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.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

a month in the country and history of everything

Hello everyone. I really enjoyed A month in the country and agree with much of what has already been said - wonderful language and a book that somehow stays with you. I was really moved by the ending - the sense of having to move on when one doesn't want to, and that he was never to return (guess I'm just a hopeless softie). Can't say I enjoyed the film though. The lack of plot (here we go) isn't an issue in the book - it's essentially a short story about one man's memories of a lost time, but for me that just didn't translate well into film. Firth and Brannagh were both excellent - and I'm not a particular fan of either - but I found it incredibly dull.

I've fallen horribly behind again and haven't really scratched the surface of the Bryson. But what I have read has been excellent. Astronomy is not my subject at all - if the average person started on about light years and galaxies I'd be all on not to glaze over - but Bryson brings it to life and actually makes a very entertaining read out of it. It should probably be on the science National Curriculum. I look forward to (eventually) reading the rest.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

December's book suggestion

Looking forward to seeing your Bill Bryson posts shortly, but in the meantime you may wish to get ordering December's book. Helen S referred us ages ago to Radio 4's "Matron Lit" discussion. It was an interesting piece, and made the point that literature very specifically targeted at a particular group tended to be bad both for the literature and for the reader. I couldn't agree more. They contrasted this with some writers who, while often enjoyed by mature women, were not typecast/ing in this way. One was Anne Tyler, who's new to me, so I thought we might try her "Back When We Were Grownups". A modern, normal-length novel by a woman - I've done what I can to give you a contrast with the last two books!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Atmosphere in the country

I too liked A Month for its gentle, understated plot and characters. I think its strongest point was in the atmosphere it created; the magic of a long,lazy Summer. It reminded me of L.P.Hartley's The Go-Between in that sense (although I was 16 when I last read it so my memory may be a little hazy): a rural idyll with forbidden emotions bubbling gently away under the surface, although admittedly A Month was nowhere near as epic.

I liked the 'uncovering secret loves' theme; physically portrayed in the painting and echoed in Birkin's desire for Mrs Keach, Moon's homosexuality and the dead artist's Islamic faith (having fallen off the scaffold - at least, that was how I understood the ending Emily). I have yet to see the film in order to compare but certainly intend to.

I didn't feel the need for anymore plot as it would have run the danger of making the book feel too 'busy'. I wonder if we have become so used to such fast paced lives that we expect our literature to be the same; stimulating us at lots of different levels (intellectually, emotionally, spirtitually etc.) in order for us to feel satisfied. I liked the fact that I had to 'slow down' to read this and enjoy being immersed in a world where people went on a picnic in a horse and cart and where the love remained unconsummated and suspended unsaid, rather than being the start of a torrid, angst-ridden, family break-up affair. Afterall, "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Still waters run deep in "A Month"

I hugely enjoyed this. It seemed different, yet quite a follow-up, to "All Quiet" – addressing that book's question of how DO these young men function when they’re back in civilian life? I particularly liked the largely unspoken understanding between Birkin & Moon (about nightmares, holes in the ground etc). They have also come to resemble each other in the way they use their purported job to pursue other options, and their awareness breeds conspiracy. As Moon says, “it’s time I was off too. I’ll give you a couple of days’ start just for the look of things.” I liked the quiet humour that they are both delaying going: “You know you could do what’s left to be a done in a half-day if you cared to. One only needs to look at you, let alone the wall .” And the irony that amidst all the apparent failing to find Piers’ grave, Moon has always known exactly where it is, hence the stage management: “Tomorrow’s the day” for ‘finding’ it.

I found the uncovering fascinating and so, evidently, did the villagers! In their taciturn way, they couldn’t leave the poor man alone. He was in so many senses a “spare man” and, as such, viewed as public property. Although most of them hadn’t thought to ascertain if he was in fact spare.

I enjoyed the film too. They resisted the temptation to make it chocolate-box and it was pleasingly understated. I liked the subtlety of it. Birkin DOES achieve a measure of physical and mental healing, but not with soaring music and dewy eyes. And the healing is not with the consummated love of Mrs Keach and he does not make a name for himself that we know of and he does not settle to live in the village. This restraint in the narrative was, I was pleased to note, echoed in the film. Instead, the price Birkin paid for his healing was some new regrets and sorrows. Which, after all, is often how it works, isn’t it?

The language of the book was, for me, a delight. It had a clear and fresh sound, somehow. Not a superfluous word, from the simple yet evocative opening (“When the train stopped I stumbled out, nudging and kicking the kitbag before me.”) to the finely-balanced ending (“But this was something I knew nothing of as I lifted the loop and set off across the meadow.”). Looking back through the book, I hardly know where to start quoting. There’s too much to choose from.

I’d need a bit more plot – I’m sounding like Kirsty! - to label it a truly great book, but I felt it expanded me to have read it and it has lingered in my mind. Especially the atmosphere and the main characters. I think more of it now than I did when I read it, a little while ago. I think its relative simplicity and brevity also help to make it a more successful, faithful film.

I enjoyed the characterisation. It’s so subtle! Mrs Keach, for instance: “’Attractive?’ she repeated helplessly. Many women would have explored this.” And their relationship is so much between the words, which I liked. “That was how we talked. And, after a longer silence than usual, I would know she had gone.”

Bu please help me. I'm being slow. The ending – "he fell" – in war or off the scaffold? And is the artist the Muslim?

Friday, November 03, 2006

a long month in a short book

I knew this scenario was familiar and then realised I’d seen the 1987 film (with C Firth and K Brannagh – still available on DVD). I enjoyed the style of writing about not very much – very relaxing. Although it was written in the 70s, he mostly captured the style of writing of the post war period (though, inevitably, brought in more sex than would have graced the page then). I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of homes – instantly recognisable to me as my Aunt’s cottage and my Grandmother’s house – extremely evocative of the times. But I’m not sure it amounted to a great deal (I could remember nothing but the wall painting premise from the film). Sure he used the metaphor of uncovering the past through the painting and the archaeology to underscore the uncovering of Moon’s and Birkin’s pasts, but it felt very slight. But I enjoyed it for all that – we don’t always want to be stimulated.