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, January 25, 2010

The Sea House

Overall, I found things to enjoy in this novel. I thought it a powerful evocation of the Suffolk coast and village life. Val - is Steerborough Aldeburgh? When they talked about possibly getting a mobile signal by the church, I suddenly wondered! I was also amused by the having-to-drive-up-the-A12-to-get-a-signal. Spot on. Perhaps this is one answer to Val's earlier musings about how authors will engineer missed communications now we all have mobiles: set everything in Aldeburgh, mobile dead zone extraordinaire! I also liked Nick using the phone box and Lily "grinning so hard it shocked her. She hadn't realised quite how frantically she'd been at war."

I appreciated the calm, restrained prose. I enjoyed the use of language: "an ancient and extravagantly smart couple" being a typical example. Not showy, but no less carefully crafted for that. I think it was the prose which I liked best, and the sense of the consciousness behind it. I can see why Esther Freud was drawn to and wrote the preface to The Summer Book.

On a plot and characterisation level, I'm not so sure about the novel. I wasn't convinced by a single one of the four couples. Although I would very much welcome your views: are we meant to be uncertain about these rickety relationships - is that the point? Does she find them (or all relationships) somewhat unconvincing? Or does Freud want us to end the novel optimistic about Lily and Nick? It had been signed so early that Nick was otherwise "preoccupied" (for once an apt word from the blurb!) that I was resentful at his/Lily's/possibly Freud's volte face. Grae and Lily seemed to me, as it was happening, to be genuine, but was that in fact more a reflection of what Lily was feeling (effectively on the rebound) than objective reality? I have read books where the author has conned the reader into complete acceptance of the protagonist's viewpoint, only to show that as seriously flawed, but that has been when the protagonist is the narrator. But we only see modern day events from Lily's viewpoint so it's perfectly possible that this is a deliberate device rather than unconvincing characterisation. Views, please!

One thing which I felt deepened the novel was the background of the war. Most poignant was Max's conversation with a survivor who'd known his father. "His father had not disappeared from Germany, and in that moment he knew he would not see him again." I just cannot imagine operating within that kind of frame and I was glad to be reminded of all that we haven't had to experience.

But I really can't decide definitively on the novel without resolving the characters' relationships to my own satisfaction. So do please help!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Au revoir

So sorry to be absent from posting in the last few months. I'm afraid that Christmas and latter stages of pregnancy are to blame. I'm still desperately trying to finish Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise which I started at the beginning of Autumn!

I didn't get a chance to read The Diving Bell but Philip and I did watch the film. We found the whole experience of Locked-in Syndrome fascinatingly and sensitively explored and admired John-Do's fortitude in even attempting such a project. However, we found we could not be fully sympathetic to him as a character. He was portrayed, in the film anyway, as such a selfish hedonist that his behaviour to, principally, his wife was abhorrent. However, after further research it would appear that the film makers took liberties with the wife/lover storyline and many of John-Do's friends have objected to the way he was depicted. Which brings me to Emily's point about the story in fiction. Was the film a 'fictional' version of the book and therefore bleaker for it? How much licence should film-makers be allowed in such circumstances? At some point will hope to read the book to properly compare.

I'm afraid that I will be unable to join you for the next few months of reading as third child due imminently. I will continue to look up the posts though and read your comments, especially if you do continue to include some poetry. If Emily doesn't mind flagging up any shorter, lighter reads I may have a go but please don't wait on my posts. I look forward to re-joining you with renewed reading vigour sometime, hopefully, in the Summer.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


First, big apologies to the ever-energetic Sue, who has caught me out by already reading Mr Golightly. She may post on it if she gets chance. If others have read or are reading it, please do the same. I don't want to stop anyone reading it - hadn't realised anyone was, yet! Any posts on it welcome. I could always join people in reading it if that proved to be happening.

But for now am proceeding with The Sea House and then The Ballad and the Source. All are welcome to join me for whichever parts of that appeal/fit. As penance to Sue, have suggested we then do Blake Morrision's "And when did you last see your father?" since she has it in her pile of books to read from Christmas. It is also short, and has a well-reviewed film made of it AND this stars Colin Firth. How bad can all that be?

Saturday, January 02, 2010


Hi everyone
Happy New Year and all that. Thanks Val for your Virago rundown, very interesting indeed and I will try to read your recommendations.
I must confess I have messed up on the latest book - I thought it was Mr Golightly - but I shall plead distraction due to birthday celebrations, Christmas and general inattention to detail. For the record anyway I hated Mr Golightly!
Since I'm now behind and have received a pile of books for Christmas I will opt out of the current one and will read The Ballad and the Source next. Sorry!