Remember Me by Melvyn Bragg was this months read and one which caused the most discussion out of all the books that we have covered so far. Funnily enough no one actually could say that they enjoyed it and some members even admitted to not having finished the novel.
The subject matter was deemed as gloomy and even though, after investigation, we found the book to be autobiographical, this seemed to cast an even darker light on it.
The characters in the novel were a little stereotypical. The French and the northern characters in particular, although the novel was true to life in the fact that in the sixties, people in the north did tend to move to London, enticed by the bright lights and big city. A few of our members that originated from the north were quite insulted by the northern life it depicted, but argued the point that once you were used to London life, going back home to the north must have been like going back to another world.
An internet critic of the novel deemed the fact that everyone seemed to be wearing the right type of clothes or reading the right type of books, when London was depicted as too trait, but our members that had lived in London in the sixties explained that was part of a northern mentality to appear to fit in by adapting these ways.
The main character of Joe had a definite streak of ruthlessness that allowed him to cast aside his personnel life for a career. Was he pompous or just naive? Certainly he was incredibly seduced by the fame and London life.
His wife Natasha had an intricate life that perhaps he didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand. It was hinted that her childhood was appresive, but then she had the added trauma of her younger brother dying, who she adored and was perhaps one of her happiest memories when she cared for him on his return from France and also her therapist committing suicide. She also had a history of mental illness, something of which Joe was unaware of. It was suggested that perhaps Joe dumped Natasha for his second wife because she no longer fitted in to his ideal of what he wanted his life to be. He certainly didn’t listen to her and became obsessed with counting planes, something of which provoked the discussion of his own mental illness. Natasha clearly had a support network in place but it obviously wasn’t sufficient enough and perhaps it was only her husband’s love that she craved that clearly wasn’t given in the amount she needed.
Joe was deemed as having a massive ego and when Natasha craved to make something of herself by wanting to enroll in Art college, he dissuaded her, perhaps jealous of his wife’s intellectual superior to him. He also met her when she was extremely vulnerable and perhaps took advantage and used her as a stepping stone to kick-start his career.
Was the book too detailed? It obviously was a traumatic book for Bragg to write and he obviously has suffered a certain amount of guilt in the fact that the novel was based on his own first marriage that ended in the suicide of his wife. There was a large amount of anger for how he treated his wife at the end. It was suggested that perhaps they were both damaged characters but just dealt with life in a different way.
It was certainly unbalanced to suggest how his wife would have been feeling when he was never around to witness this. Was the novel a way of Bragg overcoming his illness? (he is quoted as having at least two breakdowns) Would the guilt not leave him alone until he had written this?
The novel itself was never intended for publication and was in fact a document that was written for his daughter from his first marriage. It was her reaction to the manuscript that made him decide to publish it – the layout of the text is quite confusing by moving from past to present and suggests that it was not meant for an audience.
Members also suggested that the way the character of Joe was structured suggested that he may be bio-polar, which gave thought to the writer.
It clearly was a complicated novel with lots of layers and other characters viewpoints that became tangled and perhaps disallowed us to enjoy the novel as it should be enjoyed, as a tragic love story.