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In every newsletter you will find a summary of the latest bookclub discussion. The bookclub provide a short synopsis of the book they discussed, a group rating, and a series of buzz words that capture the essence of the reading experience. We hope that these summaries will give our readers an honest insight into books that have been hotly debated by the critics. You really can trust our bookclub reviews — by readers, for readers.

August 2014 Review

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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starFull_starEmpty_star

Harvest by Crace

What the group thought:

Overall an excellent choice for a book group discussion. The group thoroughly enjoyed this master piece and could fully comprehend why this book was part of the short list for the Man Booker Prize. Although the book is set in medieval times, the story is applicable to our current 21st century attitude to life. This is a book for the discerning reader so if you enjoy English Literature go ahead enjoy the read!

February 2014 Review

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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starFull_starHalf_star

The Rosie Project by Simsion

This not a good book group choice but a great easy read. We didn’t really have much to say about the book as it was self explanatory and pretty straight forward. Some people commented that the cover was irritating and actually gave the entire story away! Well… Despite this commentary the book received a pretty good rating 4 ½ out of 5. This is a record. If you are looking for a romantic comedy you have found it!

September 2013 Review

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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starEmpty_starEmpty_star

An Honourable Man by Slovo

Author Gillian Slovo daughter of the famous anti apartheid activist Jo Slovo wrote this book. What the group thought.
Set in Victorian London and Khartoum. This historical novel was not at all complex quite straight forward and had an surprising and unexpected twist at the end. The first 50ish pages were a trawl to get through a feeling that the author was warming up and indeed the story did take of. The wife character was identified as irritating and “lost” but the story remained believable and realistic. The discussion was wrapped up quickly, we gave it a 3 out of 5 and our conclusion was that “this is a nice book”!

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Mister Pip by Jones

The main theme is about Mr Pip taken from the character in “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens and a group of islanders on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville who are taught by a “retired school teacher”. Matilda, the 13-year-old narrator, begins her story, a blockade has begun. Helicopters circle, the generators are empty and all the teachers have fled. Apart from the presence of pidgin Bibles, civilisation might never have touched the village.

What the group thought;

The author captured the imagery of the people and island extremely well. Plot was believable and the characters realistic. The fear and anxiety of the rebels could be felt in the book. The latter half of the book was shockingly unexpected and the ending calm. “This is a wonderful and brutal story” Enjoy it!

July 2013 Review

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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starFull_starFull_star

The Science Delusion by Sheldrake

We considers this book an interesting read, though not necessarily a scrumptious read. The authors rebellious mind and childlike curiosity have delivered fun experiments in biology and biochemistry. Nonetheless we grade the book with a 5 out of 5 for trying to rock the solid cruise ship of scientific experiments.

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The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet by Mitchell

This is an incredible books. Take your time and read it slowly and carefully. The book starts 1780’s Japan. The author takes your through this unique journey with the main character a Dutch man from Holland and his love for a Japanese women. This is suitable for those that enjoy a serious read. This book will challenge your memory!

June 2013 Review

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Evil Star by Anthony Horowitz

The second book in the Power Of Five series, Evil star, is just as good as the first. There’s always something going on, puzzles to solve and wonderful characters you can’t help but love. Some of the places you can imagine so beautifully they take your breath away and Evil Star has some mysteries that are extremely fun to figure out. It’s packed full of fast-paced action, some tragic (though very cool) deaths, and awesome powers you just wish you had. I loved this book and can’t wait for more.

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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starFull_starEmpty_star

The Hare With Amber Eyes by De Waal

Practically all members of our Non Fiction Club read this book in one sitting. This book gives an intimate idea of how European history influenced (and sadly destroyed) the culture and domestic life of a high and mighty banker’s family. We gave it a 4 out of 5. ‘Not bad for a potter.’

May 2013 Review

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I Curse The River Of Time by Petterson

The group’s reaction was as follows:

This truly was a mixed bag of reactions, varying from some members reacting rather dismissively towards to the book to an exclamation of outstanding work. However all agreed (thankfully) that its the sort of book that the more you discuss the more enriching the book becomes. The book identified two main themes; how important communication is and how catastrophic lack of communication can be. The remaining theme emphasized how the main character simply wasted his life.

Is this a classic 1960’s Scandinavian novel; dark, cool and honest?

April 2013 Review

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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starFull_starHalf_star

The Swerve : How the Renaissance Began by Greenblatt

“A truly good read which keeps you from wanting to put the book down”. Non Fiction Member.

The Swerve, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction 2012, is a wonderful read. Entertaining, exciting, fulfilling – although it strangely does not explain in any way how the discovery of an ancient poem on physics and atheism kick started the Renaissance. We graded is 4,5 stars out of 5.

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Love And Summer by Trevor

A classic William Trevor novel with an excellent title. The Irish voices of the author and the atmosphere of Ireland in the 50’s was clearly heard and felt throughout this novel. His writing style is beautiful and authentic. The author makes subtle comments that indicated that not all is well within the family. A few parts of his plot were slightly unbelievable. . but who truly cares about that. Most of us enjoyed the book and received a score of 4 out of 5. This is the sort of book that you can re-read in years to come.

March 2013 Review

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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starHalf_starEmpty_star

Toby's Room by Barker

The author managed to capture the atmosphere of the 1st world war well.. we were in unique consensus about this. The dialogue is good and the imagery is excellent.. However most felt that the major themes within the book didn’t actually work particular reference to the brother sister relationship… Another point of discussion was the actual overall message that the author was trying to portray, none of us could be in agreement…….So reader you decide… Do you agree with the group of not?

17014
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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starHalf_starEmpty_star

Toby's Room by Barker

The author managed to capture the atmosphere of the 1st world war very well.. we were in unique consensus about this. The dialogue is very good and the imagery is excellent.. However most felt that the major themes within the book didn’t actually work particular reference to the brother sister relationship… Another point of discussion was the actual overall message that the author was trying to portray, none of us could be in agreement…….So reader you decide… if you agree with the group of not?

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€11,66 with Sm_bookmiles_logo
Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starFull_starHalf_star

Quiet by Cain

“Quiet” by Susan Cain will change how you think about introverts forever. A “Sunday Times” and “New York Times” Bestseller. Our lives are driven by a fact that most of us can’t name and don’t understand.

It defines who our friends and lovers are, which careers we choose, and whether we blush when we’re embarrassed. That fact is whether we’re an introvert or an extrovert. The introvert/extrovert divide is the most fundamental dimension of personality.

What the Group thought:

Our Non-Fiction Club members find the book a thought-provoking read and grade it with a 4,5 out of 5 for its empowering merits, although Cain’s firm case-building leaves ‘the thinking introvert’ with little shades of grey (as ‘the hands-on extravert’). Nonetheless the book is a gratifying comfort for the quiet person who prefers small groups of people over large, and who likes to spend time alone. We recommend Quiet as the perfect gift for your party-pooping friends, coy mistresses and timid loved-ones. Please allow them to start reading it straight after dinner.

February 2013 Review

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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starHalf_starEmpty_star

Anatomy Of A Disappearance by Matar

n Egypt, Nuri, a teenage boy, falls in love with Mona – the woman his father will marry. Consumed with longing, Nuri wants to get his father out of the way – to take his place in Mona’s heart. But when his father disappears, Nuri regrets what he wished for.

Alone, he and Mona search desperately for the man they both love. Only for Nuri to discover a silence he cannot break and unimaginable secrets his father never wanted him to know.

What the group thought:

An interesting choice for a book group discussion. A story set in Cairo, England and Switzerland, written by a Libyan author. The great group divide was once again apparent; most found the book easy to read, interesting and sentimental but 2 members of the group really didn’t like the book and suggested that the book was actually only just one big waffle.. If you are a busy person and looking for a nice read then pick up a copy, it’s an interesting story.

January 2013 Review

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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starFull_starHalf_star

Religion For Atheists by De Botton

Book Review:

Alain de Botton’s “Religion for Atheists” looks at the God debate with fresh eyes. All of us, whether religious, agnostic or atheist, are searching for meaning. And in this wise and life-affirming book, non-believer Alain de Botton both rejects the supernatural claims of religion and points out just how many good ideas they sometimes have about how we should live.

What the group thought:

The core business of religious systems is to teach people how to live wisely, kindly and mercifully. Secular (atheist) culture has no equivalent machinery for its bewildered flock with regards to moral values. In spite of shelves of self-help books, ethical subplots in Eastenders and reverences to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in any presidential speech. In Religion for Atheists philosopher the author embarks on a pragmatic crusade to save the non-believer’s soul. Our Non Fiction Club members simply loved the book and rated it 4,5 out of 5. If you are in want of gentle guidance, and also want to know about the benefits of beautiful buildings, dining with total strangers, mother figures and, yes, serious pessimism, be sure to read this excellent book. Suitable for parents with young children.

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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starHalf_starEmpty_star

The Ghost Rider by Kadare

Description:
An old woman is awoken in the dead of night by knocks at her front door. She opens it to find her daughter, Doruntine, standing there alone in the darkness. She has been brought home from a distant land by a mysterious rider she claims is her brother Konstandin.

But unbeknownst to her, Konstandin has been dead for years. What follows is chain of events which plunges an Albanian village into fear and mistrust. Who is the ghost rider?

What the group thought:

A unanimous agreement that this is a great book group choice an unfamiliar author and unusual story. The group was divided; the Eastern European members loved this book and thought the story was accurate and in keeping with the small town mythology. The remaining members were dismissive and somewhat cynical. Its clear that Ismail Kadare wrote this book for those that understand Eastern European mythology. So if you are looking for something different i.e. A ghost story that is symbolic towards dark age mythology then this is the book for you.

December 2012 Review

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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starFull_starEmpty_star

The Information by Gleik

The book is very rewarding. Our Non Fiction Club was dazzled by the intellectual width and learned scope of the book, and particularly enjoyed the personal histories of pivotal inventors who stood at the cradle of the information age i.e. Ada Byron. This book is a great gift for people working in IT, the telecom business or computer science, it gives human context to rather formal data rated 3.7 out 5.

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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starHalf_starEmpty_star

Swimming Home by Levy

The group was as diverse as ever. This is a bizarre book in the sense that you only truly find out what is going on in the last few pages. The story is set in France and the book reflects middle class Britain well. The characters are not really likeable. Despite the group’s majority outcry as to how the book made it to the Longlist 2012 booker prize it does make for an interesting book group discussion. So reader if you like bizarre you might like this.

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Bride Flight by Van Der Pol

We had an unusual evening at the bookshop. The author and translator were invited to attend and lead the book group discussion. The group was mostly shy but as time progressed they warmed up and opinions flowed. The author concluded towards the end that her underlying message in the book was “Can people really immigrate”. This is a charming book, great page turner and enjoyable story. Reader enjoy!

October 2012 Review

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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starFull_starHalf_star

Thinking Fast And Slow by Kahneman

The very first Non-Fiction Club gathering focuses on Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) by psychologist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahnemann. The participants find it a good read (they rate it 4,5 on a scale of 5) and heartily recommend the book to anyone with an interest in human understanding. The members unanimously agreed that the insights of Dr. Kahnemann are in fact important and suggest these be implemented in educational systems, politics and economics. The book gives examples that we can easily relate to, Kahnemann tells his readers he simply wants to give people a vocabulary to discuss the workings of the mind (and the problems of biases) over the water cooler and coffee machine. The book, he assures us is not a self-help book however the quotes at the end of each chapter seem to give the book a bit of a self-help stance. This is a thought provoking book.

