Thursday, 9 February 2017

"The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend" by Katarina Bivald - February 2017

We had a unanimous view of the book: It would make a very nice, light-hearted, feel-good comedy movie or TV series. It was a pleasant read, similar to Gill Hornby’s “All Together Now” (the book about a community choir we read in September 2015). Several of our group members were reminded of Bridget Jones. It was light-hearted, but well thought out and well written, and the general view was that it was a lovely book – if you were in the mood for a light and lovely book. If you needed more nourishing literature, maybe don’t pick up this one – it’s too long to commit to if you aren’t in the mood for “light”! Having said that, we did praise the book for how spot on it was in many ways; in the characterisation of the townspeople of Broken Wheel (and the neighbouring city, Hope) and in the book recommendations specific to each character. Also, the main character Sarah was working with people who were only being introduced to a book club and to reading, so it wouldn’t have been feasible to start them off with high literature. We admired how she could see the specific goodness in each of the townspeople when she made her recommendations to them, for example giving George, who has a secret soft spot for women, the book “Bridget Jones” to read – this might explain why everybody thought this book would make a good Bridget-Jones-y movie. We wondered whether we might be missing exactly how many homages to other books the author might have hidden in her text, and also if we might be missing some nuance due to this being a translated work, but we still found it a clever and lovely book, with vivid characters and language. The main focus seemed to be to strengthen the community, bring everybody together, accept the stranger in their midst. Sometimes you just want a soothing, life-enhancing read, and this book gives you exactly that.
By Cordula

Thursday, 2 February 2017

"The Night Watch" by Sarah Waters - January 2017

The reading group generally agreed that this is a good story well written but opinion was divided on how engaging it is.

The novel begins in 1947 but works its way back to 1944 and then 1941 so that we come to understand why the characters are the way they are. Kay, one of the central characters, describes how she enjoys going to the cinema and watching a film which is halfway through and that is what Waters has done with this novel. We have to wait until the film starts again to fully understand what is happening. Not everyone liked this structure feeling that the 1947 section lacked tension. Another reader commented that she could feel the planning of the novel, it was too overt and engineered.

Everyone however felt that the period details were excellent, that it was a great evocation of the time. The dialogue was fantastic and most of the characters very real. Helen’s irrational jealousy was particularly well portrayed and believable.

The damage done by the war to London and its people was palpable. Descriptions of the ash which covered everything after a bomb blast or what it was like emerging from an air raid shelter to inspect the remains of your home were very moving. There is also humour, notably the injured man who comes to the marriage bureau with very clear ideas of how perfect a woman he is after.

Waters captures very well the ordinariness of the dislike felt for the routine of war, how it grinds people down. She focuses in on her damaged characters, all of whom have been troubled by the war, then pans out to give us an understanding of the wider world at the time and general suffering. For this reason it was felt that this is a book that everyone who has not experienced war should read.