2018

Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood (December 2018)

In Hanky Park, near Salford, Harry and Sally Hardcastle grow up in a society preoccupiedwith grinding poverty, exploited by bookies and pawnbrokers, bullied by petty officials and living in constant fear of the dole queue and the Means Test. His love affair with a local girl ends in a shotgun marriage, and, disowned by his family, Harry is tempted by crime. Sally, meanwhile, falls in love with Larry Meath, a self-educated Marxist. But Larry is a sick man and there are other more powerful rivals for her affection.

Mixed reviews for this one, with some finding it amusing and heart-warming in parts – despite the poverty and general dreariness – and some simply finding it a bit depressing. A classic and an eye-opener if you can hack it.

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani (November 2018)

The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.

When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect caretaker for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite and devoted woman who sings to their children, cleans the family’s chic apartment in Paris’s upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late without complaint and is able to host enviable birthday parties.

The couple and nanny become more dependent on each other. But as jealousy, resentment and suspicions increase, Myriam and Paul’s idyllic tableau is shattered…

A profoundly moving, heart-hitting novella that raises so many questions about the battle between motherhood and career, immigration and mental health. A perfect book club book.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (October 2018)

Pulitzer Prize winner and American master Anne Tyler brings us an inspired, witty and irresistible contemporary take on one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies.

Kate Battista feels stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her 27070127eccentric scientist father and uppity, pretty younger sister Bunny? Plus, she’s always in trouble at work – her pre-school charges adore her, but their parents don’t always appreciate her unusual opinions and forthright manner.

Dr. Battista has other problems. After years out in the academic wilderness, he is on the verge of a breakthrough. His research could help millions. There’s only one problem: his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, all would be lost.

When Dr. Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he’s relying – as usual – on Kate to help him. Kate is furious: this time he’s really asking too much. But will she be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to bring her around?

General consensus declares that this is the hands down the most disappointing of the Hogarth Shakespeares, feeling like Tyler had dashed this so-called ‘adaptation’ of The Taming of the Shrew off in a panic between book deals. Plot details and characterisation are so lightly dealt with that it left us with questions about the glaring gaps she’d left behind. A mildly amusing yet distinctly below-par retelling.

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (September 2018)

Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different reasons than I’d disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young 11291819cousin Esmerelda more or less on a whim.

That’s my score to date.

Three.

I haven’t killed anybody for years, and don’t intend to ever again.

It was just a stage I was going through.

Enter – if you can bear it – the extraordinary private world of frank, just sixteen, and unconventional, to say the least.

Although most found the animal torture and bizarre denouement a little hard to take, Iain Banks’ first novel is certainly intriguing, not amazing, but intriguing, and shows how many interesting ideas the author already had brewing at the beginning of his career. Great bookclub discussion.

The Silent Story by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett (August 2018)

The silents.

A generation of children born without speech, without language, without 18490572communication.

They can’t tell you their story – but the parents, doctors, inventors, cult leaders and vigilantes touched by the phenomenon can.

And they’ll tell you that the silents are medical curiosities.

Or that they’re a threat.

Or that they’re our salvation.

But what they can’t tell you is what the silents are thinking.

Or what they want.

Or what they’re going to do next.

General consensus was that both the premise and the first couple of hundred – what ended up being far too many – pages of this one felt promising and we could all see this collaborative literary project being adapted to the big screen. However, there were many threads that frustratingly didn’t seem to tie up, a plethora of silly characters and a narrative that moved forward at snail’s pace. Boo.

Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg (July 2018)

She thinks more highly of snow and ice than she does of love.  She lives in a world of numbers, science and memories–a dark, exotic stranger in a strange land.  And 129147now Smilla Jaspersen is convinced she has uncovered a shattering crime…

It happened in the Copenhagen snow.  A six-year-old boy, a Greenlander like Smilla, fell to his death from the top of his apartment building.  While the boy’s body is still warm, the police pronounce his death an accident.  But Smilla knows her young neighbor didn’t fall from the roof on his own.  Soon she is following a path of clues as clear to her as footsteps in the snow.  For her dead neighbor, and for herself, she must embark on a harrowing journey of lies, revelation and violence that will take her back to the world of ice and snow from which she comes, where an explosive secret waits beneath the ice….

Hugely mixed feelings on this one but the general consensus that the first half = gooooooood whilst second half = baaaaaad and rather ruined it for most, killing it for another who frankly couldn’t be bothered to wade through the nonsense to prove the obvious. Also a bit of a snowy read for a very hot July!

