Reading Dates for 2006
January 4th ~ 2pm & 7pm
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”
Working as a lady's companion, the heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Life begins to look very bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise.
Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.
February 1st ~ 2 & 7pm
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Kate Atkinson has put away the crockery, closed up the dishwasher and gone out of the kitchen door into the dark. Case Histories, her fourth novel since Behind the Scenes at the Museum, kicks off with a few unconnected vignettes: a three-year-old girl disappears one hot morning; a solicitor witnesses the violent death of his beloved daughter; a struggling mother loses her temper with her husband and reaches for the axe. That's three families shattered in the space of 50 pages - a sign that cosy domestic drama, of the sort that won the hearts of the judges who awarded Behind the Scenes the 1995 Whitbread prize, has been left behind.
March 1st ~ 2 & 7pm
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
War and the trauma of the Taliban have made Afghanistan an unlikely setting for literary fiction, and have given its writers little opportunity to be heard in the west. California-based Khaled Hosseini's first novel is an attempt to correct this, and to remind us of the anonymity it enjoyed before the Soviet invasion in 1979.
March 29th ~ 2 & 7pm
The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Rather like Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, in which a girl looks down from heaven after her death and even manages to intervene in the lives of those left behind, The Time Traveler's Wife sets up a very benign kind of magic.
Interestingly, Niffenegger uses time travel as a way of expressing the sense of slippage that you get in any relationship - that you could be living through a slightly different love story from the one your partner is experiencing. And she certainly weaves her plot well. This is one of those books that makes you want to eat it up from start to finish, eager to see how the twisted curves of time will be straightened out.
May 10th ~ 2 & 7pm
Vernon God Little DBC Pierre
Vernon God Little, a startling and excellent debut, is billed as a comedy: "A 21st-century comedy in the presence of death".
It is a treacherous book, always shifting under your feet. Like the best satires, it makes you feel faintly guilty for laughing, which intensifies the pleasure of reading. It also keeps you hooked: you can never quite be sure whether Vernon is lying to his readers as well as to the police, his mother and nearly everyone else he meets.
(We are reading this to compare it with We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver)
June 7th ~ 2 & 7pm
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Cloud Atlas is made up of half-a-dozen disparate but artfully interwoven narratives that propel the reader forwards through time and genre, from the distant nineteenth to the not-so-far-off twenty-second century, from giddy picaresque to cool thriller to chilling sci-fi.
Cloud Atlas meditates on belief and religion, on the curses of rampant science, big business and human insatiability; it questions how capable we are of changing the course of our own lives, let alone history or humankind's nature, and hints tantalisingly at notions of reincarnation. But it is time's progression - linear or otherwise - that truly captivates Mitchell and, in a gesture at once terrifying and comforting, he sets his most futuristic tranche in a world that is the most ancient.
July 5th ~ 2 & 7pm
Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
A middle-aged woman goes on a cruise in 1939, is swept overboard and lives as a castaway on a desert island for three and a half years. But she is not alone, since she finds another castaway there. He has just died as the novel begins: the ‘carpenter’ is the only truly good, truly saintly person whom we are to encounter, apart from Miss Ranskill herself.
The object of Barbara Euphan Todd’s satire is the cruelty and egoism of people who have found an absorbing new interest during the war years but have lost their compassion for or even curiosity in others.
Published only a year after the end of the war, and deeply critical both of the people that Miss Ranskill encounters and of the peculiar rituals they have established, this cannot have been – and was not – a popular book in England at the time.
September 13th ~ 2 & 7pm
Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert
Writing about Emma Bovary, Flaubert brings to life a hopeless romantic who believes that true love should strike with the blinding intensity of a thunderbolt that "plunges the entire heart into an abyss."
The heedlessness, extravagance and audacity of Emma's rebellion shocked many readers when Madame Bovary was first published in 1856. Flaubert was even prosecuted by the government for the crime of having "outraged public morals and religion" (he was acquitted). It was Flaubert's subtlety and psychological insight that made the struggles of this woman in a dull country town and her tragedy so vivid and disturbing.
October 11th ~ 2 & 7pm
Saturday by Ian McEwan
McEwan's protagonist is neurosurgeon Henry Perowne, a man comfortably ensconced in an enviable upper middle class existence. His wife is a successful newspaper lawyer, his daughter Daisy a budding poet. But as he wakes one Saturday morning and witnesses a plane accident through his window, he is not yet aware that this is a harbinger of a sustained assault on all that he holds dear. It’s a McEwan trademark to begin his novels with a striking or violent rupture of everyday existence, but this opening is a prelude to his most impressively sustained narrative yet. It’s the publication day of Henry’s daughter's poetry collection, but a chance encounter with a drunken trio emerging from a lap-dancing club ends violently, even as a march against the war in Iraq streams past nearby. And this encounter with the menacing Baxter, main antagonist of the group, is to have fateful consequences. As Saturday progresses, Henry is forced to examine every aspect of his life and beliefs, not least his attitude to the war.
