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.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ukrainian Tractors

OK, Val, I'll re-lend The Kite-Runner, but on condition that I bear no responsibility for what I think is likely to be repeated disappointment! I don't think it's the kind of book that you'd suddenly enjoy just because we did...

Onto Tractors. I liked (as an observer!) the sense of pantomime or farce, especially emanating from Valentina. Like Valerie, I can just SEE her. And the hordes of men, like flies. And all the variously-inadequate vehicles. And all the documents and letters swirling around in all that dirt. Very atmospheric. I also valued an insight into the expat Ukranian community in which all these things eddied, to which I had never hitherto given a moment's thought.

Reluctantly, I have to disagree with Kirsty on the broken English, which I found imaginatively funny. But that may have been partly because I was in farce/pantomime mode. That said, I didn't feel it was clumsily constructed. Yes, the plot didn't develop as much as I hoped/expected, but
I felt that the characters had not just real relationships but real histories between them and, as Valerie said, that history is all then stirred up afresh by "a fluffy pink grenade", bereavement, mishandled wills etc. The messiness of it all seemed entirely authentic.

Onto the bureaucracy... In this instance, when the author wants to have the character staying on beyond what is reasonable, it seems to be a system which gives endless chances. Equally, we hear of tragic instances where refugees seem to have no second chances and the system seems skewed the other way. Perhaps both are in fact the case, and it depends largely on one's savvy and chutzpah. I am always struck by how expertly certain fraudsters manage to claim excess money from our benefits system, when legitimate and simple contact with such bureaucracy intimidates me.

I did enjoy the book, even if it wasn't quite as dark or resolved as I expected. And I'm very glad to have been persuaded to read it since it was quite a departure for me.

Valerie's post on A Short History of Tractors


I rather enjoyed this book, with its snappy style and sense of humour. It probably helps that I am of the age group of the sisters, with an elderly parent and an older sister. The writing was easy to read and not exceptional, but I found it easy to enter into the story and had a very visual idea of what was going on.

The author seems to have written a lot about the needs of the elderly, (if the library list I found is indeed the same author) and has probably seen all forms of family dynamics when the care of the elderly relatives has to be discussed. Nothing is more likely to bring up old problems, particularly when money is involved. I thought the gradual unveiling of the family history was well handled and found the tractor episodes interesting.

I agree with Kirsty's comments on the thin plot which went on and more layers would have been welcomed. A quick, light read.

(Written by Valerie, but posted by Emily)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Kite Runner

Long time no post due to technical difficulties which John has found a way round. But I’ve been able to read all of yours and am staggered by the unanimous vote of confidence you gave Kite Runner. Not liking it at the start I promised to give it 50 pages but couldn’t get beyond p40: the writing I found pedantic; the plot predictable (even before p 30 it was obvious the boys would be brothers); and the characters B&W. A friend said she similarly had found it heavy going – not because of the content but because of the lack of writing quality, and with that I gave up. But, respecting your cumulative opinions as I do, I must obviously have another go, if Emily will relend please.

Abandoning Kites, I picked up Rachel Seiffert’s The Dark Room, which was everything Kites was not: beautifully written; original and unexpected plots and good characterisation. I would recommend it to you all if you have time to read anything off-blog. It is set in Germany at the end of WW2 and for me has resonance with both All Quiet on the W Front and Homestead which many of you have read. It is a tad bleak… And then I read Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories which is nothing if not a definition of beautiful writing.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Forthcoming suggestions

I know it's a bit early, but here are the next two suggested books. A month in the country by J L Carr and A short history of nearly everything by Bill Bryson.

Since the Bryson is quite long and factual, it may not be the sort of thing one wants to read without interruption. I certainly plan to read it a bit at a time, interspersed with other things. Accordingly, I'd suggest A month in the country for October, since it's very short and that gives us more slack before we get to the Bryson in November. One of the main reasons for suggesting the Carr is that the film of the book launched the careers of both Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh. I thought that at least some of us might want to investigate both versions and discuss their interplay. My and Helen's library systems allegedly have a copy each on video, but no DVDs and nothing at all in Valerie or Kirsty's systems. We may need to improvise... Let me know if you want me to get my local copy and lend it to you. Alternatively, Amazon have cheap copies to buy or rent, if that's appealing. The book, I'm pleased to report, is readily available!