Shirley Library in Southampton) she set the book in Brighton. It was pleasant to meet the author of a book we had all read as a group, as she was fairly clear eyed as to why she wrote - it certainly wasn't to get rich, but to tell a story as well as she could. The talk was organised by the City Library service, following a suggestion by the novelist's mother, an avid user of Southampton's public libraries. I was impressed by the way Sonia Lambert describes the emotions felt by the characters in her novel so intensely.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Love and loss

Having been very familiar with the name of Adele Geras as a writer of books for children, I was intrigued to pick up her Made in Heaven, a title for adults. I thought at first it was going to be a bit too sentimental for me, with its emphasis on the trappings of a wedding, but it proved to have more in it than mere sentimentality, although it didn't seem to dwell on the turmoil of emotions generated by the break-up of long standing relationships as much as those desribed by Sandra Howard in her first novel Glass Houses - this latter proved quite a breathless rush of a read, with a gallop through the political scene at Westminster as well as the editor's job of a major newspaper, while describing the development of an affaire between a newly promoted minister and the newspaper editor. Although I thought it might turn out to be merely a romance, there was more to it than that, so I await the next novel by this writer with interest.
Although both these books have elements of loss as part of their themes, the loss delicately described by John Boynes in his novel
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas will haunt me for a long time. The writing is from the point of view of a young German boy during World War Two and describes his growing friendship with another boy, in the remote place he and his family have moved to. Although this is supposed to be a book for children, it is a perfectly satisfying read for adults as well.

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