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A Farewell To Arms was June’s book club read. Hot on the heels of the previous war inspired novel, we had an interesting discussion on how this compared to last month’s The Yellow Birds.
The language of the novel was a struggle for some; one member even queried whether English was the first language of the writer. The sentance structure and the vocabulary used was limited and this in turn lead to the book not being finished by some. The novel also started quite descriptive and then seemed to dissipate.
It definitely wasn’t as gruesome as The Yellow Birds, but we wondered if that was more of the times that it was written in, as people definitely didn’t discuss their experiences then. It was almost told from a distance.
Was it a war story or a love story? The latter we thought, but the ‘love’ was definitely stilted – reminiscent of ‘Brief Encounter’ and other such films told in that time.
The structure of the book was told in 5 different sections but none of the members that finished the book felt that was needed, as each section flowed into one another.
Finally we discussed the description of this book being a ‘classic’ and the definition that this is described as being a novel accepted as being exemplary or noteworthy. As we noted that the author won the Nobel Peace Prize for literature, the conclusion that we came to is that any awards/classic notes are subjective and we all view things differently.
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers was the book club read for May and one of which we thought used very vivid imagery in order to tell the story. This was a fictional account of the author’s time in Iraq and at times we all struggled to think if this was fiction or fact. The Author’s reason for writing this novel was to tell the story of what it was like over there and although it gave a definite flavour, we feel that it didn’t give an altogether accurate account of what really happens, whilst fighting for your country. However, this may well be the author’s way of dealing with events that he would rather not think about, as we can only imagine what atrocities he may have accounted.
Some of our members would have preferred a more balance view, as this only told the story from one view point. The descriptive language as well was thought to be a tad over used and may well reflect that the author’s previous published work was as a poet. The structure of the book was also deemed to be a tad confusing, going backwards and forwards and a few of us agreed that we had to read sections of the book several times to understand where we were in the timeline. However, one reason for this maybe that it was there to show Bartle coming to terms with Murphy’s death.
We also struggled with sympathy towards the characters as it became confusing who to feel sympathy for; the author or the character? The Sergeant was also considered to be light relief, although one member disliked him and a few decided he wasn’t doing an effective job in rallying the troops.
The premise of The Yellow Birds was also disliked due to the fact that this marching song was effectively telling you to stamp on the birds – not really something that you wish to rejoice in!
To conclude we did think that it wouldn’t be one to recommend and that there are more definitive war novels out there.
Dracula by Bram Stoker was April’s read for the book club and one that surprised many of us that were introduced literary to the Count for the first time. Most of us were aware of the Count through countless tv and film, although none of us had watched a full production or were sure that these were a true representation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Bram Stoker wrote the book in 1897, having spent 7 years researching European folklore and stories of vampires. Dracula was the first full length vampire novel that set the prescient for a whole generation of vampire inspired novels and films and even crept in to recent fantasy novels such as Game of Thrones.
The story is told in a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles and ships logs and although this was a different format to what we were used to, some found this annoying and wished the narrative would just get on with it! The wording was also a little dated but to be expected considering it was written in 1897. We considered that perhaps this was a little ahead of its time and how terrifying it must have been for people to read it for the first time, all those years ago (reminiscent of when the War of the Worlds was first played on the radio).
Out of all the diary entries, it was the two girls entries that became the most annoying and even more annoying was Stoker’s description of them, very antiquated! We wondered if those two girls were reminiscent of the types of girls that were in the social circles that Bram Stoker moved within (he was a theatre critic in London). However we conceded that women are still very much portrayed in the same vein in this type of genre today.
In terms of the character of Dracula, it was thought that Stoker very much played the character in the background of the story and it was the diary entries of the other individuals that were the main crux of the story.
The locations of the story also played a vital part in creating the atmosphere of the story. Transylvania was picked possibly because of the folklore that existed and that Stoker had researched. Whitby primarily as this was a holiday destination of Stokers, but one in which you could see how a writers imagination could run away with him.
Finally we considered if this was worthy of being a ‘classic’ of which a description being was a book accepted as being exemplary or noteworthy. As Dracula was the book that spawned a legion of Vampire related adaptations , I think the answer was an unquestionable yes!
Slade House was our read for the March meeting of the book club and one in which our reactions differed from strange to horrible! I think we decided on just plain old spooky in the end and after our discussions, those members that didn’t complete the book, wished they had!
The story centred around the Slade House, a house that only appeared to the ‘engifted’ and one in which the infamous Grayer twins resided, using the souls of the ‘engifted’ visitors in order to live any life they choose again and again. The twins where definitely self-absorbed individuals with Nora being the more dominant of the pair. There seemed no rhyme or reason as to why they killed and we discussed the fact that they seemed to enjoy the endless killing, being cold and calculated in their methods.
The back story of the twins was a particularly part of the book that appealed to some members, although the ending was one in which we were in all agreement that we didn’t like.
David’s principal of writing this book, began on twitter and later transferred to five short stories, which collectively became Slade House. A few times we were duped in hoping that the ‘engifted’ would escape, in particularly when Freya visited, but alas it wasn’t to be, giving comparisons to ‘Tales of the Unexpected’.
We were also intrigued as to whether the paranormal terms used in the novel where ones that did exist or did the author invent them? After investigation it was found that lacuna and orison are terms used within the supernatural ideals.
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith was the book choice for February and one of which most book members enjoyed and were not influenced by the fact this was JK Rowling in disguise!
Although the plot was complicated, it was incredibly well written and Rowling’s command of the English language was excellent. The plot kept the reader guessing until the end, although a few thought the storyline at the end was a bit too tied up for their liking. It held up as a crime novel and only enforced JK Rowling as an excellent story teller.
The book itself was split up into different parts/sections and we wondered if this is done to allow the reader to contemplate what’s happened.
The character of Cormeran was one in which the readers enjoyed his development from war veteran to detective. Although this was a tad formalic, we decided most detectives have this flawed character. It was also decided that there was a potential relationship that could be developed between Cormeran and his secretary.
Behavour seemed to be the key topic especially when the Myers Briggs test was discussed (www.humanmetrics.com – if you want to try it for yourself).
Finally, the title of the book lead us to believe that perhaps this was because the main character was adopted (hence the cuckoo) and does anyone read the quotes at the start? The conclusion was these are better read after you’ve finished the book (and will make more sense!)
Our first meeting of the year saw us tackle the feminist tome, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
Many describe this as science fiction, however the author prefers it to be referred to as speculative fiction.
The majority of our members did enjoy it, even though the subject matter was very much doom and gloom. But the tale of society gone backwards, gripped us from the start. However, one thing that was noted was the lack of storyline as we all felt that nothing much happened!
One of the main discussion points was, is this a moralistic or feminist novel? Certainly none of the themes that were highlighted in the novel were nothing new but putting them altogether was. Was it right that the woman were treated as child-bearing machines until they were disposed of once they reached a certain age and rendered useless? Or that women were in a dog eat dog society were they had no trust in one another?
The restrictions in roles and clothing were particularly claustrophobic and the fact the Handmaid’s were dressed in red denoting prostitution became clear in our discussions.
Had society really broken down or were these people just living in a bubble type existence was something that perplexed us. Certainly the fact that love and intimacy was stripped away and women were allocated strict roles in society, showed the repressive regime they had to live under.
The ending was something that intrigued us all. On one hand we liked that the story was pretty much wrapped up but then many of us wanted to learn what happened to Offred – one can only assume that she just disappeared and was never reunited with her family.