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Salvage The Bones by Ward

Set over a period of 12 days surrounding Hurricane Katrina, this book describes the inner life of pregnant 15 year old Esch and her experience in a poor socially isolated and dysfunctional family at a time of crisis. Some group members described the book as limited in its scope and almost no one found it “life affirming” as claimed by the Daily Mail reviewer. The backdrop of rural poverty and deprivation in the deep south of USA was very shocking to European readers and one group member was moved to tears, though most were left cold. Running through the book are themes of motherhood and what it means to be a mother, although the only “good” mother has been dead for seven years killed by neglect in childbirth. Scenes of dogfighting were hard to stomach but some felt these were in fact the best written passages, in a prose which many thought was overly from the school of “creative writing”. There is more to this slim somewhat overwritten volume than is apparent on first reading and the group gave an overall score of 3.5 . It will be interesting to see if this author develops a more mature style in time, although few in this group would give her a second read.

September 2012 Review

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Restoration by Rose Tremain

A Historical fiction set England 1660’s onwards and as the group pointed out (with relief) the historical content was accurate! All the characters were well developed and believable although most agreed unlikeable. The book contains hugely philosophical questions; draws parallel theme between Quaker life versus the absurd aristocratic life of the 1600’s. The group’s opinion ranged from; loving and raving about the author to gaining appreciation for the talent of the author but not actually liking the story. We unanimously agreed that this is a book that gets you to think and will leave you thinking about the story for many years to come! The group scored 4 out of 5 ! Not bad.

August 2012 Review

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Fight Club by Palahniuk

This is a book with a difference; the sentences are easy to read but the story has quite a complicated message. It scratches the surface off violence and gives a disturbing picture of young viral men dealing with testosterone in a mail-ordered IKEA world. The characters are creatively breaking the constrains of bloodless middle class ideology. A bit like A Clockwork Orange, but instead of Beethoven there is the self help group and homemade soap to keep you young forever. The ending surprised all of us since no-one had would have guessed. Turns out the author had had an absurd twist to the story up his sleeve throughout the book. Most of our book group members rated the book 4 out of 5. Very good.

July 2012 Review

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Immortality by Kundera

It was a small group that met on a very warm and balmy Amsterdam evening. Most of the group did not like the book, some of words used were; contrived, uninspiring and boring. Personally I thought they were being cynical. I did not agree with them I thought the book was beautifully written, romantic and old fashioned charming. The part that amused me the most was that the discussion was hilarious and continued for a long time, they were not in a hurry to go home. In the end comparisons were made to Kafka etc. So reader you decided; do you agree with the book group or with me?

June 2012 Review

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Inherent Vice by Pynchon

The book starts out as a classic California based crime novel and continues to develop multiple layers within the novel. The narrative is outstanding and complicated, the main characters clever and believable although not likeable. We all agreed that the author is indeed a talented and outstanding writer. Reader be aware this book is not suitable for the faint hearted but suitable for those that like a daring and challenging read!

May 2012 Review

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Pigeon English by Kelman

This is an easy book to read. It was listed on the Man Booker prize last year and is surprising, as is this the future of the booker prize, page turners? The group commented on the “lack of body” and felt that the story in parts was “flimsy”. The pigeon devise that was used throughout the story left us feeling confused. Is the pigeon an angel or Imaginary friend? The aunt and mother were the most liked characters. The author did manage to capture well the Ghanaian in the book. The group was reminded of “Room” and “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”. The ending was a surprise for all of us and actually this is what strengthens the book.
It was noted that the author is talented so I think we will hear back from Mr. Kelhman again perhaps this time as the winner of the booker prize?

April 2012 Review

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In A Strange Room by Galgut

What the group thought:

This is a profoundly honest and fascinating book. Galgut crafts his characters skillfully and he left us all feeling haunted by the beauty of the story. The author leaves much of the book to our imagination and does not provide conclusions to outstanding questions that we as a reader might have. A few members voted 5 out of 5 for this book. This book was in the runner up to the booker prize last year as it was a good contender against the winner “Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes.

March 2012 Review

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The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ by Pullman

This was a fantastic book group choice. Last Thursdays evenings discussion was exactly what book groups should be i.e. an emotional discussion to strong interpretation of the meaning of the book. Philip Pullman kept the biblical stories accurate however the interpretation of the resurrection was at best interesting.. The ancient stories that have been recorded are as prevalent back then as they are today. This raises the age old question has anything actually changed in 2000 years?
Pullman’s book are mostly aimed at the young adult market but this book has been written for a wider generations. The subject matter is controversial but reader, if you are looking for a debatable book you have found one and you will certainly be thinking about this book for some time to come!

February 2012 Review

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A Visit From The Goon Squad by Egan

It was a chilly evening in Amsterdam with the outside temperature at -6 degrees. Despite this there was a good turnout for book group, which I put down to the fact that this is a wonderful book that we all enjoyed! Nobody was surprised that Ms Egan won the Pulitzer prize for this work: it is notable for its excellent style and characters that are believable and likable. That said, some of us did find the science fiction ending a little weird as this was a total switch from the rest of the book. It was also the only aspect of the book that the group thought didn’t quite work. Overall though, we rated this book 4 ½ out of 5 – one of the highest scores that our group has ever given to a book.

January 2012 Review

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Vermeer's Hat by Brook

“What the group thought:

A very small group of people met on a dark and windy January evening to discuss Vermeer’s Hat. This is a very interesting book written for the discerning reader. The book threw light on globalization in the seventeenth century and the crucial role played by the Netherlands. The group was mostly positive, though there was some opinion that the book’s central device of using paintings by Vermeer and others as a window into stories of new trading relationships was a bit contrived. If you are interested in a good Non Fiction book then this book is definitely suitable for you…

November 2011 Review

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Pereira Maintains by Tabucchi

This was a good book group choice. A small book only 180 pages but a captivating and unusually written and book. As one member pointed out a “deceptively simple” book. The characters were wonderful, story believable and the author captured the atmosphere of 1939 petty well. One member did feel that the author did not deal with certain strong themes.. like death etc. This book received a unanimous ranking of 4 out of 5! Go for it, it’s a wonderful book.

October 2011 Review

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Rating: Full_starFull_starFull_starEmpty_starEmpty_star

The Slap by Tsiolkas

At a suburban barbecue one afternoon, a man slaps an unruly boy. The boy is not his son. It is a single act of violence, but this one slap reverberates through the lives of everyone who witnesses it happen.

What the group thought.

“Foul-mouthed rubbish”, “A state-of-the-nation novel that doesn’t succeed”, “Writing by numbers”. That said, the group found the development of the characters excellent, even if few of them are likeable. The impact of the inciting incident as seen from the point of view of individual characters is also a plus, but the story doesn’t reach any real conclusion. In the final analysis, not a great choice for this particular book club but a good travel read nonetheless.

September 2011 Review

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The Finkler Question by Jacobson

Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite very different lives, they’ve never quite lost touch with each other – or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik. Both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and together with Treslove they share a sweetly painful evening revisiting a time before they had loved and lost.

It is that very evening, when Treslove hesitates a moment as he walks home, that he is attacked – and his whole sense of who and what he is slowly and ineluctably changes.

What the group thought:

The book was sharply criticised, with most group members disappointed in what was a Booker Prize winner. Some perhaps judged it more harshly precisely because it was a prize winner. The group variously felt that the author did not stretch himself and that he tried too hard to spin out an engaging story. While some of us enjoyed the humour and admired the dialogue, the central message of the book was hard to discern; without this, the book’s characters simply came across as stereotypes. That said, the book was not hard to read and offers an interesting insight into Jewish life in London in the 21st century.

August 2011 Review

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Cockroach by Hage

Our unnamed narrator has left his Middle-Eastern home and settled in a chilly, western city. He lives as an exile, untrusted, unwanted, foreign. A stranger trying to make sense of a strange land.

But he brings with him secrets – of a family tragedy that he failed to prevent and a childhood overshadowed by war. And as he wanders snowy streets, falling in love with fellow exile Shoreh, he realizes that to find a place in this alien world it is necessary to become someone else. Someone he never dared to be in his past life.

What the group thought:

Is the unnamed protagonist’s image of himself as a cockroach a delusion or a metaphor? Is he deranged or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder? The general consensus was that he’s borderline psychotic and it’s a metaphor. Cockroaches are lowly creatures but they’re survivors. It’s a perfect symbol as the hero scuttles to survive in the refugee community in Montreal. The book feels like an authentic account of a displaced person’s experience. It also has parallels with the film ‘Taxi Driver’. A man from an inherently violent background finds himself in a tense, dog-eat-dog environment. The result is bloodshed.

July 2011 Review

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Great House by Krauss

Great house tells the stories of people who are directly or indirectly connected to the same desk. The desk means different things for each of the characters but always symbolizes loss and memory and how they construct our lives. All of Krauss’s characters bend their “memories around a void” in order to bring back that which has disappeared. They are incapable to communicate with the people who are most important in their lives and that leads to resignation, anger, loneliness or quiet acceptance in the stories.

What the group thought:

The story is beautifully written, interesting and cleverly constructed and most book club members enjoyed it very much. Unfortunately, the first chapter of the book is too long and the character (although probably intentionally written that way) annoying – so don’t let that put you off. This is a good book from a very talented writer.

June 2011 Review

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Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma

It was the emblematic crime of our moment: On a cold November day in Amsterdam, an angry young Muslim man, Mohammed Bouyeri, the son of Moroccan immigrants, shot and killed the celebrated and controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, great-grandnephew of Vincent and iconic European provocateur, for making a movie with the vocally anti-Islam Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali that “blasphemed” Islam. After Bouyeri shot van Gogh, he calmly stood over the body and cut his throat with a curved machete, as if performing a ritual sacrifice, which in a very real sense he was. The murder horrified quiet, complacent, prosperous Holland, a country that prides itself on being a bastion of tolerance, and sent shock waves across Europe and around the world.

Shortly thereafter, Ian Buruma returned to his native country to try to make sense of it all and to see what larger meaning should and shouldn’t be drawn from this story. The result is Buruma’s masterpiece: a book with the intimacy and narrative control of a true-crime page-turner and the intellectual resonance we’ve come to expect from one of the most well-regarded journalists and thinkers of our time. Ian Buruma’s entire life has led him to this narrative: In his hands, it is the exemplary tale of our age, the story of what happens when political Islam collides with the secular West and tolerance finds its limits.

What the group thought:

This was a hard meeting to try to summarize. Murder in Amsterdam sparked a vigorous debate. Some group members felt that the author tended to pass off opinions as fact and facts as opinions. Not all were convinced at some of the conclusions drawn. But most found the book highly engaging and judged it to be an insightful summary of current Dutch culture and politics. It was a sign of the book’s effectiveness that the discussion was still going strong when an end was called after 2 hours. Reader you decide, but a good book definitely.

May 2011 Review

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The Feast Of The Goat by Llosa

Urania Cabral, a New York lawyer, returns to the Dominican Republic after a lifelong self-imposed exile. Urania’s story alternates with flashbacks to the intense final days of dictator Rafael Trujillo’s reign. In 1961, Trujillo’s decadent inner circle – which includes Urania’s soon-to-be disgraced father – enjoys the luxuries of privilege while the rest of the nation lives in fear and deprivation.

After the assassination of its hated dictator, the Dominican Republic is plunged into the nightmare of a bloody and uncertain aftermath. Now, thirty years later, Urania reveals how her own family was deeply scarred by the forces of history.

