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, August 16, 2007

Val and Val on Queen of the Tambourines

From Valerie S
I have just finished the above book and remember that you said that you
would like to discuss it. I found it intriguing and spent most of the time
trying to see where the twists were going to be. Eliza reminded me of the
Patricia Routledge 'Talking Head' who lands in prison for writing letters to
all and sundry. Also a very lonely woman. I found it difficult to really
decide her diagnosis from my limited knowledge. I did not think she was
simply depressed. She was a misfit in her environment and she had lost her
role, but her diplomatic travelling stopped when she was about 30, a time
when she would have been adaptable still. She had intellectuals as
neighbours with whom she had little in common and for quite a lot of the
book you could sympathise with her assessment of their peculiarities and
problems, Was it her or the neighbour's who were strange? The extent of
her fantasising was made clear at the end. However, was the baby in the
boat a fantasy or not? I need to re-read it to see if I have missed a
clue. If not,the book ends on a sinister note with a very disturbed
possibly psychotic person. From other reviews, it is assumed she recovers
to lead a more fulfilled life....but does she? If all returns to normal at
the end, I think that part is rather weak. The rest I enjoyed. I thought
the writing was vivid although the letters became an ordinary narrative due to the length of some of them, therefore, not too realistic.

From Val R
I enjoyed this so much because it was never totally clear to me if Eliza was 'mad' or not - and I think perhaps that is the point: who is to say what is mad, certainly not those who may be. In the earlier parts, I simply believed her and ignored the warning signs ( eg people constantly querying the second dog). But gradually there was too much evidence to ignore, so I began to doubt everything she had written, whether true or not. Again, isn't this how it must feel? The baby in the boat falls into this category - will we or she ever know if that was true? And you are absolutely right, it needs rereading, as I'm coming to believe all the better books do. Maybe I should factor that in now as I read anything. I can't remember the ending - I almost never can, which is interesting in itself - but will look at it again when I get it back. Thanks for reading it and responding. I've read several of Jane Gardham's now and think this is by far the best: the others all start with great characters and draw you in, but then become rather too pat with all loose ends securely tied, which spoils them for me. But you are welcome to borrow if you wish. And if anyone else wants Queen, they too are.

Re Pat Routledge/ A woman of letters: yes, a good comparison. I saw most of the talking heads with the original TV cast on stage, and think them some of the best theatre ever. PR is quite brilliant - do you remember A visit from Miss Protheroe (with Hugh Lloyd) and A woman of no importance - I saw that as well and it was so, so moving and so, so well acted. Why does she bother with that dreadful Hyacinth Bouquet rubbish when she has Alan Bennett writing for her. Money I suppose.

Border Crossing

So glad you liked this as much as I did Emily - Pat Barker is an outstanding writer and I must seek out those of hers I haven't read (and pass the least bleak on to you). Maybe when your hormones return to normal you'll want to have a go at the Regeneration trilogy, now you know the quality. If anyone else wants to borrow, just let me know. I enjoyed it much more than Vickers because it drew me in from the start (Vickers not till half way), but i'm not sure I can really answer your question about satisfyingness, except to say that the only marks Barker loses, for me, are those concerned with context - ie telling me about things I know little or nothing about but want to (The Congo, India's state of Emergency, Slavery etc) - there is nothing really in that category for me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Off piste reading

Thanks, Val, for the Pat Barker recommendation, "Border Crossing". I've just read it, and found it superbly written and gripping. She really is very good. My only reservation is that somehow it wasn't quite as satisfying (to use Valerie's very useful criteria!) as I felt it could have been. I don't know if this is because Barker's view of things is quite bleak, so she deliberately keeps a sense of purpose/satisfaction/explanation from the reader, or what. What do you think, Val? It also - and you'll probably disagree with me here! - reminded me of Salley Vickers' "The Other side of you". I think Barker's is slightly better, but I found Vickers' more complete somehow. Any thoughts on that subject welcome...

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Alas, not for me it wasn't. But I knew it was not really my sort of thing, so I was doing what I could to give the book a chance. In the interests of which I tried my best to ignore the preface and truly awful cover blurb, which tried its utmost to make the book both unbearable and unreadable.

And I'm pleased to report that I found it neither of those things. It was shorter than it might have been, ie showing some restraint in the self-indulgence stakes. I liked the sense of place and atmosphere and it was certainly different to the sort of thing I normally read. I also enjoyed some of the neat twists and touches, such as when the alchemist killed the prophetic hawks. Why did he do this? I'm so glad the book didn't tell me! Or when the shepherd realised he'd been robbed by his new friend but delayed looking so as to postpone the confirmation. Or when the alchemist divided the gold into four pieces, one as a back-up, and then the shepherd ends up needing it after all. I found those witty and interesting. I'm sure it was the wit and lightness of touch - albeit in a more preachy format than I'd choose - which helped me find it easy to read.

I won't be reading any more Coelho, but am glad to have given him a go and the process was a lot, lot better than the cover suggested!

Friday, August 10, 2007

The alchemist

Sorry, but this is not for me. Maybe I shouldn’t have read the Preface, but after that, 25 pages was more than enough to convince me that life is too short to waste on such drivel. Reminds me of Maya, which doesn’t help and the blurb implies it is in the self help genre, which helps even less. I’ll be interested to see if one of you finds it worthwhile.
Good books read off piste and thoroughly recommended: Border Crossing by Pat Barker; Queen of the tambourine by Jane Gardham.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Back with you

Hi all,

Sorry to have abandoned you in the past few months but seem to have got myself together sufficiently to re-join the reads. My problem had not been a lack of reading time ( I have thoroughly enjoyed The idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville, A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley and I Captured the Castle by Dodi Smith) but meaningful time in the library with two children in tow and writing anything intelligible with sleep/energy deprivation! I'm sure Emily will be much better at post-birth recovery than me.

Am about to go on holiday where I plan to read Valerie's choice so will post on that shortly and I haven't forgotten that it's my choice next.