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, October 26, 2006

Valerie's post on "A month in the country"

Rural Idyll in Yorkshire with Spoilers

This is a beautifully written short story set in summer in the Yorkshire countryside soon after the First World War. The activities of Tom Birkin and Moon, both slow and painstaking, add to the languorous feel of the narrative. The references to both men's experiences in the war contrast vividly with this rural idyll.

I enjoyed the clearly described characters. Even Edgar was brought to life in a very subtle manner, offering Emily Kathy's hat: Tom, unwelcome bicycle clips. The spare, precise writing drew you quickly into the time and place so that it was easy to imagine this community with its colourful characters, living in a bygone age. The darker side of life was included, with Emily dying of TB and the difficulty of the Keaches to be accepted together with Moon's problems as a homosexual. Even the Keaches failed to invite Tom and Moon to stay in their very large house.

The ending I think found Tom a little too restrained in his last meeting with Kathy and I would like to think that there could be some future resolution of his relationship with Alice. Unfortunately we know there was not.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Tractors again

Fascinating that Val managed to get so much from this book. I agreed with Kirsty that the plot was a bit thin but I did find the book amusing as she created such vivid comic pictures; slap-stick in style almost. I also liked the repeated use of caricature, for both people and objects (e.g. the "civilised person's hoover"), for comic effect. I realise from reading Val's comments that I should have paid more attention to the sections on Tractors but I'm afraid I found this too dull reading and confess to have skipped most of them.

In terms of treatment of the elderly it was intersting to compare this to the, much more bleak, Have The Men Had Enough by Margaret Forster (thanks Emily for the recommendation). A brilliant piece of writing confronting some upsetting but relevant issues on care of the elderly. Definately one to read but not if one is engaged in caring for a relative oneself - far too close to the bone I'd say.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

You can't judge a book by looking at the cover

“Winner of the Bollinger Everyman prize for comic fiction”. ‘Uproariously funny’. “Mad and hilarious” - Oh deary me, not the sort of book I’d dream of reading but… I really enjoyed it, though not for reasons of humour. The humour is a mix of Mcgill seaside postcards (vision of scrawny Pappa in nightshirt with homemade extensions groping busty Valentina) and Brian Rix farce – as Emily describes – very visual and an obvious film candidate. To be honest, I ignored a lot of this because I was gripped by the darker themes. Valerie’s talked about the care of the elderly angle, which was excellent. What engrossed me was the back story of how they all got to be there and how this may have affected their personalities – rather obviously in Vera and Nadia. I knew nothing of this historical period, just as nowadays we know nothing of what is going on in our name. (again I’d recommend Seiffert’s The Dark Room for another important take on this). I thought Lewycka interspersed this well with the comic plot – not easy to do I think. Pulled together beautifully with the locket at the end – we as readers have come full circle and now believe it is Vera’s by right.

The other theme I enjoyed was the short history of tractors. Clever to use the swords to ploughshares to swords metaphor for people, such as Valentina , eg p 136 “Never was the technology of peace, in the form of a tractor, transformed into a weapon of war, more ferociously than with the creation of the Valentine tank.” That was my reading of her character – a casualty of (a different sort of ) war - with her survival drive transmuted into this grotesque behaviour. We have more sympathy for how this affected Mother, Ludmilla, as she scrimped and saved and potted and preserved, but they are both driven by the same need to survive and help their children survive.

So, a good read in which I found lots to think about. And a classic case of not judging the book by the cover blurb.