What the group thought:

In general the book was viewed as well-constructed and beautifully written. Some argued that it would be fascinating had the book being written as non-ficition This might have avoided some of the criticisms around how well the book worked as a novel; namely, some commented that the book was difficult for readers to engage with, especially for those unfamiliar with Latin American politics during that era. The author deftly captured the sense of upper-class entitlement that defined Trujillo’s innermost circle and also contrasted this with the barbaric behavior of the lower classes. The violent use of language in the novel was disturbing to read at times but appropriate given the content of the novel. If you like political/historical novels that don’t shy from the graphic, and also enjoy a challenging read, then this is certainly a good book for you.

March 2011 Review

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Room by Donoghue

Jack is five. He lives with his Ma. They live in a single, locked room. They don’t have the key. Jack and Ma are prisoners.

What the group thought:

A very small group met on a cold and lonely Thursday evening, a reflection perhaps as to what the rest of the group felt. Some members liked the book, most, however, didn’t. Some felt that the story was unrealistic and the voice of the boy gimmicky, annoying and overplayed. The “Americanism” of the book was lacking and unbelievable some felt that the author should have set the book in Canada as she is Canadian. Much debate centred around the suicide of “Ma” whether we liked the book or not this theme was a surprise for all of us. The group felt that Emma Donoghue might not have been the best author for this challenging subject. The story in the hands of a more adept writer would maybe have caused less surprise in becoming runner up for the booker prize. However, the fact that Mrs. Donoghue was brave enough to take on this subject might go a long way in explanation this.

February 2011 Review

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Lucky Jim by Amis

Jim Dixon has accidentally fallen into a job at one of Britain’s new red brick universities. A moderately successful future in the History Department beckons. As long as Jim can survive a madrigal-singing weekend at Professor Welch’s, deliver a lecture on ‘Merrie England’ and resist Christine, the hopelessly desirable girlfriend of Welch’s awful son Bertrand.

What the group thought:

Opinion was mixed about ‘Lucky Jim’. Some members loved the book, finding it engaging, funny and perfectly balanced in terms of plot structure. Others found it dull, self-serving and dated. Perhaps it’s fair to say that the book is of its time, portraying an English compulsion to do the right thing that’s possibly no longer relevant. Almost everyone found the characters stereotypical and the plot developments implausible. But the characters and situations are what they are within the framework of a comic novel. The book’s admirers were mainly British people or anglophiles, which indicates who it might appeal to.

January 2011 Review

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Nocturnes by Ishiguro

In a sublime story cycle, Kazuo Ishiguro explores ideas of love, music and the passing of time. From the piazzas of Italy to the Malvern Hills, a London flat to the ‘hush-hush floor’ of an exclusive Hollywood hotel, the characters we encounter range from young dreamers to cafe musicians to faded stars, all of them at some moment of reckoning. Gentle, intimate and witty, this quintet is marked by a haunting theme: the struggle to keep alive a sense of life’s romance, even as one gets older, relationships flounder and youthful hopes recede.

What the group thought:

The majority of the group enjoyed this book, a collection of five short stories with the common themes of love, music and the passage of time. Most felt that Nocturnes is an atmospheric book with a nicely-constructed plot and good dialogue. It is a book that makes you wonder and reflect and stays with you. Although some group members felt that not all of the stories were entirely convincing, the consensus was that Nocturnes is an easy read, suitable for most people and a great gift book!

December 2010 Review

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A Fair Maiden by Oates

Fifteen-year-old Katya Spivak is out for a walk on the streets of Bayhead Harbor, New Jersey, when she is approached by silver-haired, elegant Marcus Kidder. At first his interest in her seems harmless. The world he inhabits acts as a tonic to her drab existence.

And as a children’s book writer, he seems to be a man she can trust. His home is beautiful and he lavishes gifts on her. Everything about him is enticing – perhaps too enticing? Like a moth to the light Katya agrees to pose for a painting.

But by degrees something changes. Being Mr Kidder’s muse is not the easy endeavour it once was. What does he really want from her? And how far will he go to get it? This spare, chilling novel shows Joyce Carol Oates at the height of her powers as a literary storyteller.

What we thought:

The author has a reputation as a modern American literary great so we were surprised to discover how limited this book is. The story lacks emotional depth (particularly in view of the subject matter) and the characters we found to be rather two dimensional. The story , involving a vulnerable adolescent, is certainly an easy read, well crafted, a page turner and quite enjoyable on a basic level, and may have been targeted for an adult audience who find reading difficult. However the book is unsuitable and unsatisfying for the person who enjoys a more challenging and well researched read. The group was surprised that this novel was produced by such an experienced and well published author as Joyce Carol Oates.

November 2010 Review

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By Nightfall by Cunningham

The whole course of one’s life really can change in an instant. Peter is forty-four, prosperous, the owner of a big New York apartment, a player in the NY contemporary art dealing scene. He has been married to Rebecca for close on twenty years.

Their marriage is sound, in the way marriages are. Peter might even describe himself to be happy. But when Mizzy, Rebecca’s much younger brother, comes to stay, his world is turned upside down.

Returning to their New York flat after work one day, Peter sees the outline of Rebecca in the shower. But when he opens the shower door, it is Mizzy he comes face to face with. From that moment on, Mizzy occupies all of Peter’s thoughts.

His fascination with him is erotic but not exactly sexual. Without ever really falling out of love with his wife, he tumbles into love with her brother, and is encouraged along this path by the young man. With traces of the tensions that ripple through Death in Venice, this new novel from Michael Cuningham examines the quest for unattainable, and temporal, beauty.

What the group thought:

This was an unusual discussion as the author was in Amsterdam and we had all listened to him speak and read at a John Adams Institute event. In discussing the book afterwards at Cafe Luxembourg, the group felt that By Nightfall is a good choice for the bookgroup in that it certainly stimulated a good discussion. Most people enjoyed the book and acknowledged that Michael Cunningham is an accomplished story-teller. But several in the group struggled to empathise with the main character and the dilemmas which they felt he had rather brought upon himself. For these group members, the lack of a strong connection to any of the characters meant that the quality of the writing was not enough to carry the book high in their estimations.

October 2010 Review

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Divisadero by Ondaatje

It is the 1970s in Northern California. A farmer and his teenage daughters, Anna and Claire, work the land with the help of Coop, the enigmatic young man who lives with them. Theirs’ is a makeshift family, until they are riven by an incident of violence – of both hand and heart – that ‘sets fire to the rest of their lives’.

This is a story of possession and loss, about the often discordant demands of family, love, and memory. Written in the sensuous prose for which Michael Ondaatje’s fiction is celebrated, “Divisadero” is the work of a master story-teller.

What the group thought:

Where does it all go? This was the question plaguing the group after reading this perplexing book. Ondaatje tackles a wide range of themes: divided families, craftsmanship, lovers posing as siblings, road trips, human events repeating themselves but none of these are tied to together. No wonder members described the book as “Absurd,” “Confused,” “Uneven,” and “Contrived.” Ondaatje is undoubtedly a fine writer but with ‘Divisadero’ he makes no connection with the reader.

September 2010 Review

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Europa by Parks

A comic, dark and dyspeptic novel about an obsessive love gone sour. Jealousy and revenge, passion and dread intertwine in one man’s soul as he is trapped in the awful claustrophobia of a three-day coach journey across Europe with a group of people he loathes – and the woman who broke his heart.

What the group thought:

The bookgroup was divided on the merits of Europa. Some members liked the book, without raving about it, while others were less enthusiastic. Some of the group admired the way in which the author switched between the past, present and future tenses, but many found the style difficult, especially the author’s use of lengthy internal monologues. It is not always clear whether the author was using humour as a device to discuss serious issues or whether he was simply being flippant. The book was criticised for being written from a single, male perspective and for failing to engage readers in its unsympathetic characters.
However, the book generated a lively discussion and we all agreed it was a good choice for the group.

August 2010 Review

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The Quickening Maze by Foulds

Despite being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the group wasn’t very impressed with this book. Members found the writing over-descriptive and difficult to read. The general feeling was that Foulds was trying too hard. He clearly has talent but it still has to develop. The book deals with a number of interesting topics: gypsies, the life of poets, treatment of the mad in Victorian England, but the story doesn’t really go anywhere.

July 2010 Review

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Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

Prisoner of war, optometrist, time-traveller – these are the life roles of Billy Pilgrim, hero of this miraculously moving, bitter and funny story of innocence faced with apocalypse. “Slaughterhouse 5” is one of the world’s great anti-war books. Centring on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden in the Second World War, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

What the group thought:

Slaughterhouse 5 generated a great deal of discussion. Is it an anti-war novel? How can survivors talk about their war experiences? Some people questioned the science fiction elements and the general feeling was that the story stands up on its own without them. Vonnegut seems to be saying that the only way to deal with an atrocity like the fire bombing of Dresden is absurdity. Several people believed that the book is of its time – the late 1960s. This assessment was reflected in some of the comments: “Trippy,” “Classic,” “Hallucinatory,” “Trafalmadorgiastic.”

June 2010 Review

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Runaway by Alice Munro

The matchless Munro makes art out of everyday lives in this dazzling new collection. At its centre are three stories connected into one marvellously rich narrative about Juliet – who escapes from teaching at a girls’ school and throws herself into a wild and passionate love match. Here are men and women of wildly different times and circumstances, their lives made vividly palpable by the nuance and empathy of Munro’s writing.

“Runaway” is about the power and betrayals of love, about lost children, lost chances. There is pain and desolation beneath the surface, like a needle in the heart, which makes these stories more powerful and compelling than anything she has written.

What the group thought:

This book was fairly unusual in that almost everyone in the group agreed on its merits. “Impressive,” “Outstanding,” “Deceptively simple,” and “Accomplished,” were just some of the comments. There was a discussion about the significance of the goat in the first story and some minor quibbling about the Shakespearean device used in another. But apart from that, it is self-evident that Munro is a great writer and all the group could do was stand in awe of her craftsmanship. In this respect, Munro’s work does not make for lively book club discussion.

May 2010 Review

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The Solitude Of Prime Numbers by Giordano

He had learned his lesson. Choices are made in a few seconds and paid for in the time that remains. A prime number is inherently a solitary thing: it can only be divided by itself, or by one; it never truly fits with another.

Alice and Mattia also move on their own axes, alone with their personal tragedies. As a child Alice’s overbearing father drove her first to a terrible skiing accident, and then to anorexia. When she meets Mattia she recognises a kindred spirit, and Mattia reveals to Alice his terrible secret: that as a boy he abandoned his mentally-disabled twin sister in a park to go to a party, and when he returned, she was nowhere to be found.

These two irreversible episodes mark Alice and Mattia’s lives for ever, and as they grow into adulthood their destinies seem irrevocably intertwined. But then a chance sighting of a woman who could be Mattia’s sister forces a lifetime of secret emotion to the surface.

What the group thought:

On the whole the group liked this book. A plot driven by well-drawn characters, the strong first two chapters and the prime numbers metaphor running through novel were cited as positive aspects. On the other hand, people also found the story lightweight and forgettable. Intriguing themes like self-mutilation and anorexia aren’t dealt with in any depth. There was some discussion about whether this was a literary or a mainstream novel. The final verdict was that this is an easy read with a plot that zips along, making it ideal for people who pick up a book only once in a while.

April 2010 Review

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On Chesil Beach by Mcewan

Opinion was sharply divided on this book. Some people loved it, finding the story insightful and magical with a good feel for early 60s attitudes. Others thought it lazy and boring with too few layers. Those who didn’t like it, expressed the opinion that it was a short story stretched beyond its limits. One person felt it was a direct rip-off of Joyce Carol Oates’ ‘The Falls’. Several people commented that the aftermath of the story was only seen from the male character’s perspective. The group made mostly unfavourable comparisons with McEwan’s earlier works like ‘Atonement’, ‘Enduring Love’ and ‘Saturday’. The only thing everyone agreed on was that McEwan is clearly a great writer. It was suggested though that he had fallen into a common trap for best selling authors: rushing a book out to meet public demand.

