Lambeth Reading group *special offer*

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SJ Parris and Tracy Borman in conversation at Lambeth Palace Library

Wednesday 19 April, 6.30pm
Lambeth Palace, Lambeth Palace Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 7JU

Join us for this Cityread festival highlight as Prophecy writer Stephanie Merrett (aka SJ Parris) swaps Elizabethan stories with historian and author of The Private Lives of the Tudors Tracy Borman in the glorious setting of the Great Hall at Lambeth Palace.

Tickets £10 in advance from www.cityread.london

Early bird rate £5 for Lambeth book group members available until Friday 10 March on Eventbrite.

 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

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I enjoyed discussing this book, as I hope other group members did. The book focused on the relationship between main characters Rosemary and Fern and the other familial connections, the nature of social/scientific experiments and their place in recent history and the significance of other characters, such as Harlow and Madame Defarge (thanks to Roland and Richard for throwing light on the origins of this character).  Of course the question of ethical practice arose throughout.  I had wanted to ask, but forgot to at the time, what you thought the title might mean..?  Answers on a postcard, please!  As it is, we scored We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler a solid 7 out of 10, with scores ranging from 5 to 9.

Rita, Upper Norwood Book Group

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

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The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood was a bit of a tricky one to dissect due to the complexity of the construction, which was one of the main points of discussion.  Some Clubbers found the characters and their stories engaging, with the general opinion being that from the two sisters’ accounts, Iris’s narrative was stronger and easier to get on with than Laura’s (or what we thought was Laura’s) story within a story.  Overall we found it an enjoyable read, despite or because of (depending on individual preferences) the complex structure and strands of modernism and postmodernism.  We rated The Blind Assassin 7 out of 10, with the scores ranging from 4 to 9.

Rita, Upper Norwood Library Reading Group

This Census-taker by China Mieville

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Streatham Library Reading Group met on 7th September to discuss This Census-taker by China Mieville. The book is set in a dystopian world and centers around a nine year old boy and his life as an ‘uphiller’. The story starts with the young boy running down the hill screaming that his mother had killed his father. But in his confusion he is unsure who killed who. And so we are introduced to the main protagonist whose narration switches between the nine year old boy, his adult self and from the first, second to third person. The boy lives in fear of his father who seems to kill at random. His father is a key-maker for the those who ask for them. We are left to decide for ourselves what the keys are for. There were many ideas floated around at the group. Some suspected the occult, others to help unlock emotions or something more tangible, or possibly keys to a parallel universe. Ben (a newcomer to the group) revealed that Mieville had inserted a few clues to who the census-taker was or wasn’t;  the hidden clues were a big surprise to me and I think several others. So the book moves at apace with a constant feeling of foreboding and desperation for the life of the young boy. The book isn’t overtly frightening but the psychological trauma felt by the child is clear and ever present. He lives in isolation and seems to spend his time watching the countryside around him and to keep out of his father’s way. I loved this book but there were many in the group who didn’t. We had comments such as ‘pretenscious’, ‘too patchy, difficult to get into’, ‘I only read the first 25 pages then threw it down in disgust’, oh dear. We tallied up our scores and it got 4.5/10.

 

The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish

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Swimming poolThis psychological thriller is set in a heatwave in a suburb of London and the story is told from Natalie’s viewpoint.  Natalie is married to Ed, they are both teachers and they have a 13 year old daughter Molly who has suffered with aquaphobia since an accident as a child.

The story revolves around a swimming pool, Elm Hill Lido which has recently been restored and re-opened – a cause championed by Lara Channing, a beautiful rich and glamorous failed actress who has recently moved into the area.

It’s hot, it’s summer and Natalie starts attending the pool and is befriended by Lara and welcomed into Lara’s circle of friends.   Soon Natalie is spending her days with her new friends, not only at the pool, but also at events organized by Lara.  This leads to tension in Natalie’s marriage and between Natalie and her original friends.

Water is a dominant theme throughout the book whether it’s to do with the Lido or Molly’s aquaphobia, something that Natalie feels responsible for.   Whilst a swimming pool (and the life of an actress) can conjurer up thoughts of glamour and decadence it is also a place of danger and this is played and built upon throughout the book.

The prologue is intriguing, there is a secret in Natalie’s past that her husband is unaware of and Natalie is constantly fearful that her past will catch up with her, and it does.  There is also something sinister and suspicious about the friendship between Natalie and Lara and the way in which Lara and her friends start to dominate Natalie’s life.  There are various twists and turns throughout the book and a surprising, and therefore unexpected, twist at the end.

There are a lot of things about this book which should make it a page turner and yet it was not well received by the reading group.  The story swung repeatedly between different time-frames which was distracting and at times confusing, the characters were not likeable and there were large parts of the book which were slow and plodding.

Had it not been a recommended read for the book club a number of us would have given up half way through.  It scored between 5 and 7 the latter higher score purely based on the unexpected twist at the end.

Reviewed by Clapham Library Crime and Thriller reading group – July 2016