Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

December's book suggestion

Just to clarify... another Orange prize winner, continuing with Val's suggestion, namely Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A Differing view

I am suprised that others did not enjoy 'Modern Times' as I found it a very stimulating read. I thought it was a very well crafted book that maintained its sincerity. I thought it very brave of Grant to attempt to write about so complex and emotive a subject but I thought she handled it very well.

There were so many themes interwoven that it is impossible to pin down exactly what the book was setting out to do and I liked this. It kept sparking off various thoughts in my head and there were various aspects of Evelyn that found I empathised with and others that were completely alien to me. I thought the move from impassioned youth to worldly adult was beautifully done and she avoided making Evelyn cynical in her more mature years. I also thought she chose a very honest ending. I thought for one ghastly minute it was going to be a Captain Corelli’s Mandolin ending and was very glad it wasn’t.

I also thought the whole concept of ‘home’ was an interesting one. ‘Home’ became more than just place, but relationships and ultimately self-identity. As someone who has moved around a lot (albeit in the one country), home to me is about being with those you love, and I got the feeling that this was true of Evelyn. ‘Home’ being with her mother, the one person I felt she really loved and understood and reverted back to, as opposed to passion with Johnny or comfort with Leo.

I found the historical setting of this book fascinating as it was a period of history I was not very familiar with. The building of a city from scratch was a wonderful back drop for such a medley of ideas and cultures. For those of us brought up in relative peace time, in an age of multi-culturalism and the global village it was revealing to see the passionately held post-war patriotism that is so alien to a lot of us. I have only encountered something similar in a Northern Irish friend and, I suspect, for similar reasons.

A great read and refreshing to read a story about Jews that is not set in the Middle Ages or contain songs! I thought it was just as good as Girl with a Pearl Earring so I'd say don't give up on Orange Prize Winners just yet Emily!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

An error of judgement?

Yes, I completely agree with Valerie. The book promised much from its opening page - very well-written - and was a subject new to me. But I also found it let down by its characters, who seemed thin and implausible. It certainly had merits, but was ultimately unsatisfying for me personally. The Orange prize is clearly not the badge of quality we'd assumed from past winners! I looked at the shorlist for that year (2000) to see what the judges had to work with. There was nothing on the shortlist I'd read or wanted to, so I thought perhaps it was just a lean year. And then I saw the longlist - which included Girl with a pearl earring. Well! That year's judges were, I regret to suggest, misjudging at least 2 of the books on their original longlist.

Hey ho. Am now rather trepidatious about Bel Canto (another Orange winner) for December. So I suggest, after that, some non-Orange ones for a while. Amazing as many of them have been, the prize may not be quite the guarantee we'd hoped... Which, I guess, is fair enough. I listened, on Helen S's recommendation, to the Radio 4 thing on "matron lit", which was interesting - and an introduction to the brilliant "listen again" facility. Wow!

What I found especially stimulating was the panel's point that they didn't want books targeted too precisely at them because that was bad for the literature and bad for the audience. Discerning middle-aged women do not just want to read about middle-aged women facing middle-aged-women things, and books written specifically for such a market are likely to suffer as a result. I certainly feel the same about "reading group" targeted books, and tend to avoid being herded towards them. I want to be surprised, challenged and taken out of myself by books. I wonder if that is an inherent weakness of the Orange, or any, prize? They can - potentially - have such a clear view of what they stand for, that this can impede choosing the right winner. The Orange prize, for instance, is just open to women. Given that there are innumerable great books by women, I can cope with that, but not if it skews the judging process within the contenders. I'll be very interested if ANYONE preferred When I lived in modern times to Girl with a pearl earring!