March 2010 Review

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Man In The Dark by Auster

August Brill, 72 years old, is lying in bed recovering after an accident.
Unable to sleep, he thinks up a story of a parallel America at war with itself ever since the controversial elections of 2000. His invented world reveals his own state of mind: here is a man literally and pyschologically in the dark as he battles grief and regret as well as insomnia. Sharing the same house, his daughter and granddaughter each have their own losses to cope with.

What the group thought:

A fiery discussion was held at the bookshop last Thursday evening. Most of us thoroughly enjoyed the book and admired Paul Auster’s masterful writing. The book’s reflections on grief and loss had an unexpected crescendo which left most of us stunned: Auster’s way of saying that some things cannot be made right, only endured. The group felt that the insomnia of the grandfather was well captured and the voice of Paul Auster came through bright and clear, as though he was talking to us and telling us the story directly.
Some members of the club considered that ‘the story within a story’ was less convincing and found the multiple layers within the book disjointed and annoying. Overall, opinion was divided between those who saw the book as one of their personal ‘top five’ and those who wished that they had not read the book at all. So reader make up your own mind….

February 2010 Review

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The Women by Boyle

Welcome to the troubled, tempestuous world of Frank Lloyd Wright. Scandalous affairs rage behind closed doors, broken hearts are tossed aside, fires rip through the wings of the house and paparazzi lie in wait outside the front door for the latest tragedy in this never-ending saga. This is the home of the great architect of the twentieth century, a man of extremes in both his work and his private life: at once a force of nature and an avalanche of need and emotion that sweeps aside everything in its path.

Sharp, savage and subtle in equal measure, “The Women” plumbs the chaos, horrors and uncontainable passions of a formidable American icon.

What the bookclub thought:

The group found the book unsatisfactory on several levels. The Japanese apprentice’s strange eyewitness account, the gimmicky use of footnotes and the reverse structure of the narrative. The grisly murders that climax the book were a shock for some. In the end, Frank Lloyd Wright remains an enigma. A couple of members noted that Boyle’s earlier book ‘The Inner Circle’ used a similar approach: a flawed intellectual giant seen through the eyes of an assistant. The book was redeemed by good writing and a story that was engaging at times. Several people enjoyed the passages on morphine addiction in which Wright’s third companion shoots herself up at every turn of fortune. The group was hard put to say who it would recommend the book to. Serious readers and writers perhaps.

January 2010 Review

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Wise Children by Angela Carter

A richly comic tale of the tangled fortunes of two theatrical families, the Hazards and Chances, Angela Carter’s witty and bawdy new novel is populated with as many sets of twins, and mistaken identities as any Shakespeare comedy, and celebrates the magic of over a century of show business.

What the group thought:

The group loved this book, and almost all only had praise for the author. Some words that the group used were; “extraordinary writer”, “Brilliant”, “wonderfully naive” “funny” and many more words. Some scenes were considered completely exaggerated and therefore unbelievable but all was forgiven as the rest of the story was so spectacular. However it was noted that the reader would have to have an understanding of British culture with particular reference to London, Brixton to be able to understand the story.
If you like the arts, theatre and culture you will without a doubt thoroughly enjoy this book. The discussion was wrapped up in 35minutes and a happy book group left the shop.

December 2009 Review

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Descartes' Bones by Shorto

The book uses the intriguing story of the disappearance, reappearance and disputed authenticity of Descartes’ mortal remains as the backdrop to musings on Descartes’ metaphorical remains: the contested legacy of his thinking and the battle between faith and reason. Part history book, part detective story, Descartes’ Bones crosses genres in a very contemporary style.

What the group thought:

The group generally found Descartes’ Bones very readable and engaging. The book manages to convey complex ideas in a straightforward manner which does not put off the reader. Some members of the group did feel that Shorto occasionally lapsed into a pedagogical style which risked coming across as talking down to his readers. But mostly the group considered the book to be well-written, witty and entertaining. Several group members acknowledged that they would not normally have read this sort of book, but were glad that through the book group they did. Descartes’ Bones is for people with an enquiring mind, an interest in history and philosophy and an appetite for BBC documentaries. For people who prefer fiction, it represents an enjoyable break from the norm.

November 2009 Review

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The Stone Gods by Winterson

The book is made up of 3 short stories, all with a common thread. The first short story is set in the future, and talks about a new “blue planet”, as society has destroyed the old planet. The 2nd story begins March 1777 and the protagonist, Billy, is a sailor on Captain Cook’s voyage to Easter Island. Shipwrecked and abandoned by his fellow seamen, he falls in love with an islander. The island is dying as the islanders have cut down all the trees. In the 3rd story the protagonist Billie has been adopted as a baby. Her birth heralds the start of a journey of separation from her mother.

What the group thought:

A nice discussion lasting about 1 1/2hours. Lots of opinions and debate but most of us were in agreement that the story was well researched and believable. The main thread of the story is destruction and our lack of ability to learn from past mistakes. As one of our members pointed out that this was a well researched scientific story. The three stories complemented each other well. However the main character Billie was a humorless hero, this is a character that none of us will probably remember. The content was identified as being somewhat “dated” – however, the group rated the book pretty well…
Books that came to mind when reading this book were; “Oryx and Crake” by Atwood, “Cloud Atlas” by Mitchell, and “Galapagos” by Vonnegut.
If you like to read books that question society and have a science fiction edge, then this might be a good read for you.

October 2009 Review

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Testimony by Shreve

This is a story about five students who, after a night of drinking, are involved in a sex scandal that is filmed and posted on the internet. The backdrop is a private school in VermonAmerica. The film falls into the hands of the headmaster, and the consequences of the event have a far-reaching and devastating effect on the lives of the students and those around them.

We all agreed that this is a suitable Oprah book. Some of the characters were one-dimensional and idealized. The story has little ambiguity; the author told us what to think and how to feel. The sex scandal was meant to be shocking but none of us were shocked. The story was not badly written but not great either.
We wrapped up the discussion in 30 minutes (a bad sign). The book was not a challenging read, and if you are looking for a good sex scandal then this is certainly not a book that we would recommend. However, if you are looking for a perfectly mindless holiday read then this might be a good book for you.
t,

September 2009 Review

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Family Matters by Mistry

Family Matters by
This is an epic family drama set in Bombay (Mumbai), India in the 1990s. The grandfather is in mental decline as he suffers from Parkinson’s disease. One evening he goes for a walk only to be carried home with a broken ankle. As his increased dependence places additional pressures on his children the family’s fault lines begin to move.

What the group thought:
The demands this book places on the reader, in terms of level of engagement and the emotional turbulence of the plot, is demonstrated by the physical turn out at the book club discussion. Those that had completed reading it made for an energetic discussion and scored the book 4 out of 5 – not bad! But the turnout was low with those could not get into it, or didn’t enjoy it, simply didn’t make it on the night. The book club has been divided before but never quite in this way. Those who did read Family Matters saw it as an epic drama of immense sweep and proportion, written in a calm matter-of-fact way depicting very real pressures on a family in difficulties and with, in turn, very human reactions to this situation. Criticisms were around its occasional slow-pace and long windedness which do at times require the reader to trust that the narrator is indeed leading the story somewhere. If you are looking for a rich, multi-layered story and can dedicate time and patience to this tale then you will be rewarded.

August 2009 Review

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The Savage Garden by Mills

What the group thought:

The discussion was over in half an hour i.e. we didn’t have much to talk about. The book is a good page turner, suitable for a summer read and without a doubt a crowd pleaser. The story was well rounded, pleasant and all the answers came in the last three pages of the book. If you are looking for an Italian murder mystery then this might be a suitable book for you.

July 2009 Review

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The Philosopher And The Wolf by Rowlands

‘Philosophy-Light with National Geographic moments’ can be dished up as a fitting description of Mark Rowlands’ memoir of his late pet-wolf Brenin, confirming the old wives’ wisdom that ‘One should not judge a book by the entrancing reviews on its cover’. Quite disappointing in its philosophical content (Rowlands is superficial, repetitive and lectures more like a secondary school teacher than a college professor) and deeply unsatisfactory when it comes to providing the reader with a lively portrait of its protagonist, the wolf Brenin, the book however serves as an entertaining summer holiday read. If one can stomach the philosopher’s deadly sin of coming up with the answers that suit him and his utilizing the wolf either as ‘babe magnet’ or ‘scare people’, the book surely gives interesting insights into the scheming nature of the simian species, the origin of morals and the misanthropic reminisces of a receding alcoholic.

The Book Club rated the book anywhere between ‘meandering, sentimental and indulgent’, concluding nonetheless that it does have ‘its moments’ and moreover contains ‘everything you always wanted to know about the sex live of wolves but were afraid to ask’.

June 2009 Review

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Netherland by O'neill

Netherland chronicles a strange period in the life of a rather ordinary Dutch man struggling with his personal life in post September 11 New York. The period is shaped not only by his separation from his wife, but also by his growing friendship with the charismatic Trinidadian, Chuck Ramkisson. Chuck and Hans both share a love of cricket, but slowly their relationship moves off the cricket field and into the seedier sides of New York. Years later, after Chuck’s body is mysteriously found in the Hudson River, Hans reflects back on his enigmatic relationship with Chuck.

What the group thought:

Almost all the group thoroughly enjoyed Netherland and rated it very highly for its beautifully crafted prose and dreamy style. However, there were a couple of people who found the book rather weak (“pretentiously written,” “boring and meandering”). Those members who liked the book found the language very evocative, and agreed that O’Neill captured the feel of both The Netherlands and New York very well. Indeed, some felt that the book could almost be described as a travel book, it was so deeply descriptive. The group felt also that the book was perhaps more an exploration of culture than characters, especially given it’s very limited plot. The main character’s narrative was rather hazy, as were descriptions of his wife and family, and indeed, Chuck Ramkissoon. Some of the group felt that O’Neill had failed to adequately sketch all his characters, others that this enigmatic Gatsbyesque quality mirrored the foggy, difficult nature of the main themes of this book: confusion of identity, lack of direction, loss of both personal relationships and self? If nothing else then, this book generated a thought-provoking discussion, which in book group terms is always a good thing.
Even taking into consideration a couple of low “1” votes, the overall score from the group was 3.5 out of 5, one of our highest scores ever!

May 2009 Review

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Blindness by Saramago

Originally published in 1995 in Portugese, this is a book about the degeneration of society given deprived conditions, physical and mental restrictions. Disaster strikes at this unnamed city whereby its in habitants go blind randomly. The authorities try to contain the widespread epidemic by herding the blind into a disused asylum centre and the reader witnesses the events through the eyes of the only character that can still see. The reader witnesses the inhabitants of the asylum centre experience degrees of social degeneration i.e. stealing, extortion, violence, rape and murder. The novel has many layers varying from the underlying beast in the human nature to the enslavement of self to an order regardless of whether it is tyranny or democracy. It is about losing control and losing dignity when confronted with the unspeakable. The novel is written in a “stream of consciousness” technique and contains many long, breathless sentences in which commas take the place of periods which makes the dialogues harder to follow. The narrator is completely omniscient and frequently reveals the inner thoughts and feelings of characters as well as providing frequent and heavy foreshadowing of significant developments. Since no names are given and no geographical references are made, the story becomes universal and timeless. It is a dystopian novel with predecessors such as We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding and Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut.

