Book Club 2

GROUP CONVENOR – Christine Wright

We meet on the third Wednesday of the month at 1.00 pm in Par Community Library (PL24 2PB). If you enjoy reading and discussing the book you have read, come along and join us.

We usually get together after our book discussion for a tea or coffee (and maybe a cake!) at the cafe on site.

NB This group is now at capacity. Please contact the Group Convenor via the below form if you would like to be added to a waiting list.

Below are details of our recently read books.

October 2023 – Various

Due to the non-arrival of books from Library Services this month, each member chose a book that they had read resulting in a wonderful mix of genres. Happy reading!

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

In 1932, Violet Speedwell is one of the ‘surplus women’ left after the Great War, where her fiancé and brother died. She lives with her overbearing mother and yearns to have an independent life and to give her life depth and meaning in a society that does its best to ignore these women’s existence. Eventually, she decides to leave and moves to a (rather bleak) boarding house and finds a job as a typist. Unfortunately, her wages are so meagre that she is sometimes literally starving and survives on margarine and Marmite sandwiches with one hot meal a week.

She’s emotionally starving too and falls in love with a married man who rings the bells at Winchester Cathedral (an all-male preserve which Violet manages to secretly enter). In the Cathedral, Violet also discovers a group of embroiderers and decides to make a mark of her own by embroidering a kneeler. The society of ‘broderers’ is based on real life and Violet not only learns a new skill and makes something beautiful but finds friends, courage and a community there. When she finds herself pregnant and alone, it’s these women who help her to start living an independent life.

This is a bittersweet novel, contrasting outward respectability with inner yearnings and passions and Tracy Chevalier’s writing about the patterns of embroidery, bell ringing and her characters’ lives is beautiful.

One Crowded Hour by Tim Bowden

Biography of Neil Davies, Australian combat cameraman (1934-1985) 

This superb biography was in the planning stage when Neil Davies, an Australian combat cameraman was tragically killed, not in combat where he had spent most of his working life but on the streets of Bangkok during a military coup.  Consequently, the original plan for the author to write this biography in collaboration with Davies had to be scrapped.  Tim Bowden had to rely on remaining letters, meticulous notes Davies made of all his working activities and the recollection of the many people who had known Davies.

Davies worked in many conflicts and natural disasters around the world throughout the 60s up to his death in 1985, especially the Vietnam war – not under the skirts of the Americans but on the front line with the Vietnamese; conflicts in Cambodia, where he fell in love with the country and the gentle and cultured people; The Philippines and Lebanon. He was a gregarious man who loved to chat and hear their stories, rarely talking about himself.  He related to all – from beggars in the street to people in high office and saw some goodness in everyone. He was often in mortal danger and collected shrapnel wounds twenty times and was hospitalised six times. He was a very determined individual with extraordinary willpower which pulled him from the brink of death on more than one occasion. 

In my opinion this is the story if a truly remarkable man and I thoroughly recommend it. It is entertaining and informative, giving an insight to cultures unfamiliar to most of us. A book describing battle scenes is the last thing I would pick up to read but it is one if the best books I have read.

omorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

When Macbeth speaks of “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” he speaks of the relentlessness and futility of life. When Gabrielle Zevin uses those words for her title she speaks of the possibility of infinite rebirth, infinite redemption offered by video games. In the virtual world there are endless chances, endless re-starts…………

The story begins when two college students, Samson and Sadie, bump into each other by chance at a railway station. The pair have not met since childhood where they met in a games room of a hospital when Sadie was visiting her sick sister. Sam was recovering from a car crash that killed his mother and crushed his foot in 27 places.

This is not a typical “boy meets girl” romance, though it is romantic. They love each other but never in the quite the same way at quite the same time! Their relationship is a joining of minds and worlds that is different and purer than any ordinary physical attraction. Gaming becomes Sam’s way of escaping, of forgetting about his injured foot that has become a painful, long term disability.They create their first video game together which is an instant success and leads to Sadie developing her own games later with other friends.

I found the blurring of lines between reality and play and the language of creating video games interesting rather than off-putting to this non-gamer. In the end, the game is revealed to be a means of communication and reconciliation for its real life players, Sam and Sadie.

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

As the Group did not have a book for this month, I decided to read this one that was given to me by a friend. It is definitely not one of my favourites! The story jumps backwards and forwards in time from 1990 to 2014 and is written in the first person who is called Riley. The story starts with the death of her father and after his death she discovers a life she knew nothing about including a sister, Lisa (who Riley believed had committed suicide). Things she had accepted were what her parents had wanted her to believe and the plot becomes more complicated as she realises she was adopted. Lisa’s story has even more twists and turns (she had been living under a new name, Jade) and in the end becomes too far-fetched – more secrets and lies.

It was an easy read and some of the descriptive narrative is very good but I would not be looking to read any more of her books.

