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.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Emily's Questions

There is no indication of what happened to Kate and I am not sure that this matters to the story. It is the effect of her disappearance and their reactions that are important. Stephen has to maintain hope that she will be found alive and does not permit himself to accept anything less. Perhaps is in complete denial. I am sure that this can happen and would be very difficult for his wife to deal with. He would be unsympathetic towards her worst fears which she would need to talk about and which would help maintain communication between them. Even at the end he is probably banking on the fact she is with a loving family.

I agree about your comments in later, but I think that starting the story with Kate's abduction is a neat way to induce dread and make your pulse race, which is a requirement of the books and 1 film that I know of this author. Is the political cynicism typical of Ian McEwan? This really was a very bleak tale and I felt little benefit from having read it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Children, time, whatever

Thank you, Valerie, for giving me an alibi for not loving this, by not loving it yourself. I know I didn't give it the fairest chance, with my method of reading 'n' all, but it was the only chance it was going to get. Once I am able to read properly again, I will be wanting to read things I have a reasonable chance of enjoying. I will not be re-reading things that couldn't persuade me the first time round. There are too many novels out there deserving their first chance! I've read McEwan before, and he's not really my cup of tea. I don't doubt he's good, but I am allowed to maintain (whatever aspersions are cast on my hormones or methods) that he isn't really me. I find that being sleep-deprived doesn't stop me liking things I'd have liked otherwise. It just makes me more focused about whether I'm enjoying it enough to make it worth prioritising. (However I will fess up to having missed the dystopian thing through skimming. I'm in no way saying skimming is A Good Plan. Made a lot more sense of the novel once I knew. Thanks! I thought the oddness was just an alternative view of our world now and I obviously missed out as a result.)

And I don't think you can have your cake and eat it as an author. If you put something in a book as the set piece (which McEwan is a master of, he really is) and it's something really emotive, like a child abduction, you cannot then claim that somehow we're to react to the book and to that incident separately. McEwan went to a lot of trouble to craft that scene and he wanted it there. And I therefore reserve the right to find it deeply upsetting and I am sure McEwan wants it so. It's not as if I'm reacting to something which is only tangentially related to the novel. You could as well claim that the protagonists in "Atonement" are obsessing about the wrong things since the trigger events in it are so brief. But McEwan does seem to like these brief moments which aren't the theme of the book but which have a disproportionate effect on both characters and readers. Like life, really, when so often our defining things are brief "accidents".

So I'd still be really grateful for any thoughts anyone has only my previous post's questions! But even if not, it's very interesting how our views so far have differed and yet overlapped.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Childhood in a Lifetime

I did not enjoy this book. Maybe it was too soon after reading another miserable novel. I think that it is typically Ian McEwan, who delights in making you feel disturbed and anxious. I was grateful that it ended when it did. Rather suddenly, I agree. Perhaps it was also too much for the author. I did notice the attempt to put it vaguely in the future. I tried to calculate when, but became lost trying to match the historical references given by Stephen’s father with Stephen’s current age.

I felt the subject was childhood in a life time. With unresolved grief to strengthen the emotional pull. Add to that two very dysfunctional people writing a childcare manual and a female physicist, equally odd, a man who finds out he was nearly aborted as a child and the brew is a little too strong to swallow. So the pattern of childhood; lost, nearly lost, perpetuated, encouragement of the perpetuation, all influenced by the government handbook on raising children are the linkages I recognised. Stephen managed to understand his own childhood, work through his grief for Kate and start anew with Julia and the baby. I assume Charles was bipolar, which is incurable, though treatable by drugs. Thelma managed to fit her own needs around his predilections for dressing as a child. Did she need him as her child? I couldn't fit the lorry driver into this plan, but Stephen's first aid knowledge was woefully lacking and why did he not whip out his mobile phone and call for help or had ambulances become private and were too expensive?

The politics were more polarised between right and left wing than at present, the government described being very right wing having licensed beggars, large cuts in social security and Charles' own mandate of a freer City, more weapons and good private schools. The ideas of the childcare manual followed the political ideology. This view of Britain added to my feelings of anxiety, but it would depend on the reader's own political leanings.

I am very pleased others enjoyed this book more than I.

Monday, December 03, 2007

children in time

For me, this book is absolutely not about child abduction – if it was I would neither have been able to read it nor, of course, chosen it. All the questions Emily asks have everything to do with the child-abduction-book-we-wouldn’t-read and nothing to do with this. For as she says ‘Later’, it is about themes – he is playing with the title, I think, and interpreting it in different ways eg: the HMSO publication, returning to a past ‘golden age’; Stephen seeing his parents before he was conceived (having read my father’s letter to my mother wondering if they ought to call off their courtship, I can tell you this is quite powerful!); Charles regressing to boyhood. Kate’s abduction is a typically powerful McEwan set-piece (cf the hot air balloon in Enduring Love) but it’s role in the story is to kick start it and to throw Julie and Stephen’s time into chaos and jeopardy.

I thought it was/is brilliant because of the gripping storytelling, the use of language and imagery; the intellectual puzzles he sets and the way he teases you. How long did it take you all to realise we were in a dystopian future world? I noted the first reference to armed police with irritation as I thought he’d slipped up and not explained why they were armed (should have known better!); the licensed beggars, when first they appeared, again I noticed but didn’t twig properly. It wasn’t until the coniferous plantations first appeared that I knew something was up (now, what does that say about me?). So one reason for re-reading will be to watch out for them. I’m not sure it really needs the futurism, except perhaps in Stephen’s committee work, so I think this is just a bonus strand, but one that works providing a menacing undertone, rather than irritates. Another reason to reread is to really find all the links to the title, and how he is working through that. And finally, just because it was such a joy and I’ve read rather too many books which I’m glad to reach the end of just recently.

I thought the ending, with Julie’s pregnancy, was just right and I had no idea it was coming, even though it was signposted and entirely plausible. Missing something like that is not like me, so I’m not sure if it is down to McEwan’s skill or my dullness. But one thing I couldn’t understand is the significance of the lorry accident. Can anyone help?

Emily – I suggest you forget about this for a decade and then try it again afresh. So sorry if it caused you distress. I wonder how any of your top 10 books would have survived the treatment you gave this.