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (June 2018)

The extraordinary first novel by the bestselling, Folio Prize-winning, National Book Award-shortlisted George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War

The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old 31929623son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos and grace. Here he invents an exhilarating new form, and is confirmed as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices – living and dead, historical and fictional – Lincoln in the Bardo poses a timeless question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?

A ‘novel’ unlike anything any member has ever read before, Saunders’ Booker prize winning novel is a game changer. Mixing historical account with the tale of Abraham Lincoln’s dead son stuck in the limbo like realm of the ‘Bardo’, along with other spirits unable to accept their fate, the choppy chapters are entertaining, profound, amusing and frightening all in one. An excellent book club book.

Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson (May 2018)

Eureka Street is a story of Belfast in the six months just before and after the 1402637latestceasefires. It is the story of Chuckie Lurgan, fat, Protestant and poor, who suddenly becomes wealthy by various legal but immoral means; and of Jake Jackson, Catholic, reformed tough guy, who has been abandoned by his English girlfriend and is looking for love. Meanwhile the strange letters ‘OTG’ start appearing on walls and paving stones throughout the city.

A wonderfully readable, eye-opening book that, unlike some of it’s peers, let’s us see Belfast from an ‘ordinary’ point of view. Some beautiful passages and humble characters leave us wanting to read more about this unpredictable city.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (April 2018)

In 1892 Lizzie Borden was tried and acquitted for the brutal axe murders of her father and step-mother in Fall River, Massachusetts. The murder has never been 34209826
solved.

This unforgettable debut novels tells the story of the murder and its aftermath from a rotating cast of perspectives – Lizzie herself, her older sister, an Irish housemaid, a young boy hired to take care of trouble – which means you are never quite sure where you stand, or who you believe.

With great psychological insight, and a brilliantly atmospheric rendering of a claustrophobic household, rife with sexual tension, jealousy and sibling rivalry, SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE is an original and riveting meditation on one of history’s great unsolved mysteries.

Much more varied discussion for this than expected as it wasn’t universally loved, some not appreciating the deeply creepy, nausea-inducing nature of it all. General consensus however said that this is a great fictionalised account of such a well known murder, minus a few tweaks here and there we were suitably entertained.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman (March 2018)

Beautiful, flaxen-haired Buttercup has fallen for Westley, the farm boy, and when 800388he departs to make his fortune, she vows never to love another. When she hears that his ship has been captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts – who never leaves survivors – her heart is broken. But her charms draw the attention of the relentless Prince Humberdinck who wants a wife and will go to any lengths to have Buttercup. So starts a fairy tale like no other, of fencing, fighting, torture, poison, true love, hate, revenge, giants, hunters, bad men, good men, beautifulest ladies, snakes, spiders, beasts, chases, escapes, lies, truths, passions and miracles.

There was more discussion to be had here than expected. General consensus was that the film is much better and we were all a little bored with Goldman’s interjections (although that is kinda the point) and constant film plugs. The actually Princess Bride story is awesome however.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates (February 2018)

A sweeping collection of new and selected essays on the Obama era by the National Book Award-winning author of Between the World and Me

“We were eight years in power” was the lament of Reconstruction-era black 33916061politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. Now Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s “first white president.”

But the story of these present-day eight years is not just about presidential politics. This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period–and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation’s old and unreconciled history. Coates powerfully examines the events of the Obama era from his intimate and revealing perspective–the point of view of a young writer who begins the journey in an unemployment office in Harlem and ends it in the Oval Office, interviewing a president.

We Were Eight Years in Power features Coates’s iconic essays first published in The Atlantic, including “Fear of a Black President,” “The Case for Reparations,” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” along with eight fresh essays that revisit each year of the Obama administration through Coates’s own experiences, observations, and intellectual development, capped by a bracingly original assessment of the election that fully illuminated the tragedy of the Obama era. We Were Eight Years in Power is a vital account of modern America, from one of the definitive voices of this historic moment.

Phew this was tough going. There is absolutely no doubt that this compilation of articles from Coates’ time at the Atlantic newspaper is hugely important and vital to even beginning to comprehend African American life in the US today and the utter disgrace of the Trump era. That doesn’t, however, mean this wasn’t a slog to read.

The Circle by Dave Eggers (January 2018)

When Mae is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. Run out of a 33871737sprawling California campus, the Circle links users’ personal emails, social media, and finances with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of transparency. Mae can’t believe her great fortune to work for them – even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public …

Although this novel didn’t necessarily blow anyone away, Dave Eggers’ frightening portrait of this all-powerful, invasive, global technology company touches on so many pertinent issues around the ethics of how technology is used and made for a great book club discussion. A lack of depth to the main characters and several implausible/silly plotlines makes this book fall short.

 

 

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