Deep Water by Paula Daly

I have never read any of this author’s books before but I thoroughly enjoyed this gripping thriller and at times, could not put it down. The story is about the disappearance of a child who was being cared for by a friend of the family. Th child goes missing – and she’s not the only one! The book is written from the perspective of a small group of women, Lisa, Kate and Sally – all with busy lives – young children and work etc. Intertwined with this is the character Detective Constable Joanna Aspinall who is in charge of the search for Lucinda. The relationship between the women and their respective lives unfolds …… This is an excellent, gripping book

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Set in the 60s this is a story about a female chemist with an unorthodox upbringing (deserted by her mother at 4years old when her father is imprisoned and brought up by her elder brother). With no formal education as the family moved around a lot, Elizabeth Zott  becomes a chemist, a very good chemist who has difficulty understanding why she is not getting on in her career – due to the misogyny, sexual harassment  and jealousy of her co-workers and managers who use her brilliance for their own career enhancement. Due to her upbringing, she has no experience of “how to behave as a woman should” – this was a completely alien concept.

Elizabeth meets another chemist, Calvin – also a “square peg in a round hole” who falls in love with her. They have a child, “Mad” – should have been Madeleine – and a very intelligent dog called “six-thirty” whose part in the story is also significant.  After leaving the lab where she worked due to unwanted advances from the senior administrator who was passing off her work as his own in order to receive a large grant, she then had to find work to support herself and Mad.

A chance meeting with someone who worked in TV meant that she began doing live cookery classes with a studio audience but these were not your typical cookery programmes! As a chemist, Elizabeth used the terms sodium chloride and acetic acid, not salt and vinegar, and during the show managed to educate her audience of women who became a loyal group.  A typical quote was “Far too many people do not appreciate the work and sacrifice that goes into being a wife, a mother, a woman”.

Despite the producer’s reservation and the fact that she did not promote the products she was supposed to, the show was a huge success all over America. Elizabeth was empowering ordinary women. This is a funny, entertaining story well written and should be read by all men and women. It has been made into a TV series and I am not surprised. One of the best books I have ever read.

September 2023 – The Girl in The Photograph – Kate Riordan

This book is a tale of two women in two different eras both suffering from the conventions of their time. Alice is unmarried, pregnant and sent away to hide her pregnancy with the acceptance that when the child is born it will be given up for adoption. Elizabeth, from the earlier era, is married but unhappily so, suffering post-natal depression and at odds with an unsympathetic husband. Their lives are entwined as are the chapters of the book. Alice gets absorbed by the history of the house and Elizabeth and all is revealed as she pursues the research into history.

This book had a mixed reception from our group…

“I liked the book better than I thought I would, because it wasn’t really a ghost story, which I wouldn’t have enjoyed”.

“I have enjoyed reading this novel. I was apprehensive of the ghost aspect alluded to but the narrative was atmospheric and slightly disturbing rather than frightening or menacing.”

“The start of the book has a desperately unconvincing affair, passionless and not believable”

“I found this a well-written and interesting story”.

“I wasn’t at all sure I was going to get through the novel at the beginning….”

“I had mixed feelings about this book but have to admit that despite having reservations I kept coming back because I needed to know what happened to Elizabeth.”

“Difficult disjointed plotting, more like a mix of themed short stories.”

“I did not like the story of Alice……”

“………..but found Alice’s story unsatisfying and predictable…..”

Most liked the description of the setting ……

“… is a mysterious place filled with untold secrets…”

“The Cotswolds setting , the villages, people and countryside were well described and a perfect backdrop for the novel.”

“Good landscape descriptions.”

The descriptive narrative was very good.”

“I found the writing style beautifully descriptive of place……..”

….. I also enjoyed the strong sense of place…..”

…but mixed reception for the characters …..

“The characters were well written and all important to the unfolding story except perhaps for Henry”

“I liked the way the other characters were in both tales . Edith, Ruck. Morton and Tom ‘s parents and how they showed different sides of Elizabeths character. Isabel playing and talking with her toys was very realistic.”

“……….but rather dense and humourless when it came to her characters. Mrs Jelphs being the one exception. “

“Characters not believable or interesting.”

“I found it difficult to have any sympathies with either woman, although I can sympathise with their situations, they themselves appear quite weak….”

Post-natal depression, attitudes to illegitimacy, the subjugation of women in both time zones were the underlying themes.

“We get a clear insight into the times when women were always judged by others and wives were mere possessions of their husbands. Also, post-natal depression after the birth of a baby was not understood or catered for.”

“The attitude towards women in those 2 different times was portrayed well. It generated sympathy towards Alice and Elizabeth. Both women were trapped because of the conventions of the time.”

“…… insight into how post-natal depression was once dealt with and also of the disgrace and humiliation of becoming pregnant outside of wedlock.”

“……..with the very different accounts of Elizabeth and Alices’ mostly sad unhappy confinements. Impatience by husbands towards their post-natal depression must have been quite common in the 19th century…….”

“The author is projecting her own contemporary understanding into different eras.”

In the discussion most people felt that this book was trying to be a like the writings of Daphne Du Maurier, the Brontes or Jane Austen and almost everyone agreed that, as such, it was unfortunately unsuccessful, although some people would be interested to read another of her books.

Previous Reviews can be seen HERE

We are happy for you to come to a Coffee Morning or one main Monthly Meeting and to attend one individual group (with the exception of groups that require pre-booking and ticket purchases) before deciding whether to join St Austell u3a.

Please always contact the Group Convenor to ensure the session is going ahead.