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.
June – THE BOOK THIEF – AND OTHERS!
A plethora of reviews to whet the appetite this month as some members had already read this book and seen the film. We agreed that we could choose an alternative book instead which resulted in reviews of some interesting books which are included below.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel, a young girl caught up in the evils of Nazi Germany. She is taken from her parents because they are communists and given to strangers to foster her. We then watch her grow from frightened, illiterate little girl to someone who eventually reads to a distressed mother and also to calm people in a bomb shelter. Through her and the happenings locally we are shown that words can be powerful both for good and evil. Her first “stolen” book has an unlikely title,”
The Gravediggers Handbook” but because she acquired this at the time of her little brother’s death, she forms a desperate need to learn how to read. She is helped in this by her foster father Hans with whom she develops a close bond and eventually by Max, a young Jew, who is hidden in the basement of their house.
The narrator is Death, who lets us see the wider context in which Liesel’s neighbourhood exists. He allows us to see the effects of propaganda and extreme violent control; but also despite this, that within some human beings, there is inherent compassion and goodness, no matter what the possible cost. We also see that kindness is not always that simple as the kind act by Hans of giving bread to a starving Jew leads to Max having to leave the safety of their house. Hans, a painter and decorator by trade also loses most of his business because he had painted over symbols daubed on Jewish houses.
The book is set in Germany and the bombs which kill thousands are English but it could be set in any country where there is a dictator who rules through fear, propaganda and hatred, and is very relevant to our own time. It was also a reminder of members’ experiences as a family during the war.
The theme of the written word and books runs throughout the story and epitomises the kindness of the Mayor’s wife who encourages Liesel to “steal/borrow” books; the hatred of books by the Nazis; the change in attitude of the next door neighbour and Max’s legacy in the book written by him for Liesel. There are many aspects to this story including the developing relationship between Liesel and Rudi, the boy next door who joins Hitler Youth while despising everything it stands for. The characters are easily imagined with the relationships brilliantly portrayed. The reader empathises with them as pawns in the game of one mad man’s destruction of their life plans.
The use of Death as the narrator is very clever. He is neutral but sees everything and “is haunted by humans”. After the 2nd World war, there was an optimism that the overwhelming sense of the humanity of ordinary folk would override any future possibility of such monstrous leaders such as Hitler emerging again. This made it very difficult to read in the current context of Ukraine and the genocide experience there. Even closer to home the disregard for humanity is coming out in contemporary UK politics.
Sad Little Men by Richard Beard
This book perceptively analyses the privileged education and sense of entitlement our current politicians have which make them so unsuitable to govern the country and could so easily, as within the environs of The Book Thief, “enable ignorant monsters to change our way of life and undermine our humanity”.
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
A moon tiger is a type of burning wick insect repellent lit at night to keep mosquitoes at bay in hot countries. This book won the 1987 Booker prize. It is about the life of Claudia who, as she lies in a hospital bed with terminal cancer, thinks about writing a history of the world . The book is also a kaleidoscope of memories from her own life. Her brother Gordon and she were lifelong sibling rivals, best friends, and briefly lovers . Their adult lives take completely different paths, he as an economist in India, and Claudia, having trained as a news journalist and historian, finds herself in the Middle East during and after World war 2. The author’ descriptions of the desert , falling in love, and loss are intricately and expertly woven into a captivating tale, not least as it deals with the unusual role of a female war reporter in a man’s world.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
Channelling Agatha Christie, Magpie Murders begins with a publishing editor (and the reader) settling down to read a murder mystery set in a sleepy 1950s English village. All is not as it seems though as 200 pages later the story ends before we find out whodunnit and we leap into the present day with the book author’s own death and the efforts of his editor to solve both mysteries.
Cleverly interweaving two stories, fiendishly plotted and with red herrings aplenty, this is an inventive treat for whodunnit fans, albeit let down by some lazy and stereotypical portrayal of gay characters.
One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
This award winning American crime writer’s character is Stephanie Plum, brought up in New Jersey and wanting to be independent from her family, short of money as always, she takes on a job for her low-life cousin Vinnie as a bail bondsman. Being paid to bring in fugitives who have skipped bail, she rides her luck surrounded by a colourful cast of characters. An enjoyable read, fast paced and full of humour, this is escapism at its best!
The Last Library by Freya Sampson
This was chosen by one of our members who has been personally involved in saving a library. It is a lightweight, enjoyable book about June who is trying to save a library and is a reminder of the importance of libraries in the community. “ A story of love, loss and the importance of books in our lives”
So many interesting stories!
May THE CHILDREN ACT – IAN MCEWAN
It was agreed by everyone that this was an exceptionally engaging novel. Ian McEwan explores a range of issues in contemporary society affecting the judiciary and the way it operates. His main protagonist is a diligent hard working female judge (Fiona) in her late fifties faced with the plight of Adam, a clever 17 year old boy facing almost certain death unless he has a blood transfusion that is disallowed by his Jehovah’s Witness family’s interpretation of scripture. Neither Adam nor his parents want the transfusion to go ahead but, as a minor, the law has the power to make the final decision.
Meanwhile the judge and her partner of 40 years are trying to resolve their own relationship crisis. They have been together for 40 years, had no children and both lead busy lives with different lifestyles. He is an exponent of freeform jazz. She is a musician who closely follows the rules in classical playing, as she does in the interpretation of the law.
Presented constantly with emotive arguments and having to be dispassionate and analytical, using pure objectivity and a rigid application of the law whilst restraining one’s own emotions must be exhausting, leaving little to help her cope with her own personal dilemma when her husband decides he wants to have an affair with a younger woman.
Fiona visits Adam in hospital and discusses her role in his future and makes her decision.
The intricacies of the High Court, the very ill but strangely seductive 17 yr old Adam Henry character pressured by loving parents whose extreme religion forbids blood transfusion , is brilliantly clever. It must be a pretty rare person who makes it to be a good High Court Judge. Having to read, know, remember and balance so many details, then to finally play God must be an enormous pressure. No wonder they arewell paid – surgeons of the legal world!
Some of our members’ comments:
“A good read for group discussion coincidentally following our previous novel re: Mormon living. When a good read is this good it’s like looking through windows into other worlds, thought provoking enjoyable entertainment”
“Having read a couple of Ian McEwan’s novels I knew I was in for a treat with The Children Act . I remembered enjoying the film / TV drama of this story but the writing is so good I got much more involved. How the author develops the parallel plots and ideas of a tired marriage , the tireless workings of Fiona’s mind eased by playing classical piano is really good. The unforeseen almost maternal love that childless Fiona compulsively feels for Adam is beautifully intimated “
“I was very impressed with McEwan’s knowledge of the subject and how he translated it into the story. It was interesting that he wrote it from a female angle. I will definitely read more of his books”
“I didn’t particularly like “Atonement” so was pleased to find that this made a more favourable impression. It was an easy read without being predicatable, having surprising twists and interesting characters”
“The Children Act was one of the best books I’ve read. We learnt about the two sets of beliefs – the Court of Law and the Jehovah’s Witness religion but the novel was more about the people involved and the effects caused by the judgement made”
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.