November 8th ~ 2 & 7pm
Carmen by Prosper Merimee
‘With the creation of Merimée’s “gypsy” heroine Carmen … the [French Romantic] movement’s founding values of spontaneity, originality and wilfulness found something approaching their ideal form.’ – TLS
A story about the dark forces that lurk beneath the façade of civilisation, where passions are brutal, and erotic love is seductive yet sinister.
December 6th ~ 2 & 7pm
Chronicles of Dartmoor by Anne Marsh Caldwell
The last novel of Anne Marsh Caldwell, "Chronicles of Dartmoor" tells the story of the inhabitants of Lawsleigh-on-the-Moor, a fictional Dartmoor village set deep in the moor and retaining the old customs, lore and laws nearly gone from the rest of the country. From the competition between worldly Susan Picard and naive but sweet Mary Cope to win the love of the handsome blacksmith, Isaac Watson, to the interfering machinations of the curate Mr. Gray and his attempts to bring 'order' to the village men who are overly fond of their cider, Chronicles introduces the reader to a host of captivating and charismatic characters, and provides a charming picture of the joys and heartaches of life in a simpler time.
Persephone Reading Group
February 8th ~ 2pm and February 22nd ~ 7pm
Good Evening Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter- Downes
In her stories, Mollie Panter-Downes explores almost every aspect of English domestic life during the war: boredom, separation, sewing parties, fear, evacuees sent to the country and to America, obsession with food, the camaraderie of the blitz, above all the social revolution engendered by the war. In 'Year of Decision' (29 April 1944) the husband expostulates, 'For heaven's sake...It doesn't matter to me or Hitler whether I pick up my pyjamas off a chair or the floor' while his wife persists in her orderly smoothing of the eiderdown 'as though the action were yet another moral shot fired at the slowly advancing enemy.'
This theme of the English middle classes resisting the changes engendered by the war was one to which Mollie Panter-Downes would return in her greatest novel, One Fine Day (1947), and which her background as a social commentator - she wrote The New Yorker's famous 'Letter from London' throughout the war and for many years afterwards - equipped her to make very much her own.
April 5th 2pm and April 26th 7pm
Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson
Few Eggs and No Oranges is funny, observant and uncomplaining; above all it is a chronicle of the way in which an ordinary woman coped in very unordinary circumstances. As the original publisher wrote in 1976,
'Many exciting, frightening, marvellous stories have come out of the years of WWII demonstrating the courage and heroism of people in crises, but few recorded at the time, day by often unexciting day, the extraordinary resilience and determination, depression and humour, compassion and insight, and sheer slogging hard work under continual harassment of ordinary people throughout those five years.'
Just for fun, we will also look at the book of recipes, Good Things in England by Florence White at this meeting.
July 19th ~ 2 & 7pm
Julian Grenfell by Nicholas Mosley
This book was first published in 1976 and never republished since. Yet it is one of the outstanding biographies of our time.
Firstly, it is quite short and selective yet tells you everything you want to know. Secondly, it is about a young man killed in the First World War and asks the question, what was it about his upbringing that made Julian Grenfell welcome and even relish the war? Thirdly, it is a superb description of an appallingly smothering mother.
September 27th 7pm and October 4th 2pm
It’s Hard to be Hip Over Thirty by Judith Viorst AND Consequences by EM Delafield
Judith Viorst’s poems were originally published in America in 1968 and 1971, and in England in 1973; English readers first read them in Nova magazine. They are redolent of an entire era. Viorst's work is very American but no-one, of whatever age, sex or nationality, can avoid laughing at these 50 extraordinary poems, which are funny, pointed and painful.
In Consequences, the first part of the book describes Alex Clare, aged 12 when it begins in 1889, being groomed to become a society hostess or mistress of the manor. Her upbringing is, however, so authoritarian and so insensitive that she is gradually broken by it, her natural high spirits crushed by the way, time after time, she is made to feel gauche, inept and generally a failure. Eventually, when she is 21, she enters a convent, only to emerge ten years later into a world that has not yet changed enough for her to be able to find happiness. 'A scream of sheer horror against Victorianism' is the Preface's summing-up of Consequences.