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The book provoked a great discussion but not a lot of agreement.  On the plus side it was an easy read, quite funny at points in its pastiche of Adrian Mole and the central character quite admirable in his ambition and capacity to shrug off racism.  However, others commented on its flat dull tone, his crass status-consciousness, the bonkers pursuit of the unattainable girl, the complete absence of detail on his family.  Amid the difference of views there was a good discussion of aspirational ‘Britishness’, his theological musings (were these part of his own discovery of Islam or a lesson to non-Muslims about Islam in the post-9/11 context ?) and the role metaphorical role of glitzy cars that frequently fall apart. 

 

Scores ranged from 3 to 8 with an average of 5.3

Everyone enjoyed this book.  It had lots of engaging aspects:  farce, humour, historical events, rivalry, drama, and horror driven by the grim subject of slavery.  It was particularly interesting in its Jamaican setting and so much writing about slavery is set in the Southern USA and how people can live so cheek by jowl and have such little understanding of each other.  It described the price of slavery not only paid by the slaves but the unhappy lives of the slave owners in the book.  It also chimed with the TV programme ‘Who Do You Think You are ?’ with lovely twists in family heritage.

Scores went from 7 to 10 with an average of 8.5

The Siege attracted a lot of praise from members.  They thought the narrative extraordinarily concrete ….the experience of the cold, Anna as solid key survivor and the convoy across the ice.  It offered a compelling picture of that place and that time.  The sense of the seasons was very strong with the colour and fruitfulness of the summer and the biting cold and icy greyness of the winter.  Its material description is well illustrated by the thaw ….with the appearance of the dandelions.   It is also a book that captures the sense of taste and its disappearance as people starve.  People identified with Anna and found the character of her father rather irritating.  There was discussion of the ending  …was it left a cliff-hanger, just stopping ?  was this a perfect ending as spring comes as the rigours of a siege winter did end ?

Scores averaged at 8.8 with little variation …one of our highest yet.

A exciting bit of nonsense with a plot line that follows a rather incredible hero through the desperate evasion of his trackers and his identity changes in London.  On the plus side it was seen as cinematic and a ‘fun ride’.  There were some interesting characters such as a tart with a heart, a ruthless SAS pursuant with a soft spot for dogs, a Bishop of a African evangelical movement who feeds the poor and the puzzled head of a pharmaceutical company.  On the down side it was too incredible to take many of our readers along ….and here you need to ask yourself, if you entered the open door of the apartment of a stranger who in his dying breath asked you to remove the knife from his side, would you agree ? And, having done this, drop the knife and then flee the scene ?  Another question raised by the book …. if everything went suddenly horribly wrong in your life and you wanted to leave wherever you are reading this blog and, without preparation, disappear from anyone who might wish to pursue you ….what would you do ?   Tips from Adam Kindred can be found in this book.  Finally the least satisfactory character was felt to be Rita, the Police Officer, who is remarkably lacking in curiosity about a man with nothing in his flat and no history.

 

An average score of 6.0 with variation from 2 to 7.5.

We had an interesting discussion at our last meeting, as expected. Everyone agreed the book was a challenge due to the subject matter. We all agreed it was well written and an imaginative and original story.  However, opinions split on the voice of the child. It annoyed a few people but others felt it well done. We agreed that it if hadn’t been written in that voice, it would have been a very different story.  We had a good discussion around ‘cashing in’ on a ‘headline’ horror story (Fritzl case) or whether by writing about this subject matter the author is bringing a taboo topic into the public domain. There were interesting observations about the similarity between individual abuse and societal abuse, caused by the treatment of the mother and child when they escaped. This evolved into a discussion around the pressure of the media – very topical. 

A few people felt some of the practicalities in the text were implausible particularly around the escape. The book scored 5.7.


Plymouth International Book Festival Friends launch event  

Central Library Thursday 21 June 6pm

Come and find out more about the book festival which takes place from 15th-23rd September 2012. We’re offering a preview of the festival programme where you’ll hear about the fantastic range of authors taking part, and also find details of how you can get involved as a reader, writer, reading group, or even a Friend of the Festival. There’ll be a chance to talk about our volunteer programme – so if you think you’d be interested in looking after some of our guests or authors, we’d love to talk to you! You can pick up our early-bird programme and have a chance to take home some of the books by authors who’ll be coming to Plymouth. Speakers include Tracey Guiry, the Festival Director and Carol Rifka Brunt, author of Tell the Woves I’m Home (Pan Macmillan, 2012) who will be appearing at the Festival.

 

For more information contact the library service on 01752 305900, email library@plymouth.gov.uk or contact mail@cypruswell.org

 

Summation of coments from the group:  The book was well received by all but one person really enjoying it, enhanced in some way by it being quite short, after a couple of larger tomes! People found Bennett blunt, detached, poignant, humorous, sometimes bleak and very honest. The content prompted a discussion around care of the elderly and how little progress has been made in this area, since the book was written in 2005. We also talked about how Bennett draws extensively from his background in nearly all his writing e.g History Boys. People enjoyed a biography that was not focussed on ‘escaping from the working class’ which most seem to celebrate. We commented on his sense of detachment and sometimes rather repressive observations.

 A view from a group member:  I found it fascinating as a piece of social history and reminded me very much of my many Aunts who also assumed various restrictive roles in the eyes of society; carer, depressive, flirter, traveller etc. I had a small cheer at Kathleen’s late marriage, until I realised the nature of the man she married. The end of the Aunts’ lives made me very sad. Obviously Kathleen’s end was far from ideal but their fortunes had really gone downhill. I can see Myra sitting alone in that faceless bungalow, surrounded by unpacked trophies from her travels.

The book made me think a great deal about families and what we consider normal. Bennett’s parents did not ‘mix’, could not do the social superficialities and did not see the point in joining things. You could argue that Mother’s bouts of depression could have been averted by getting out and seeing people – or this could have added to her paranoia – I don’t know. His parents seemed to have a very good marriage and were happy in each others company. They produced two talented sons and managed not to throttle Myra when she came round to interfere and cast aspersions. I felt for the Father, making that long trip to the hospital each day, eventually, as Bennett believes, killing him.

Bennett is remarkably honest throughout, an interesting portrayal of the gulf of (mis)understanding between young men and middle aged women, admitting to feelings we all think but dare not voice. He did his duty though, especially after his father died.

This is a rare example where I would prefer to listen to Bennett reading this excerpt from Untold Stories as an audio book, as he has always been the writer with an ear for dialogue. A Life Like Other People’s will stay with me but does not induce me to read the rest of the memoirs. I understand and appreciate Bennett’s humour but it’s all a little too close to the knuckle with a number of aging relatives having gone through similar experiences.

 Overall the book scored 8….is almost our most popular reads.