What the group thought:

Most people started the discussion by having read and enjoyed the book. As the conversation progressed the opinion of some within the group wavered towards the negative. They gave their reasons in the sense that the story line was unbelievable, unrealistic and flat. However the imagery was very powerful and the story line worked. In conclusion the book club was divided because some thought the book to be a masterpiece and some thought it to be less of an achievement. Nevertheless the book remains a widely acclaimed literary accomplishment albeit a painful read.

April 2009 Review

10123
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The Master And Margarita by Bulgakov

Satan and his cohort of peculiar characters arrive in Stalin’s Moscow and run amok. Meanwhile, Margarita, who has been searching for her long-lost lover, falls into Satan’s good graces by selling her soul in exchange for having her lover back. The Master and Margarita is a multi-level novel, with three stories converging into one – Satan’s tear through Moscow, Margarita’s lost love, and a new take on the biblical account of Pontius Pilate. The novel boldly ventures into the absurd, with black séances, talking cats, and witches flying on broomsticks. But underneath this bizarre and complex veneer, it is an austere commentary on all the hot buttons – politics, God and love. So much so that Bulgakov’s work was banned in Moscow until 1973. Despite its dark nature, the book was comical and entertaining, and made Satan seem like quite a personable guy!

What the group thought:

The group really enjoyed this enigmatic book. We had many unanswered questions (maybe that is the idea?) and a lively and lengthy discussion. The book was a clear satire that truly captured the irony of the former Soviet Union in the 1920s, but is still relevant today. A strong Faust theme of mankind’s urge to understand the world and to know the unknowable is apparent. In all, it was a hilarious, weird and thought-provoking read, but the lack of a clear conclusion was somewhat confusing. It also should be noted the importance of reading a proper translation, as there are some Russian nuances that can be missed in some translations (i.e. the meaning of characters’ names).

The group rated this book a 4.5 out of 5, probably one of our highest scores!

March 2009 Review

8831
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Silk by Baricco

Silk by Alessandro Baricco

Artfully written, it’s the story of a man who leaves his wife in France to travel to Japan to buy silk worm eggs, and there falls in love (or becomes obsessed) with an unobtainable woman. It is elegantly told in 130 pages and 61 chapters leaving, if you choose to do so, plenty of reading to be done between its lines.

What the group thought
I can safely say the group was divided on this book. For everyone who thought it a too-thin novel there was another who thought it the near perfect short story. A few saw a simple and superficial yarn, others a dark, deep, subtle, symbolic history. Perhaps like a silk kimono it just isn’t substantial enough for some, but the group did agree that there is much to admire in its elegance and craft.

February 2009 Review

6522
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A Thousand Splendid Suns by Hosseini

This is a story of two very different Afghanistani women whose lives become tragically interwined

Mariam grows up in Herat, the illegitimate daughter of a local businessman, who ultimately promises her in marriage to an older man. Powerless from an early age Mariam accepts her traditional role in Afghan society. In contrast, Laila grows up well-educated, confident and optimistic for her future in Kabul. Fate and war bring the two very women together in an unexpected and terrible way. Tracing the parallel lines of Mariam and Laila’s story, A Thousand Splendid Suns, offers a deeply personal glimpse into the changing circumstances of women’s lives in Afghanistan over the past 40 years.

What the bookclub thought:
The group had a “nice” discussion which lasted almost 2 hours. We all agreed that the book is without question a good read, albeit with the slight feel of a Hollywood screenplay. The group also found the book to be informative and insightful– everyone felt they learned something about Afghanistan by reading it. In terms of its literary merits, the majority felt that the book was satisfyingly well executed. The narrative was clear and left few loose threads. The characters were well-described and believable. The author brought domestic relations in Kabul to life. That said, a number of us also felt that the book lacked the depth of truly great literature, and all agreed that not every character was fully explored.
The average score was 3 out of 5… indicating a good read rather than a must read.

January 2009 Review

6180
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The Ministry Of Pain by Ugresic

This is a story set in Amsterdam and about a young women Tania Lucic who fled the violent break-up of her homeland, Yugoslavia. On reaching Amsterdam, Tania begins lecturing on the literature of the former-Yugoslavia at the University of Amsterdam. Tania befriends her students and initially her classes take the form of a collective reminiscence and coming-to-terms with their state of exile. After an anonymous student complains to her superior that her teaching style was inadequate, confrontation unfolds as all those involved struggle to come to terms with the painful effects of having had to flee their home.
What the group thought:
Either you liked this book or you didn’t. Some of the members felt that the story line was unclear, lacked meaning and “didn’t really lead anywhere”. Other members felt that the story was a well written and a delightful read. The author captured the “true to life scenes” extremely well. Tania, the lead character, was very believable and you could feel her pain as she struggled to adapt to life in Amsterdam. One of our members pointed out page 32 – the description “prematurely old and eternally young” really does sumarise how what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land.

December 2008 Review

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The White Tiger by Adiga

White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is the compelling story of Balram Halwai, an honest and hardworking boy born into a low caste, trying to break free of societal chains and expectations. Balram manages to escape his village and move to Delhi after being hired as a driver for a rich landlord. Telling his story in retrospect, the novel is a message from Balram to the premier of China, who is expected to visit India and whom Balram believes could learn a lesson or two about India’s “true” entrepreneurial underbelly. Balram is clever, which gains him the nickname White Tiger in his home town, but because of his family name and lack of education, he can expect nothing greater than being a virtual. Adiga’s existential and crude prose animates the battle between India’s wealthy and poor as Balram suffers degrading treatment at the hands of his employers. His personal fortunes and luck improve dramatically after he kills his boss and decamps for Bangalore.

What the bookclub thought:

The discussion was sharp and limited and most agreed that it was indeed a clever, grand and well written book. Some felt that the author went too far in criticising his own culture almost to the point that he was trashing his people. However, some credited the author for such a convincing account of a poor village boy who is filled with animosity at his situation when experiencing the grand wealth that is possible in his country by seeing how his masters live. The author is also very cynical and creates conflicting messages throughout the book – scorning his masters’ disregard for life while eventually turning into a murderer himself. The book is light in style but heavy in content i.e. if India is making so much money what is happening to the poor?

November 2008 Review

1092
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Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

This book is about a Journalist William Boot, a young naïve man who lives in genteel poverty far from the iniquities of London, and who writes a nature column for a national newspaper. Mistaken for a famous novelist who shares his surname, he is pulled into becoming a foreign correspondent and sent to the fictional African state of Ishmaelia where a civil war threatens to break out. There, despite his total ineptitude, he accidentally manages to get the ‘scoop’.
The novel is partly based on Waugh’s own experience working for the Daily Mail, when he was sent to cover Mussolini’s expected invasion of Abyssinia, what was later known as the Second Italo-Abyssinian War.

Although the summary might not sound like it but this book is funny. Sometimes laugh-out-loud funny but mainly it is a parody about politics, society and sensational journalism. The book is clearly set in the time it was written (1938) but only exchange the words ‘newspaper’ with ‘TV’ and ‘Africa’ with ‘Near East’ and the story could be today. And still would be funny.
The book was easy to read, enjoyable and we just liked it.
Scoop was included in The Observer list of the 100 greatest novels of all time, and ranked 75th in the Modern Library list of best 20th-century novels.

October 2008 Review

7727
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Falling Man by Delillo

“Falling Man” begins in the smoke and ash of the burning twin towers, and traces the aftermath of this global tremor in the intimate lives of a fractured family. There is September 11 and then there are the days after, and finally the years.
First there is Keith, walking out of the rubble into a life that he’d always imagined belonged to everyone but him. Then there is Lianne, his estranged wife, memory-haunted, trying to reconcile two versions of the same shadowy man. And their small son Justin, standing at the window, scanning the sky for more planes. These are lives choreographed by loss, grief and the enormous force of history.

What the group thought:

This was an interesting but difficult and abstract book. The readers thought the book’s fragmented (rather than chronological) structure made it a complex book.
It was also full of symbolism, which added to the complexity of the story. The characters were mostly unlikeable and displayed a great deal of violence.
Nevertheless, the group felt that, especially at the beginning and end of the book, the imagery and description of the events of 9/11 were excellent. Despite the content, the style of the book made the book “easy to read” i.e. the book flowed well.
In sum, this is a powerful and “high-brow” novel and suitable for those who enjoy a literary challenge.

September 2008 Review

6254
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The Ministry Of Special Cases by Englander

The novel is set in Buenos Aires in 1976, the first year of Argentina’s “Dirty War,” which began after a military coup. Kaddish Oznan and his wife, Lillian, view the militarization of their city with increasing unease. Their 19-year-old son, Pato, is a college student who expresses his resentment of the political crackdown by refusing to carry his identity card.

At night Kaddish continues to deface gravestones. One of Kaddish’s clients, a prominent but cash-strapped plastic surgeon, persuades him to accept two free nose jobs in exchange for such an assignment, with transforming consequences for Kaddish and a disastrous one for Lillian.

Both Lillian and Kaddish fear for Pato’s safety. Lillian spends a fortune on the installation of a steel door in their apartment, while Kaddish takes it upon himself to burn what he considers to be some of Pato’s more questionable books. In the end, neither measure succeeds, as the secret police raid the Poznans’ apartment and haul Pato away, converting him into one of the thousands of “disappeared”.

When Pato is seized, Lillian becomes obsessed with finding him. In the process Lilian moves between the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Special Cases two agency’s that appear to have a function but in reality do very little. The story continues as Lillian fights for the return of her son.

What the group thought:

This is probably the first time that the entire book club agreed that this book was excellent. The main characters were believable; well rounded and developed. The book is emotionally powerful, tragic and hilarious. The research was excellent and the level of detail in the book incredible. The dialogue was clear and natural with no cliques and only witty remarks. The only negative comment was that one of the members felt that the ending was unbelievable. However given probability I would probably conclude that the ending was accurate. The main theme of the book highlights a father son relationship.

The bookclub rated this book 4.7 / 5

August 2008 Review

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The Bastard Of Istanbul by Shafak

A family drama that spans Arizona US and Istanbul, Turkey, The Bastard of Istanbul is the story of two intertwined families and at least one dark family secret. Asya, the 19 year old “bastard” of the story, leads a colourful life in Istanbul with her eccentric mother and her even more eccentric sisters. Armanoush, the cousin she has never met, lives more quietly in the US, caught between the conflicting demands of her own crazy mixed-up family – including an American mother, a Turkish step-father and a tight network of American-Armenian relatives on her father’s side. When Asya and Armanoush finally do meet up, the dark secrets that both bind and separate the girls finally come to light – exposing old family wounds and deep historic conflicts.

What the group thought:

This is a beautiful contemporary book, and a surprisingly easy read given that the author covers some difficult topics. The book was funny and mostly believable – even though some members thought that the ending of the book was a little unbelievable, and left too many loose ends and unanswered question. The style was excellent and poetic in parts, even though some felt the book was too long-winded and detailed. Indeed Shafak’s observations were many and acute. The female characters were particularly well developed: the author made it clear that she liked to write about women and not men. The group wonders if the intention of the book was to ultimately make it into a film – a sort of Turkish “Four Wedding and a Funeral”.

The group generally really enjoyed this book and gave it an average score of 3 ½ of 5.
Buzz words (a single word given by each member used to describe the book

“Over done”, “Eye Opener”, “Happy Read” “Mish Mash” “Charming” “Colourful”.

