The book group’s first meeting was held at Waterstone’s Picadilly. As an ice-breaker, we asked everyone in attendance to bring along their favourite book and tell us about it.
These were the books that our members brought:
- Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (Simon)
- My Brother Jack by George Johnston (Kim)
- I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (Claire)
- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (Jackie)
- Persuasion by Jane Austen (Michelle)
- The Pursuit of Love/Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (Dom)
- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (Polly)
- Diaspora by Greg Egan / Dawn by Octavia E. Butler (Kake)
- Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (Hattie)
- A Place to Live: And Other Selected Essays by Natalia Ginzburg (Armen)
- A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Gemma)
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
“The Bell Jar” is Sylvia Plath’s only novel. Renowned for its intensity and outstandingly vivid prose, it broke existing boundaries between fiction and reality and helped to make Plath an enduring feminist icon. It was published under a pseudonym a few weeks before the author’s suicide.
A book of two halves, both brilliant in their very different ways. Beautifully written and surprisingly filled with a black humour that had us smiling when we thought we would be miserable. We didn’t find this to be the depressing read that so many say it is. In fact, as a group, we very much enjoyed it and were quite sad that Plath never wrote anything else. A good discussion was had by all.
The choice of: Simon
Group Rating: 8.0
Voice Over by Celine Curiol
A young woman works in Paris, at the Gare du Nord. She spends every day talking into a microphone, announcing platforms and timetables, invisible to the world. And then she falls in love with a man who, in turn, loves another. To our heroine, her rival is stunningly beautiful, as beautiful ‘as an angel’. So she decides not to pursue the man, rather, she is prepared to wait, alone. That is, until one night a male friend of the ‘angel’ asks her what she does for a living and without thinking she answers, ‘prostitute’. She decides to play her new role to the hilt.
This debut novel was a book none of us had heard about — which is always a joy in a book group — until Armen chose it. The group thought Voice Over was great for discussion even if it was not loved by everyone. This tale of obsession had the group talking even if we felt slightly distanced from it. The narrator’s voice was particularly fascinating.
The choice of: Armen
Group Rating: 7.0
I Served The King of England by Bohumil Hrabal
Sparkling with comic genius and narrative exuberance, “I Served the King of England” is a story of how the unbelievable came true. Its remarkable hero, Ditie, is a hotel waiter who rises to become a millionaire and then loses it all again against the backdrop of events in Prague from the German invasion to the victory of Communism. Ditie’s fantastic journey intertwines the political and the personal in a narrative that both enlightens and entertains.
We were all very excited about reading this book as most of us had never heard of it or the author. In fact, few of us had read anything by any Czech authors. Sadly, athough it wasn’t dire, most of us felt a bit ‘meh’ about it — we didn’t love it, but we didn’t hate it. This made it a little difficult to discuss.
The choice of: Claire
Group Rating: 6.0
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster; the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent – even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101. “Nineteen Eight-Four” is George Orwell’s terrifying vision of a totalitarian future in which everything and everyone is slave to a tyrannical regime.
Though a re-read for some, most of those who re-read it enjoyed it just as much as those of the group who were reading it for the first time. Some actually enjoyed even more the second time around. We couldn’t decide if we liked Winston or not, the journey he went on through the vision of Orwell and this masterpiece was amazing. It was interesting to look as Orwell’s vision and how much of it had come true.
The Choice of: Gemma
Group Rating: 9.0
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Charlie Gordon, IQ 68, is a floor sweeper, and the gentle butt of everyone’s jokes, until an experiment in the enhancement of human intelligence turns him into a genius. But then Algernon, the mouse whose triumphal experimental tranformation preceded his, fades and dies, and Charlie has to face the possibility that his salvation was only temporary.
This was chosen not only to open some of our eyes to science-fiction; Jackie also chose it ‘to cause heated debate and possibly a fight’. There was no fighting, as the group all loved this book and many of us were taken on an emotional journey which moved quite a few of us to tears. We all enjoyed this book; in fact most of us loved it. It made for a fascinating discussion and brought up some very interesting questions.
The choice of: Jackie
Group Rating: 9.0