This was another bookset we won from the Reading Agency: http://readinggroups.org./
One member, who couldn't make it to the group, emailed her thoughts about "All Together Now", and it turned out that the rest of the group agreed with pretty much everything she had said! Here's JAsmina's email:
"I enjoyed the book in that it was a very easy, undemanding read. It didn't require any reflective thinking or real thought and, after some of the bleak views of humanity we have read, was life affirming.
I found it well written and, in parts, funny. My main "complaint" about the read was that it was totally predictable; one knew how the characters would "develop" at the beginning of the story. There were no real surprises, even though one got the feeling that the writer was trying to provide them - the death of Constance, for example. You knew that once Tracey's life had meaning (the choir) she would become less brittle & a nice person & the same with Jazzy. Bennett would also develop & have a role because of the choir and the reader knew, from the outset, that he and Tracey would end up together.
The book could be turned into one of those British feel good films like the No 1 Best Marigold Hotel (think that's its title), giving one a warm glow, whilst watching, but quickly forgotten.
A pleasant, gentle and easy read."
At our group meeting, we compared the plot of the novel to a Richard Curtis romantic comedy/drama movie, rather than the Marigold Hotel movie, but that was the only difference! We all had a very similar view of the novel. However, we picked out a lot of details that we did really like, for example the characters of Annie and BEnnett seemed very real and relatable; one member confessed that she is a bit of an Annie, always helping and sorting out everyone else at the expense of time for herself. We liked how Bennett came out of his shell. But we found most of the other characters very thinly drawn, and not very nicely treated - why does Jazzy (Jasmine) have to be slagged off so, only for dreaming of going on the X-Factor? Are Sue and Pat (the Statler and Waldorf of the novel, heckling and cackling menacingly from the sidelines) capable of anything but spite? IS it realistic that Squat and Curly regularly break into Tracey's flat to steal money out of her safe, but are still, underneath, perfectly lovely, trustworthy, wonderful boys?
So, the characters and plotlines were a bit thin, a bit romantic/unbelievable, and it was all tied up in a pretty bow in the end, with nary a loose end. Realism was left on the sidelines, and it made us not care very much what happened to most of the characters.
One member commented that the episodes / vignettes that the novel was comprised of might have worked better as short stories.
However, having said all that, we enjoyed a lot of the funny bits, laughing out loud at some of the dialogue, and were moved by Annie's plight, by her lovely reaction to the group losing the Choir contest, and the loveliness of them all coming together in the town square for a flashmob-singalong in the end, which apparently was something that Gill Hornby experienced herself, so we wondered if the power of that experience brought the novel into motion.