July 2008 Review

6565
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The Story Of An African Farm by Schreiner

Written in the 1890’s, this is the story of an unusual group of individuals living on a Boer farm in the Karoo, South Africa. In the first half of the book Schreiner explores the actions and motivations of Tante Sanne, the “good boer woman”, spoiled, lusty and sometimes brutal, Lyndall, her beautiful and ambitious orphaned niece, Bonaparte the conman, and Waldo, the dreamy son of the German overseer. The first half of the book explores the limited social, intellectual and emotional milieu of 19th century South Africa.

The second half of the book follows the story of Lyndall, who leaves the isolated farm for boarding school in her early teens, seeking a more fulfilling intellectual and emotional life, only to return, disappointed and dying, four years later. Through the story of Lyndall, Schreiner explores a number of socio-political themes that were both controversial and confronting at the time: female sexuality, the growing demand for women’s emancipation, and the concept of the “sensitive new man.”

Here’s what the group thought:

The bookclub found this book a challenging and difficult read, but one that was worth the effort.

The book was challenging on a number of dimensions. First, written largely as a polemical tract espousing new feminist theory, the book is not an easy read – more sermon than story. Secondly, the narrative itself was disjointed, with two very separate story lines. In general, the group preferred the second story-line, that of Lyndall, to the earlier story of life on the farm.

In spite of the fact that many of the group did not “enjoy” reading this book (although some did), everyone agreed that there was much to learn from its pages, and that it represented a critical moment in the history of 19th century literature and feminist thought. Thus, although the group would probably only recommend this book to serious readers, they would indeed recommend it. The book was rated 3.5 out of 5, with the caveat that we all felt ill-equipped to judge a book that although now dated, at the time was considered a remarkable achievement for its daring treatment of controversial new political subjects. All in all then, the group considered Life on an African Farm to be an important book, and one worth taking the time to read.

June 2008 Review

3803
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Villages by Updike

John Updike has since the 1950s been the chronicler of the American mind. His twenty-one novels, poems, short stories, and essays have examined the American Dream and its vagaries, the inner and outer lives of the men and women living through the 20th century, the dichotomy between classes, ethics, sexual maturation, big business, politics as seen from both sides of the fence – name it and updike has explored it.

May 2008 Review

2413
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The Secret River by Kate Grenville

This is an easy historical fiction book to read. The first few chapters Kate Grenville captures Victorian London extremely well leaving us with a distinct impression of what it was like living in the Charles Dickens days. The story progresses to Australia and again the vivid imagery was well done. The characters were believable and story line interesting. Again this is a good read for the holiday season, but not much of a challenging read.

April 2008 Review

6173
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As I Lay Dying by Faulkner

This masterpiece of black humor is narrated by 15 different characters and spans 59 chapters. “As I Lay Dying” explores the death, and subsequent chaotic funeral arrangements, of Addie Bundren, Mississippi sharecropper wife and mother. It is Addie Bundren’s last wish to be buried among “her people” in Jefferson, Mississippi. This is no small request in 1920s Mississippi, and the Bundren family struggle to cart their mother’s coffin down from the hills, over broken bridges, and through flooded rivers. As he narrates their terrible and darkly hilarious journey, Falkner explores both the emotional and social contours of an almost foreign world of southern hillbilly culture. The story is rendered in the unique vernacular of the 1920s Deep South – making this book a challenging and provoking read.

Heres what the group thought:

This was a great book club choice, one that inspired discussion, debate and laughter. The group all found the book to be a challenging, worthwhile read. The plot-structure successfully connected all the different voices and the ending was strikingly apt and satisfying (a rare thing indeed). The reading experience was intense, given our limited understanding of southern 1920s vernacular, but nevertheless unique and rewarding. Although Faulker offers a less than sympathetic portrait of the American south, he does so with a sense of humor that will make you simultaneously laugh and cry. Apparently the book was inspired by Homers “Odessey.” Think Grecian tragic-comedy set in the 1920s Deep South. Yes… mind-boggling.

Buzz words (single word to describe the book).

Challenging, Universal / Bitter / Obnoxious / Jewel / Crafted

The book group was reminded of the following books:

March 2008 Review

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The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The group felt that Atwood wrote this story with wit. There are a couple of hilarious moments in the story where we all laughted out loud. However most of us felt that hte storyline was insubstantial and certainly not worht re-reading. The group did feel that the author displayed her remarkable talent by the way she transmutes Homer’s Odyssey into a playful and honest character.

February 2008 Review

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Atomised by Michel Houellebecq

Half-brothers Michel and Bruno have a mother in common but little else. Michel is a molecular biologist, a thinker and idealist, a man with no erotic life to speak of and little in the way of human society. Bruno, by contrast, is a libertine, though more in theory than in practice, his endless lust is all too rarely reciprocated.

Both brothers are symptomatic members of our atomised society, where religion has given way to shallow ‘new age’ philosophies and love to meaningless sexual connections. Houellebecq asks important questions throughout the book but the real subject of the novel is in its dismantling of our contemporary society and its assumptions.
Here’s what the group thought:
The bookclub really liked the book, and we had a very good discussion. It was a truly thought-provoking book. Most members voted with a 4 or 4 ½!
The characters were well developed and the story believable. The desperation and emptiness of the brothers was cleverly highlighted. As Michel and Bruno, our whole atomized society becomes more and more focused on the pursuit of our own individual happiness. This leads to the loss of connection with others and a new search for the meaning of our life. The lack of emotion in the story was clear. The central theme was identified i.e. are we making choices only to suit ourselves and in the process destroying ourselves? Are we dismantling society? This is a book which will leave you thinking. On a more serious note: as one of the group members pointed out, this is a book that you shouldn’t read if you are feeling depressed.
Houellebecq cleverly starts and ends the book of with a science fiction theme. With his solution to the decline of society he asks you to re-examine your beliefs.

January 2008 Review

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Bad Dirt by Proulx

The bookclub really enjoyed these short stories. We all remarked on how well the author managed to capture the atmosphere of each short story i.e. we could all visualize the scenes within each story and you almost felt as though you were part of the story. The stories were easy to read.

December 2007 Review

5504
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The Gathering by Enright

The Gathering weaves through the grieving reflections of Veronica Hegarty, a mother of two in her late thirties whose alcoholic brother, Liam, recently drowned himself off the beach at Brighton. Although the drink certainly contributed towards Liam’s death, Veronica fears that Liam was haunted by something that happened to him as a boy in his grandmother’s house, in the winter of 1968. As she prepares for her brother’s funeral, and the gathering of the large Hegarty clan for that event, Veronica struggles both to recall past events and to make sense of her relationships with her brother, her parents, her surviving siblings, her own children and her husband.

The “Gathering” is a family drama which traces a line of hurt and redemption through three generations; grandmother, mother and daughter. This book shows how memories warp and family secrets fester. This is a novel about love, disappointment, lust and intense grief..

Here’s what the group had to say:

The group thought that this book was a classic Irish story and the author captured the Irish atmosphere really well. The beginning of the book was truly captivating and the author wrote beautiful and poetic sentences. However the group felt that this book would have made an excellent short story.

The group really struggled with the perceived “selfishness” of Veronique. The blurriness of the narrator, Veronique, telling us a story, that remains unclear. Veronique is grief struck or perhaps feeling guilty? As Veronique knew what happened at Grandmother Ada’s house. Veronique and Liam were great friends and the only character that could identify with him. Veronique was one of the only characters that the group thought was well developed as the rest of the family remained somewhat of an enigma. Grandmother Ada was identified by the group as the most interesting and most mysterious character. The brother was identified by the group as the only “nice guy” and felt that he would have been an interesting character to have met in the book.

We had so many lose ends in the book which led to unanswered questions. The one question that we all had for Anna Enright is, was this autobiographical book? The voice of the author is clearly coming through the main character.

November 2007 Review

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Middlesex by Eugenides

“Middlesex” tells the captivating story of one girl’s awkward and unusual coming of age and realizing that she is not like other girls. Summoning a colorful cast of characters, Calliope Stephanides narrates her story, beginning when her grandparents craft a sly escape from war-torn Smyrna in 1922 to the family’s subsequent exploits in the city of Detroit to their eventual residence in suburban Michigan. After a complete family history, Callie begins her story, of growing up a girl only to find at fourteen that she actually has male genitals. Where Callie’s story ends, Cal’s story begins. Cal/Callie walks us through those difficult times of retrospection, of finding out who he really was all along and trying to determine who he will be from now on, of turning from Callie to Cal, the man he has now become.

Here’s what the group had to say:

Overall, the group really enjoyed this book. The characters were well developed and likeable, and retained their unique personalities throughout the book’s complex sequence of events. The story was heart-warming and convincing, and there are several “laugh out loud” parts. We all thought that the Stephanides home would be an interesting one to visit.

The group liked the history in the book, and many of those who were unfamiliar with American events in the past century got a bit of a history lesson while reading. The story was a typical immigrant story, and its undertones were very American. The images that Eugenides evoked of Greece and Detroit were superb.

The group didn’t really feel that the book was trying to push the issue of intersexuality to the forefront by shocking the audience. It did a good job of telling a love story, only with a twist.

Some felt that the book was too long at nearly 600 pages, and often seemed as if it should have been two books. The combination of the stories of Callie’s ancestors and her own story seemed disjointed and sometimes forced.

Buzz words (one word that the group identifies that summarizes the book, from their perspective).

“A nice story”, “a great read”, “hilarious”, “gargantuan”, “puzzling”, “intricate”, “modern mythology”, “American”, “grandiose”

October 2007 Review

3821
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Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie

Summary:

The novel begins with an assassination, and then circles back through time before ending near its beginning. The book is divided into five movements, each named after one of the main characters. The story begins in Los Angeles in 1991, where we meet the glamorous and brilliant student India Ophuls and her father, Max Ophuls a man of movie-star good looks’. Max Ophuls was the World War II Resistance hero, the philosopher prince, the billionaire power-broker’, escaped from Occupied France and then served for years as the US ‘counterterrorism chief’. Along the way, Ophuls found time to go to India as the US ambassador, and conceived his daughter there. He told her nothing about her mother. Maximilian Ophuls is knifed to death, slaughtered by his Kashmiri driver, a mysterious figure who calls himself Shalimar, the Clown.

The murder looks at first like a political assassination but turns out to be passionately personal. This is the story of Max, his killer, and his daughter – and of a fourth character, the woman who links them all. The story of a deep love gone fatally wrong, destroyed by a shallow affair, it is an epic narrative that moves from California to France, England, and above all, Kashmir: a ruined paradise, not so much lost as smashed.

Here’s what the group had to say:

The bookclub really enjoyed this vivid and elaborate book.

They felt that Salman Rushdie wove the various strands of the book together very well and that no loose ends were left hanging. The sentences were beautifully constructed and had a poetic and melodic lilt to the words. The story had tremendous depth, was highly believable and greatly symbolic. The book is interwoven with continual reference to personal and national mythologies which sometimes overlap and often blur. For example, could each of the main the characters represent different cultures? It was suggested that the character of Max might represent American foreign policy, for example, and some even compared his assassination to 11th September.

There are further parallels in the novel which cross time and geographies. The idyllic cities of Kashmir and Strausburg being destroyed. Shalimar the clown’s real name is Noman, or is it Noman (?) and Max Ophuls life ends and India Ophuls life begins. Rushdie cleverly creates circles within circles throughout the book and the sliding scale from happy people and idyllic country to destroyed villages and people, is expertly done. The group also felt that the main characters were well developed

However on the negative side, there were a few issues which the group identified; that certain details within the book were not plausible i.e. the witness for Shalimar the clown and the part in the book when he escapes jail and is seen flying through the air! Rushdie is clearly very sarcastic sometimes, especially women coming from the Eastern Block.

