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, January 20, 2011

The Siege

Wow. Full marks to Val for the recommendation - and bonus point for it being a subject I couldn't believe could be such a joy to read! So good was it that, like Wolf Hall, I dread the sequel not being up to it...

I tore through it. Always found Helen Dunmore too disturbing before, so glad to have made proper acquaintance.

Favourite quotes: "the best portraits... not about exposure, they're about recognition".
"light on form"
"Anna lies still, thinking in Evgenia's voice."
"You have to protect yourself. Keep something inside yourself, that can't be used up and taken away from you... a way of responding without being eaten alive."
"I could have looked at you and Katya, out there, and known straightaway who that wall was going to fall on."
"That's Pavlov's gift: figures don't overwhelm him; they sharpen him."
Anna no story, "because it's still happening. It hasn't turned into a story yet."

Now I look at those quote, I guess she hasn't created distinctive idiolects for each character - similar voice for narrator and characters, but all brilliant, so no complaints.

Loved characters, although would have welcomed more Pavlov. Thought that the focus on a few individuals rather than the siege itself enabled the reader to engage with it rather than just pushing it away as unimaginable horror. Also enabled a relatively happy ending, although do you feel that detracted from the portrait of the siege?

Character summary in a sentence

Another in our ongoing series of gems of the type, this one found by Val:

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville - set in New South Wales in 18 century - I'd recommend that as well if you come across it. The eponymous Daniel Rooke goes to Australia as an astronomer - a very sympathetic character but he's better with numbers than with people:
'Rooke could hear how his words laboured. He sometimes thought that he arrived at a sentence the way other people did multiplication: the hard way, by adding.' Worth reading the book just for a sentence like that.

Reminded me of the narrator of "Curious Incident"...

Thursday, January 06, 2011

All our worldly goods, albeit late

Lovely to be able to join in with this discussion as I have, following a ridiculously hectic year, managed to read All our worldly goods.

I am suprised that so many of you didn't like it as I really did. I was disappointed with Suite, not because it wasn't beautifully crafted and skillfully written, but because it lacked an ending. This, to me, is very important. Consequently Worldly Goods was, as Emily said, "Neat". I didn't think it was trying to be a family saga of gargantuan proportions but a select (and there is much skill in the selecting, especially when covering such a large time frame) and concise portrayal. Nemirovsky beautifully drew out how history repeats itself, both at a national scale and at a familial one. I loved how the struggles with mother-in-law get repeated but from a different persepective and how the 'sins of the fathers' have ramifications in future generations.

I enjoyed it as a light read, covering a fascinating time in history whilst giving a glimpse into the manners and conventions that held town and families together. I was also suprised by how positive an ending the book had, given that N didn't live to see the outcome of the war.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Little Stranger

Read it some time ago before it was chosen for this group read, so no quotes to hand. I loved Sarah Waters other work and was just disappointed with this. Don't mind ghost stories per se but this was long, tedious and lugubrious and I did not like it one bit!!

Coming to Val's query re hard being a woman if you do it properly, perhaps we need to define 'properly'? Either way I think being a human being and doing it properly is difficult! Men have it easier in some ways but harder in others and are frequently emotionally constipated to boot!

The little stranger

These aren't really my thing, and reading this reminded me why! Not to criticise it as such, but the genre really isn't me. Reminded me of "The turn of the screw" and with a similar ending ambiguity. I want too much certainty (and happy endings) for ghost stories, really. Well written, and all that, but it's not going to convert me to the author or the genre, I'm afraid. That said, was very keen to know what happened, and thought she constructed the "ghost" very cleverly. I'd wondered what the ending meant, and then read Waters' comments (thanks, Val) about it (I think in the Guardian with John Mullan), and found that made sense. I wouldn't have had the confidence to come to the solution she hinted at, but since she implies it herself, I can relax into it. Well, sign up to a very bleak and destructive answer... Plot spoiler coming up: she seemed to me to be saying that it was Dr Faraday's neuroses etc which birthed the ghost and caused all the terrible trauma. Have I understood that right? Is that what you thought?