September 24, 2006

Eighteenth Meeting - Unless

Our book for September is Unless by Carol Shields.


Brendan writes "I stumbled upon this book hearing bits of it read on Radio 4, and then a few days later found it in Borders. There are few books where I have been totally hooked from the first few pages but this is one. Written in the first person, Shields delivers a virtuoso account of a seemingly well ordered life suddenly confronted by a gut wrenching experience. I've now resolved to retry The Stone Diaries".

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July 30, 2006

Seventeenth Meeting - A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian

Our July meeting will be held at a member's house in Peterborough.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewicka

For years, Nadezhda and Vera, two Ukrainian sisters, raised in England by their refugee parents, have had as little as possible to do with each other - and they have their reasons. But now they find they'd better learn how to get along, because since their mother's death their ageing father has been sliding into his second childhood, and an alarming new woman has just entered his life. Valentina, a bosomy young synthetic blonde from the Ukraine, seems to think their father is much richer than he is, and she is keen that he leave this world with as little money to his name as possible. If Nadazhda and Vera don't stop her, no one will.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian

But separating their addled and annoyingly lecherous dad from his new love will prove to be no easy feat - Valentina is a ruthless pro and the two sisters swiftly realise that they are mere amateurs when it comes to ruthlessness. As Hurricane Valentina turns the family house upside down, old secrets come falling out, including the most deeply buried one of them all, from the War, the one that explains much about why Nadazhda and Vera are so different. In the meantime, oblivious to it all, their father carries on with the great work of his dotage, a grand history of the tractor. (Synopsis from Amazon)

Shortlisted for last year's Orange prize. An interesting, if sometimes harrowing / frustrating read.

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June 04, 2006

Sixteenth Meeting - My Lives

Our sixteenth meeting will be held at a member's house near Cambridge. This month's book is My Lives by Edmund White.


This is White's very frank autobiography. Each chapter focuses on different aspects of his life: My Shrink; My Father; My Mother; My Hustlers; My Women; My Europe; My Master; My Blonds; My Genet; My Friends.

This is an intelligent and absorbing account of an extraordinary life by the author of The Beautiful Room is Empty and A Boy's Own Story. At times it's 'strong' (be warned - occasionally I felt I I was being told stuff about him which I didn't want to know!). It may well come to be ranked as one of the great literary autobiographies.

An autobiography will be a first for the group.

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April 30, 2006

Fifteenth Meeting - In Cold Blood

Our fifteenth meeting will be held at a member's house near Cambridge on Sunday 30th April, starting at 13:00.

Our book this month is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote


On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

This is a true masterpiece of creative nonfiction. The images of this tale continue to resonate in our minds: 16-year-old Nancy Clutter teaching a friend how to bake a cherry pie, Dick Hickock's black '49 Chevrolet sedan, Perry Smith's Gibson guitar and his dreams of gold in a tropical paradise - the blood on the walls and the final "thud-snap" of the rope-broken necks.

"The best documentary account of an American crime ever written... The book chills the blood and exercises the intelligence... harrowing." — The New York Review of Books

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April 02, 2006

Fourteenth Meeting - The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Our early April choice was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Berlin, 1942 - When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far away, where there is no one to play with, and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance. But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meet the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences. (Synopsis from Amazon).

Andrew says, "This, like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, started off as a Young Adult read, but I can see it becoming a cross-over success. As a relief from our recent long-reads, you'll be glad to know that this book is only around 200-250 pages".

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March 05, 2006

Thirteenth Meeting - Heartbreaker

Gosh - did we have problems with this month's book, The Heartbreaker by Susan Howatch.


Howatch's earlier Starbridge novels were interesting – managing to make a person's internal journey into exciting novels, but over the years she's grown far more psychologically perceptive. This is the story of a male prostitute (“high class leisure worker” as he calls himself) as he comes to realise quite a mess his seemingly wonderful lifestyle is, and was we (the readers) come to understand who he came to be in that place, and as he eventually (and dramatically) finds a way out.

The problem for me was that the exciting and racy narrative was spoiled by very two-dimensional characterisations in pursuit of the greater goal of religious propagandism. At least that was my point of view! Several new members joined us and we had a great discussion about an expectedly controversial book.

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January 22, 2006

Twelfth Meeting - Birdsong

January's book was Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes.

Set in France before and during World War I, this is the story of a young Englishman who is impelled through a series of extreme experiences, including a traumatic love affair which tears apart the bourgeois French family with whom he lives. By the author of "The Girl at the Lion d'Or.


I think all of us found this a tough but rewarding read. Its relentless focus on the harrowing experiences of Stephen Wraysford lead to a startling juxtaposition of lost love, the horrors of the trenches and the uncaring sounds of nature.

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December 18, 2005

Eleventh Meeting - Easter

Our November and December meetings are being held specially to encourage new people to join our group.

Our December meeting will be held in St. Ives.


A week in the life of a London parish church exploring human nature in its vast array of manifestations. The characters have to face up to issues of cultural, religious and community identity, sexuality, HIV, disappointment, hypocrisy, transformation. We see the church at its worst and at its best. Patrick Gale says 'Easter is a big book in every sense'.

Continue reading "Eleventh Meeting - Easter"

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November 20, 2005

Tenth Meeting - South of the Border, West of the Sun

This month's book was South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami.

It's a deliciously short and light read, wherein the arc of an average man's life from childhood to middle age with its attendant rhythms of success and disappointment becomes the kind of exquisite literary conundrum that is Haruki Murakami's trademark. The plot is simple: Hajime meets and falls in love with a girl in elementary school but loses touch with her when his family moves to another town. He drifts through high school, college and his 20s before marrying and settling into a career as a successful bar owner. Then his childhood sweetheart returns weighed down with secrets:

"When I went back into the bar, a glass and ashtray remained where she had been. A couple of lightly crushed cigarette butts were lined up in the ashtray, a faint trace of lipstick on each. I sat down and closed my eyes. Echoes of music faded away, leaving me alone. In that gentle darkness, the rain continued to fall without a sound".

South of the Border, West of the Sun

We had a pretty lively discussion about this book. Two of the group hated it, commenting on its 'two-dimensionality' and lack of empathy with the central character Hajime. Others liked it, although at least two of us would rather have read 'Kafka on the Shore' or 'Norwegian Wood' as better examples of Murakami's writing.

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October 23, 2005

Ninth Meeting - Atomised

What a provocative read! Our October meeting discussed Atomised by Michel Houellebecq.

Half-brothers Michel and Bruno have a mother in common but little else. This is the story of two brothers, but the subject of the novel is in its dismantling of society and its assumptions, a dissection of modern lives and loves.


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