The main theme of the book was identified as survival it is clear throughout the book how each of the 5 main characters managed to survive their own personal living hell. This is not a positive book on human beings rather a reflection on the darker side of their relationships that they hold with each other, the dark underbelly of the “paradise” that they live in and indeed love.

We all laughed at the 35 course meal and how food was also a very important theme throughout the book, brilliant !

Buzz words (one word that the group identifies that summarizes the book, from their perspective).

“loops”, “scared”, “story telling”, “human nature”, “faded destiny”, “tragedy”, “introduction”

September 2007 Review

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Jack Maggs by Peter Carey

Summary:

A bizarre novel that reinterprets Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, Jack Maggs is set in London in 1837. The anti-hero of the novel, Jack Maggs, is a foundling who has been trained as a small child to rob wealthy houses. As a teenager Maggs is caught, sentenced to transportation and imprisonment in Australia, and forbidden to return to England on pain of execution. On his way to Australia the vulnerable young man is surprised when a 4-year-old orphan shows him kindness by feeding him from his own meager food supply. The boy’s generosity is never forgotten; from Australia, Jack manages to locate him in an English orphanage, arranges for his education and support, and comes to think of the lad as his son. After many years, he decides to return to London in secret and at great risk to search for the boy, now a young man living the life of a gentleman. Back home Maggs encounters Tobias Oates, a famous writer fascinated with the criminal mind, amateur hypnotist who wants to probe his subconscious and fellow burglar – in this case of people’s minds. In return, Tobias promises to help him find his “son.” Needless to say, not all goes to plan. This story has as many twists and turns as the streets of London, but in the end justice is served.

What the group thought:

The majority of the group enjoyed the book, and found it to be very readable, however some readers also felt that there were many characters involved and that the plot was complicated. The group gave the book an average score of 3/12 out of 5.

Here’s what the group had to say:

The group thought that the book had a very Dickens-esque – that is to say, English – atmosphere but in fact our Australian member pointed out that Peter Careys intention was to recreate the story from a particularly Australian perspective (that of the convict) and reverse the traditions of colonial fiction that cast the Australian convict as a rough-hewn, desperate, and ultimately doomed creature.

Peter Carey very cleverly wove human issues into his portraits of the main characters. Humiliation was a strong thread throughout the book, as Percy Buckle, Mercy and Tobias Oates, desperately struggled to save face and keep up appearances of success in the face of both bitter humiliation and circumstances that were not quite what the world perceived them to be. The struggle for survival that each character experienced was also a strong theme of the book. The story was visual and evocative: as one member pointed out, he felt like he was “walking with Jack Maggs”. London was well described with its smog, neglect and impoverished working class population. The class structure and social divide was apparent, throughout the book. Humor was also much evident and indeed some of the scenes were hilarious.

The group also felt that the ending was disappointing and weak. Some of the members felt that the book was predictable and some incidents unbelievable. Is Peter Carey playing with us? Having a laugh? Some clichés were identified as were a number of rather far-fetched coincidences that occurred throughout the book. The question is, do they add up to literary weakness, or an ironic nod to the master, Dickens.

Buzz words (one word that the group identifies that summarizes the book, from their perspective).

“challenging”, “hypocritical”, “complicated”, ”humiliation”, “Australian”, “clever”, “anti hero”, “survival”.

August 2007 Review

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Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Summary:

After twelve years of political exile in Germany, the poet Ka returns to Turkey with a journalistic commission to report on strange events in the small city of Kars near the Russian border. On the eve of municipal elections a worrying number of “headscarf” girls have been committing suicide. During the course of his investigation into both the deaths and the elections Ka becomes increasingly aware of the dangerous undercurrents that lie beneath the surface of this otherwise nondescript and poor Turkish town: tensions are running high between the political Islamists and the ‘enlightened, pro-Western’ Turkish military. The novel details Ka’s developing tragic-comic relationship with various members of both these groups. Much of the novel takes place over a three-day period following a set-piece military coup. Pamuk’s novel explores such themes as politics, love, ethics, religion and poetry, as it gradually exposes some bitter emotional truths concerning the poet and the snow covered old-world city of Kars.

What the group thought:

I think that this book has been our most controversial book. When I asked each person to vote, some voted 1 out of 5, and others 5 out of 5. So the general figure doesn’t truly reflect the opinions of some. I have to say that we discussed the book for almost 2 hours; in conclusion this is a good book club book.

Here’s what the group has to say:

The writing style was identified as Latin American magical realism, and the words used to construct the story were simple. Humor and absurdity were also identified by the group. We were very much impressed by his talent; he is a great novelist and his arrogance was evident in his writing.

In general the characters were not liked by the group, and he tends to go into much depth about the female characters. The protagonist was identified as being weak, jealous and tries to be noble but somehow he never succeeds.

However the group also felt that Pamuk really does deal with some interesting topics e.g. East meets West, political problems within Turkey and Pamuk view on violence.

Did he write this book with a Western audience in mind? Who was he inspired by? Was this Rushdie? or is this another trendy Martin Amis, who deals with dark issues so well ? Is he being ironic? Is this autobiographical?

One of our book group member identified that Pamuk uses symbolism throughout the book, I agreed with her and thought it was cleverly identified.

Conclusion:

All taken into account the group enjoyed the book, and rated it 3 ½ out of 5!

July 2007 Review

4537
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The Sandcastle by Murdoch

Summary:

Mor is an ageing school teacher, and married to a strong and powerful wife. Mor’s is determined despite his wife’s resistance to enter the world of politics as a local MP. The headmaster of the school is retiring and a portrait has been commissioned, Rain Carter, daughter of a famous painter, arrives to paint the portrait. A relationship develops between Rain Carter and Mor. Mor’s obsession, with the young women, leads Mor’s teenage children and their mother to fight discreetly and ruthlessly against the invader. The Headmaster, himself enchanted, advises Mor to seize the girl and run. The final decision rests with Rain.

What the group thought:

The group identified 3 layers within the story; a simple love story progressing to a magical novel and then perhaps a psychological novel. Iris Murdoch constructed this novel well, everything was well planned, the main characters were well developed and the dialogue was realistic. Parts of the book were hilarious as she cleverly wove humor into the story.

The group also felt that Iris Murdoch managed very well, to weave a small amount of Magic into the story with the appearance of the Gypsy, the daughter Felicity’s interest in Magic, and the symbolic tower that Donald tried to climb. This contributed to tension within the book.

The title of the book was of interest to the group i.e. sandcastles break down, and are an illusion, does Iris Murdock associate the title with the main characters? Also the ending was a little bit of a “sandcastle” i.e. Donald running away from home and his mother being suitably fit to give a famous speech whilst their son was missing – is this plausible ? Donald’s safe arrival back home, his sister says “everything will be ok” – is this denial?

Is this story based on a Greek Tragedy? The construction was visible; wife crying, impact on children, outsider leaves and family comes back together again – is this possible?

Conclusion:

All taken into account the group enjoyed the book, and rated it … 3 ½ out of 5!

June 2007 Review

4374
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Miss Webster and Cherif by Patricia Duncker

Summary:

Elizabeth Webster is a spinster pushing seventy. Forced out of her teaching job, she unleashes her sharp tongue and dogmatic opinions on everyone in the English village of Little Blessington. Miss Webster is very independent, having always lived alone. Suddenly she suffers a near fatal illness, after which her doctor sends her on a journey to North Africa where she ventures into the desert and experiences a brush with terrorism – not that Miss Webster has ever cared about politics. Soon after her return, she gets a ring on her doorbell and finds standing before her a young beautiful Arab man carrying a large suitcase. Cerif is the son of a woman, Saida, whom Miss Webster befriended on her holiday. Cerif is apparently about to begin university in a nearby town. Before she knows it Miss Webster finds herself with an unexpected lodger. Miss Webster and Cerif couldn’t be more different: a gentle, shy, well-mannered young man, a bit bewildered by the strange new world he finds himself in, and the sharp yet vulnerable spinster.

What the group thought:

The main characters were well developed; Miss Webster taking on the sardonic Miss Marple figure, and Cherif, the gentle, sweet exotic Arab. However as the story progressed the group felt that the events leading up to the ending were somewhat unbelievable. Some members of the group also felt that the author was playing with us and our prejudices, as the events during the book led us to feel suspicious about Cherif’s intentions. However Miss Webster’s trust in Cherif never faltered, and the group felt that this was an admiral strength, given the circumstances. Patricia Duncker captured the very different atmospheres and world-views of Little Blessington and North Africa brilliantly.

The ending was felt by the group to be rather disappointing and unconvincing, leaving too many threads.

Buzz Words:

“Romantic”, “Dissatisfied”, “Amazing and likeable”, “Parallels”, “Fun characters”, “Not very realistic”, “Sardonic Miss Marple”.

Rating:

3 ½ out of 5.

May 2007 Review

3460
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Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and Lucille, orphan sisters growing up in the small desolate town of Fingerbone in the vast northwest of America. The book relates the experience of being by a series of strange characters: first a dysfunctional mother, then a competent but unemotional grandmother, then two comically fumbling great-aunts, and finally by Sylvie, a transient and eccentric aunt.

What the bookclub thought:

The plot was described as a “rolling echo” – with a cycle of familial dysfunction repeating over and over, right down to the final and very different life-choices made by Ruth and Lucille. The protagonist, Ruth struggles to develop emotionally and socially and, as the book develops, begins to mirror her aunt’s eccentric behaviour. Her sister Lucille, on the other hand, clearly craves family stability. The growing divide between the girls raises questions about the meaning of normalcy and family life in post-WWII America. The way in which the author captured both the cold wintery scenery and the small town mentality of this time and place was admired by all, although some found the book too dreary and meandering for their tastes.

Buzz Words: A Single word, used to describe the book.

“Drifting”, “vague”, “Depression”, “Superb”, “Poetic”, “Isolation”, “Coldness” “Solitude”, “Drifting”, “growing-up”

Rating – 31/2 out of 5

3424
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Cloudstreet by Winton

This work by a contemporary Australian writer was enjoyed by all. The story takes place in a small town outside of Perth and involves two families who share a house but have totally separate lives. The Pickles and the Lambs come at life from very different directions, with the one being a hardworking family with strong ideals, and the other living on luck and circumstance. The lives and times of this story go along with the history and scenery of this part of Australia.

What the bookclub thought:

Book club readers said this was a great story with characters that surprised you. Many liked the writing style and others found that it took a while to get used to that. Also mentioned was that it was good to have an Australian present to explain some of the expressions. Overall, a great read!

April 2007 Review

2337
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Indecision by Benjamin Kunkel

Dwight Wilmerding is in his late twenties and he can’t make up his mind about anything. He has a job that he doesn’t like, a girlfriend he isn’t in love with and still lives in student accommodation. A friend offers him a drug designed to cure indecision Dwight accepts the drug. Dwight then decides to visit an old class friend in Ecuador. The moment he arrives the class friend disappears and he is left with her friend Brigit. A romance develops as Dwight suddenly seems struck by a new decisiveness.

What the group thought.

“The only thing that I liked about the book was the cover”, “Post ironic”, “Repitious”, “MTV Philosophy”, “This is not chic lit, it’s dick lit !”.

The book started off with a promising beginning; Dwight’s paralysing indecision and aimless life are well described. However half way through, the book seems to lose direction.

