The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (December 2017)
Julie Otsuka’s long-awaited follow-up to When the Emperor Was Divine is a tour de force of economy and precision, a novel that tells the story of a group of young women brought over from Japan to San Francisco as picture brides nearly a century ago.
In eight incantatory sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces their extraordinary lives, from their arduous journey by boat, where the girls exchange photographs of their husbands, imagining uncertain futures in an unknown land: to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; to their backbreaking work picking fruit in the fields and scrubbing the floors of white women in their homes; to their struggles to master a new language and a new culture; to their experiences in childbirth, and then as mothers, raising children who will ultimately reject their heritage and their history to the deracination arrival of war.
In language that has the force and the fury of poetry, Julie Otsuka has written a singular spellbinding novel about the American dream.
All of us were pleasantly surprised that such a slim little volume could hold so much discussion potential. Written in a spare, poetic prose that views the collective experience of Japanese picture brides travelling to America and a new life, this short novel is full of startling images that will remain with us for a long while.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick (November 2017)
By 2021, the World War has killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remain covet any living creature, and for people who can’t afford one, companies have built incredibly realistic simulacrae: horses, birds, cats, sheep. They’ve even built humans.
Emigrées to Mars receive androids so sophisticated it’s impossible to tell them from true men or women. Fearful of the havoc these artificial humans could wreak, the government bans them from Earth, but when androids don’t want to be identified, they just blend in. Rick Deckard is an officially sanctioned bounty hunter whose job is to find rogue androids and retire them, but cornered, androids tend to fight back–with deadly results.
Although this classic of science fiction was never going to generate any hard debate, all agreed that they were thoroughly entertained, intrigued and that this certainly was not a slog to read – something we have found in the past with dystopian fiction.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (October 2017)
A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense and generous hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighbourhood, a city and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her two protagonists.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (September 2017)
Or rather Alex and his three droogs tolchock an old veck, razrez his books, pull off his outer platties and take a malenky bit of cutter.
For Alex’s confessions are written in ‘nadsat’ – the teenage argot of a not-too-distant future.
Because of his delinquent excesses, Alex is jailed and made subject to ‘Ludovico’s Technique,’ a chilling experiment in Reclamation Treatment…
Horror farce? Social prophecy? Penetrating study of human choice between good and evil? A Clockwork Orange is all three, dazzling proof of Anthony Burgess’s vast talents.
An uncomfortable, thought-provoking read that made for excellent book club fodder. Burgess’ dystopian nightmare raised so many intriguing avenues of discussion, from mental health to the important of free will. An excellent read and well worth penetrating Burgess’ ‘nadsat’ slang for.
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (August 2017)
Paris, 1937. Andras Lévi, a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student, arrives from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he promised to deliver. But when he falls into a complicated relationship with the letter’s recipient, he becomes privy to a secret that will alter the course of his—and his family’s—history. From the small Hungarian town of Konyár to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the despair of Carpathian winter to an unimaginable life in labor camps, The Invisible Bridge tells the story of a family shattered and remade in history’s darkest hour.
Although the group felt that Orringer’s doorstop of a WWII novel was far too long, full of unnecessarily florid prose, almost all could appreciate her epic, sweeping plot and profound grasp of historical detail. Many pointed to their ignorance with regards to Hungary’s (and its Jews) position in World War II, and were glad to enlighten themselves.
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (July 2017)
A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence.
Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows.
Graeme Macrae Burnet tells an irresistible and original story about the provisional nature of truth, even when the facts seem clear. His Bloody Project is a mesmerising literary thriller set in an unforgiving landscape where the exercise of power is arbitrary.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (June 2017)
Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.
Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.
Scary, gripping and deeply unsettling, AMERICAN GODS takes a long, hard look into the soul of America. You’ll be surprised by what – and who – it find there…
A fabulous concept and fascinating flashbacks could not make up for a novel that was just far too long, with only two of the group managing to finish it. Many hoped for a classicly Gaimanesque fantastical, plot-heavy extravaganza yet were left rather disappointed by the aimless wandering.
