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Book Club Reviews 2012

 

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One Day by David Nicholls

This phenomenally successful book was intended as a ‘light read’ for our August meeting. In fact it proved to be a very cleverly constructed novel that follows the funny/tragic love story of Emma and Dexter over their twenty year friendship, by looking at just one day (July 15th) of each year. It gives a series of snapshots of the relationship and how the two characters develop both separately and as a couple. We are left to imagine what has happened in the intervening 364 days. It has been described as ‘a book about growing up – how we change and how we stay the same’.

We identified with many of the experiences of the characters, often cringingly realistic in the humorous descriptions given. It succeeds as a social novel set in a recognisable modern Britain. Everyone empathised with Emma. Dexter was more complex and at some points it was difficult to understand what Emma saw in him.

The style is simple and unaffected but incredibly subtle – never sentimental or gushing. The dialogue is totally believable. It has a tangible emotional impact because we care about what happens to the characters.

And the moral to the story?

"Live each day as if it's your last', that was the conventional advice, but really, who had the energy for that? What if it rained or you felt a bit glandy? It just wasn't practical. Better by far to be good and courageous and bold and to make difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance."David Nicholls

Maureen Greenberg

 

The Island by Victoria Hislop

Wesley’s newly formed reading group likes to travel. In April we were in Leningrad, in June we were in Australia and our latest journey took us to Crete, which is where The Island is set.

Our first three books have all been historical novels, though the next three are firmly based in the U.K., and The Island was definitely the easiest read – perhaps a bit too light-weight for some. However it’s an impressive debut novel for Victoria Hislop – and no, we didn’t know that she would be appearing at Wesley as part of the Harrogate International Festival.

The core of the book is prejudice in relation to attitudes towards leprosy, lepers and leper colonies. The island of the title is Spinalonga, the lepers’ island, and the book details life on the island and how Cretan society, and individual families, dealt with   leprosy.

Discussion centred on the strong storyline and the (not so strong) characters. The book led us to consider

  • why some characters were happier when they were living on the supportive island than when they were cured and returned to the mainland
  • the effect on the whole family of a member being diagnosed with leprosy
  • the lengths families go to in order to hide ‘secrets’
  • the extent to which we feel responsible for the actions of our children

Maureen Greenberg

 

The Secret River by Kate Greville

The second book our newly formed reading group chose for discussion was ‘The Secret River’ by one of Australia’s best-known authors – Kate Grenville.

This beautifully written winner of the Orange Prize was also shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker.

It is an evocative historical novel, set largely in the early nineteenth century, that showed up our ignorance of early Australian history. The complexity of the clash of cultures between the early Australian convict settlers and the native aboriginal people was decidedly unsettling and often violent and brutal.

The story is based on the author’s painstaking research into archives revealing details of the life of one of her ancestors who was deported to Australia in 1806. The research brought to light details of cruelty and ruthlessness. The novel put flesh on the bones of history to make the research come alive.

Apart from discussion on the storyline and the characters, the book led us to consider
· The evils of colonialism
· The extent to which it is possible to own anything
· How a man, not inherently evil, can be corrupted
· What it means to belong to a country – to call a country ‘home’
· The strength of the family unit in adversity

Can a historical novel be better history than an historian’s history?
In empathising with the characters we are  inevitably led to wonder how we would  have coped in their situation.

Maureen Greenberg

 

The Seige by Helen Dunmore

Our newly formed reading group (a Wesley and St Peter’s joint venture) chose for our first book ‘The Siege’ by Helen Dunmore.

Eight of us met at Wesley on a snowy afternoon when the boiler was not working. No one complained. Read this book and you should never again complain about lack of heating or what to cook for tea or queues or anything at all.

It is an historical novel based on the first, and worst, winter of the two and a half year siege of Leningrad in 1941, and about the daily struggle for survival.

Whilst all agreed on how well written the book was, some felt that the unrelieved and unremitting grimness made the book hard to finish and indeed read. Others were so gripped by the unravelling of the story that they read it more than once and found the second reading even more rewarding.

Apart from discussion on the storyline and the characters, the book led us to consider
· whether subsequent generations would be as resourceful
· the sacrifices that Russian women had to make
· Leningrad today – two of the group had visited St Petersburg
· the strength of the family unit in adversity
· the  changing attitude to death when it occurs on such a large scale

Since the story focuses on the detail of ordinary people’s daily lives you are  inevitably led to wonder how you would cope in such a situation.

Maureen Greenberg

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See also

Wesley Centre Harrogate | Nidd Valley Methodist Circuit | Leeds Methodist District | The Methodist Church in Britain

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