The group felt that the main character was self-centered, detached, and disengaged. One of our bookclub members felt that the author was at pains to point out that “at least he, Dwight, was genetically smart”. The plot didn’t develop at all, and was really about very little if anything. Another bookclub member pointed out that the book is similar to “Bridget Jones diary”. The witty dialogue and style appealed to some but the majority of the group felt that the story was shallow and empty.

However I still have the feeling that the author is not being serious, and that if you do not take the book too seriously and if you appreciate a cynical take on life then I do feel that you will enjoy reading the book

We forgot to rate the book, however my guess is a low score, about 2/10?

March 2007 Review

3743
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Suite Francaise by Nemirovsky

The story is set in 1940 and 1941, during the occupation of France. It is not a typical WWII book, focusing more on how the war changed everyday life than the horrors of war itself (although those lurk ominously in every corner of the book). The first part of the book follows a group of Parisians as they flee the invasion and make their way through France and the second part of book hones in on the inhabitants of a rural community who find themselves thrown together in ways they never expected.

The group generally found this book to be excellent; some said it was a “must read”, others “very readable”. The group found that the author gave good insight into the ordinary lives of people living during the war, and captured the “fall of France” magnificently. The author manages to capture the tension amongst characters – both the invaders and the invaded – very well.

The book was given a 4/5 rating.

February 2007 Review

3312
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Austerlitz by Sebald

We all sympathised with the main character because he was a product of a traumatic youth. It was fascinating how Austerlitz goes about creating a mental map of his world which seemed to be ruled by architectural phenomena described meticulously. In the end we agreed that the book is a monumental work of art writen by an outstanding author who shows a profound knowledge of an immense feeling for architecture and recent history.

January 2007 Review

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Money by Amis

Many thought that the book was very funny e.g. when John explains to the young Hollywood brat pack movie actor Spunk Davis that it might be helpful for the British market if he changed his first name. The book is self consciously clever and brilliant. It was a good to read a serious book that actually dealing directly with our times rather than sometime in the past.

December 2006 Review

3152
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The Human Stain by Philip Roth

This is an excellent read. The group was astounded by the magic and charm of his writing.. The text was indeed incredibly dense, but it was clear that the author is a true master. The unexpected twist at the end was captivating. This is clearly not a read for those looking for a page turner. If you are up for a challenge then this is a must have.

November 2006 Review

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Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

We all agreed that this book was a fantastic read. This conclusion seldom happens. Coetzee is indeed a true master at story writing. The storyline was very well developed. Coetzee cleverly left us with much to think about whilst we were reading the book and after we had finished it. The group felt that this was a chilling read. An excellent read, but not for those looking for a light book.

October 2006 Review

4750
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The Line Of Beauty by Hollinghurst

We has a clear divide within our group as some of our members viewed this book as complicated, arrogant and long winded. Some of our other bookclub member viewed the book as richly textured and emotionally charged. However one thing we all agreed on was, that Hollinghurst is a talented author. He captured London under the reign of Thatcher, homosexuality in the 80’s and the fear of aids extemely well.

September 2006 Review

2903
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A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

This is a light beach read and everyone enjoyed reading the book. The book is about family relationships something that the group could all identify with. The balance between parent and child, relationship between two sisters and a new entrant (2nd wife) into an already dysfunctional family. The group viewed the book at times to be comical and at other times to be a tragic.

August 2006 Review

1727
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The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing

We all agreed that this book is compelling and timeless work of literature, one that would appeal to most serious book lovers. The story follows the slow mental decline of a white woman who fails to come to terms with rural life in pre-WW11 South Africa. Beautifully written, the book offers both intimate portrait of a blighted life and a provacative insight into the social, political and geographical realities of a beautiful but troubled country.

July 2006 Review

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The Accidental by Ali Smith

Reactions to the book were quite diverse. Some could not be bothered to finish the story. The other members of the bookgroup were impressed by Smmith’s craftsmanship with which she composed the different third person voices that narrated the story. If you like abstract reading then you will enjoy this book enormously.

June 2006 Review

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Yellow Dog by Amis

The majority of the group agreed that Martin Amis has a difficult style to read, either you love it or you hate it. The book is abstract and involved much concentration. The main character was true to Amis style, well developed but typically “not a nice guy”. The scenery was excellent and the events taking place within the book well described. All considered a good read, but for those readers looking for a challenge.

May 2006 Review

6870
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Oryx And Crake by Atwood

Atwood at her best – dark, dry witty and yet moving. Her gloriously inventive brave new world is all the more chilling because of the mirror it holds up to our own. Her carefully calibrated sentences are formulated to hook and paralyse the reader. Oryx and Crake is a parable an imaginative text for the antiglobalisation movement. This book looks ahead to warn us about the results of human short-sightedness and selfishness.

April 2006 Review

5271
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The Dark Room by Seiffert

The group really enjoyed this book and it made for a really excellent discussion book. The author has a very simple and readable style. The book is well constructed and story believable. The score rating was high (4)
and the discussion intense. The book is divided into 3 stories, each story discusses the ordinary lives of 3 German people. The last story was fascinating and prompted much coment and criticism.

March 2006 Review

6213
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The Mermaid Chair by Kidd

The novel has all the ingredients for a heart-warming and inspiring romance and yet, we were not thrilled. The main character remained unconvincing and the rest of the characters stayed flat. Monk Kidd’s style bothered us as she spelt out everything for her readers. We missed depth in the plot and the characters. We did enjoy the landscape descriptions, we were able to “see” the island. The book would make a nice movie and beach read.

February 2006 Review

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We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

In crisply crafted sentences that cut to the bone of her feelings about motherhood, career, family, and what it is about American culture that produces child killers, Shriver yanks the reader back and forth between blame and empahty, retribution and forgiveness. Never letting up on the tension, Shriver ensures that, like Eva, the reader grapples with unhealed wounds. If you are looking for a book on society or human behaviour this might be a good read for you.

January 2006 Review

1058
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Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

We were all impressed with Virginia Woolf and her ability to write such incredible literature. Woolf has a gift to see behind people’s social masks and to reveal in a very beautiful way how people live, how they love and hate, fear and long, and cope with the pleasures as well as the difficulties of everyday existence. There is very little dialogue the author uses stream of consciousness.

December 2005 Review

3060
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The Sea by John Banville

The group was divided with regards to this book. Some members loved the story others found the author to be arrogant and self obssessed. the main character, not a likeable man, rather moody and miserable, however given the story-line, was not surprising. The style is magical and almost poetic, a book that is truly well composed. If you are looking for a literary challenge then this will be a great read.

November 2005 Review

3279
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Saturday by Mcewan

We could not help but to make a comparison with James Joyce’s"Ulysses". MeEwan is a master in drawing you into the protagonist’s mind and life. But others did not agree: they would have preferred a little more action and less surgical observation.

October 2005 Review

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The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky

Based in late-Czarist Russia, this is a drama of family intrigue involving a brutal father and his (mostly) upwardly mobile sons that ends in murder. It is full of strongly developed characters and the social situations they occupy. And it is at its best in the clashing personalities of brothers – the sensual & volatile, the intellectual & tortured, the spiritual & sensitive, and the shadowy & sinister respectively. There are some big fans of this in the Book Club – take your time, it is a novel well worth getting into.

September 2005 Review

3290
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On Beauty by Zadie Smith

This is a classic family drama and an impressive novel. She gives a wonderful voice to the different characters within the book and sturdy enough to keep the narrative from falling into a babel of incompatible registers. The family Beseys comprises of its own little compact clashing cultures; the father a white English academic, mother a black Floridian hospital administrator, and the children ranging from religious freak to a daughter who becomes a specimen of US Student culture. If you liked “White Teeth” you will love this book.

August 2005 Review

6031
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The Inheritance Of Loss by Desai

This was a good bookclub choice, the discussion was intense and full of debate. The author manages to describe and capture the scenery in India well – this was agreed unanimously by the goup. The immigration issues surrounding both main characters were well highlighted. However the grop did feel, at times, that the book was drawn out, a “typical booker prize winner”.

July 2005 Review

4316
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Cloud Atlas by Mitchell

This book gave us insight as to the talent of David Mitchell. The book contains five short stories, each individual story is written in a completely different style from the other stories. The group loved this book, and therefore the discussion lasted 2 hours, so good choice.

June 2005 Review

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In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Controversial and compelling, In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and both their children. Truman Capote’s comprehensive study of the killings and subsequent investigation explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime and the effect it had on those involved. At the centre of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, who, vividly drawn by Capote, are shown to be reprehensible yet entirely and frighteningly human. The book that made Capote’s name, In Cold Blood is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative.

What the group thought:

The book club raved about this book, what a classic! At all levels Capote excelled himself; the personalities of the murders, small town America and a court room drama that would make Perry Mason weep. Almost no negative comments were given in the discussion. A high score was given 4 ½ !!
If you are looking for a brilliant crime story then we can certainly recommend this book to you.

May 2005 Review

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The Corrections by Franzen

The Lamberts Enid and Alfred and their three grown-up children are a troubled family living in a troubled age. Alfred is ill and as his condition worsens the whole family must face the failures, secrets and long-buried hurts that haunt them if they are to make the corrections that each desperately needs.

What the group thought:

This is a story of an extremely dysfunctional family. A family that is confront with; Parkinson’s disease, denial, job loss and more. The mother decides to bring the entire family together for one last Christmas meal… In this book Franzen excel in all three areas; suspense, postmodern verbal acrobats, and complex-character pointillists. If you like sarcasm you will love this book.

April 2005 Review

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Safran Foer

Synopsis Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is an inventor, amateur entomologist, Francophile, letter writer, pacifist, natural historian, percussionist, romantic, Great Explorer, jeweller, detective, vegan, and collector of butterflies. When his father is killed in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, Oskar sets out to solve the mystery of a key he discovers in his father’s closet. It is a search which leads him into the lives of strangers, through the five boroughs of New York, into history, to the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima, and on an inward journey which brings him ever closer to some kind of peace.

What the group thought:

What affected us most in this novel is the maturity of the boy. His “inventions” are brilliant and extreme at times. Most members were enthusiastic about the book and labelled it a “feel-good” novel even though it deals with an unthinkable theme. We found it genuinely funny and original.

March 2005 Review

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Small Island by Levy

The book group loved this book. It’s a well written and wonderful page turner. At times the book was hilarious and at other times very serious i.e. the author dealt with serious issues very well. The author captured the Jamaican “click” well. The characters were well defined and believable, we all sympathized with the plight of Hortensia. This book is suitable for most readers.

February 2005 Review

1448
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Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What the group thought:

A typical coming of age book. It was nice to read something about Nigeria. The story left nothing to our imagination, all endings were nicely tied up and story belivable. The book was indeed a good page turner.

January 2005 Review

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Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Emma Bovary is beautiful and bored, trapped in her marriage to a mediocre doctor and stifled by the banality of provincial life. An ardent reader of sentimental novels, she longs for passion and seeks escape in fantasies of high romance, in voracious spending and, eventually, in adultery. But even her affairs bring her disappointment and the consequences are devastating.

Flaubert’s erotically charged and psychologically acute portrayal of Emma Bovary caused a moral outcry on its publication in 1857. It was deemed so lifelike that many women claimed they were the model for his heroine; but Flaubert insisted: ‘Madame Bovary, c’est moi’.

What the group thought:

The group enjoyed this book for all those qualities that made it a classic. Romance meets harsh reality in an idyllic 19th century French rural setting. The discussion centered upon the character of Emma Bovary – is she merely a vain and selfish cretaure or a free spirit crushed by the stifling mores of her time? Love or Loathe Emma Bovary – this is a Must Read. Recommended for lovers of 19th Century Fiction, Women’s History, and fine writing.