The Girls by Emma Cline (May 2017)
California. The summer of 1969. In the dying days of a floundering counter-culture a young girl is unwittingly caught up in unthinkable violence, and a decision made at this moment, on the cusp of adulthood, will shape her life….
Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat.
Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls.
And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways.
Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?
A massively hyped novel that occasioned mixed reviews. Whereas some felt that a frustrating main character and such stark similarities with the Manson family case were slightly disappointing, Cline’s sublime writing and thought-provoking topic made up for this in spades.
Death and the Penguin by Andrey Karkov (April 2017)
Viktor is an aspiring writer with only Misha, his pet penguin, for company. Although he would prefer to write short stories, he earns a living composing obituaries for a newspaper. He longs to see his work published, yet the subjects of his obituaries continue to cling to life. But when he opens the newspaper to find his work in print for the first time, his pride swiftly turns to terror. He and Misha have been drawn into a trap from which there appears to be no escape.
With a misleading penguin bringing the group hope of a little amusement and warmth, this satire from Andrey Kurkov left us indifferent. Although a swift little read we felt a little more understanding of Ukrainian politics and culture was needed to make the most of this novel. As it stood, with unsympathetic characters and a dryer than dry sense of humour, this one left us feeling a little…well….dry.
The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald (March 2017)
Anthony and Gloria are the essence of Jazz Age glamour. A brilliant and magnetic couple, they fling themselves at life with an energy that is thrilling. New York is a playground where they dance and drink for days on end. Their marriage is a passionate theatrical performance; they are young, rich, alive and lovely and they intend to inherit the earth.
But as money becomes tight, their marriage becomes impossible. And with their inheritance still distant, Anthony and Gloria must grow up and face reality; they may be beautiful but they are also damned.
Mixed opinions on this popular classic. A shining example of how a classic does not necessarily make for good discussion/a good ‘book club book’.
The Green Road by Anne Enright (February 2017)
A darkly glinting novel set on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, The Green Road is a story of fracture and family, selfishness and compassion – a book about the gaps in the human heart and how we learn to fill them.
The children of Rosaleen Madigan leave the west of Ireland for lives they never could have imagined in Dublin, New York and various third-world towns. In her early old age their difficult, wonderful mother announces that she’s decided to sell the house and divide the proceeds. Her adult children come back for a last Christmas, with the feeling that their childhoods are being erased, their personal history bought and sold.
Anne Enright is addicted to the truth of things. Sentence by sentence, there are few writers alive who can invest the language with such torque and gleam, such wit and longing – who can write dialogue that speaks itself aloud, who can show us the million splinters of her characters’ lives then pull them back up together again, into a perfect glass.
Sadly not the most inspiring book we’ve ever read this February.
The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell (January 2017)
“I was hoping against hope that the penguin would survive because as of that instant he had a name, and with his name came the beginning of a bond which would last a life-time.”
Tom Michell is in his roaring twenties: single, free-spirited and seeking adventure. He has a plane ticket to South America, a teaching position in a prestigious Argentine boarding school, and endless summer holidays. He even has a motorbike, Che Guevara style. What he doesn’t need is a pet. What he really doesn’t need is a pet penguin. Set against Argentina’s turbulent years following the collapse of the corrupt Perónist regime, this is the heart-warming story of Juan Salvador the penguin, rescued by Tom from an oil slick in Uruguay just days before a new term. When the bird refuses to leave Tom’s side, the young teacher has no choice but to smuggle it across the border, through customs, and back to school.
Whether it’s as the rugby team’s mascot, the housekeeper’s confidant, the host at Tom’s parties or the most flamboyant swimming coach in world history, Juan Salvador transforms the lives of all he meets – in particular one homesick school boy. And as for Tom, he discovers in Juan Salvador a compadre like no other. The Penguin Lessons is a unique and moving true story that has captured imaginations around the globe for all those who dreamed as a child that they might one day talk to animals.
A heart-warming true story, much loved by all the group and the perfect book to read over the holiday period.