The Skeleton Road – Val McDermid

the-skeleton-roadNovember’s book club meeting, saw us discuss The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid, an enjoyable read on the surface, but one of which we thought was mis-marketed as a psychological thriller (we thought more of a murder mystery).

We definitely thought the author disliked men, as all the male characters were written quite harshly or met grisly ends.   The fact that Maggie didn’t report her husband missing, left all his belongings at home, but still paid money into their account, didn’t quite ring true.

We also disliked the cliché writing of the relationships and found it very Mills & Boon – we expected more than this!

What we did enjoy where the vivid images of the characters and places that the author conjured up.  In particular the Balkan wars were of great interest and showed the author’s skills at research.

We didn’t guess who the killer was and liked how this turned out to be a female.  The title of Skeleton Road, we thought was a good choice and epitomised  the book well.

Although we thought there were a few unnecessary characters, all in all we thought the book was okay.

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The Bell Jar -Sylvia Plath

img_0305The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath was the book discussed at October’s meeting and quite poignant that it was read in the month that covered Mental Health Awareness Day.

Yes, another mental health book – apologies to all that we seem to have covered more than our fair share of these, but I think we were all in agreement (at least those in attendance!) that this was an important one to read.

This was the only novel written by the American writer and poet, Sylvia Plath and mirrored her own descent into mental illness, which culminated in her committing suicide a month after this book was released.  For some of us, this made the reading of this book, quite uncomfortable and incredibly sad.

The book was definitely a read of two halves.  At first I didn’t quite understand the relevance of the first half, as it seemed to be about very little.  What it did show was an ordinary girl’s life; someone who struggled to fit in or be the sort of person that society expected her to be, which made her descent into mental illness all the more frightening.  We were split in the sense that some of us thought that the descent happened quite quickly whilst others noticed the flags and thought it happened over a period of time.

The main protagonist of Esther Greenwood was a character we struggled to like, even though we were empathetic towards her.  Some considered her to be naive, cold and calculating.  But was it her illness and the mannerisms associated with this, that prevented us from liking her?

We struggled to find any positive male characters within the book, with the thought that it was a difficult time for any man in the sixties due to the changing roles of females within society. Certainly this book could definitely be deemed as a feminist novel, of which the red cover of most of our copies was considered controversial when first released as it was deemed too ‘chick-lit’ for such a worthy novel.

The most shocking aspect was definitely the treatment for mental illness, with the introduction of electric shock treatment, which was common place in that era.  Even more shocking was the fact that Doctors now believe that aspects of ‘mental illness’ where in fact just a vitamin deficiency, which could have been cured quite simply.

Although the novel was relatively short, we felt it covered a lot of ground and certainly gave us the impression that it occurred over a few years.  We felt that the ending was hopefully, which poignantly for the author turned out to be not the case.

 

 

 

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The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas

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I was unable to attend the meeting where this was discussed but I think the general consensus was that the book wasn’t liked and for the first time ever, I don’t think anyone finished the book.

Below is the Wikipedia review on the book:-

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Slap

 

 

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The Slap

Dear All,

As I won’t be with you next Saturday, please find below discussion questions to aid the meeting, should you require them.  I have asked the library to open the room and put a copy of these questions in, as well as copies of the next book, The Bell Jar. Once finished, if you can take all books back down to the front desk.

1). Do you think there is any justification for slapping a child?
2) How does this compare to when you were young – where you slapped as a child?
3) How and why did the characters react differently to the incident?
4) Discuss the characters involved and their own lives- how does the parenting differ from each couple?
5) Do you think the narrative being told from each of the eight characters works?
6) What part do you think class and location has to play in the novel (the book has been described as a ‘middle classed suburban novel’)?
7) Do you think Gary and Rosie were right to press charges?
8) Are there any redeeming characters within the book?
9) What do you think the book says about Australian contemporary life?
10) Did your opinion change of any of the characters once you got to know them better?

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The Night Rainbow – Claire King

imageThe Night Rainbow was August’s book club read and one that was anything but the gentle read we had first anticipated.  Clare King’s story of a young girl trying to survive without her Mother’s supervision was something we all enjoyed but perhaps wouldn’t be one that we would rave about.

Certainly this book conjured up a lot of discussion, the first being Pea’s age.  Most felt her character was a lot older, but did this come from being a ‘child carer ‘?  Certainly her observations on life and her justifications of why events occurred were the highlight of the book.

Then there was the Mother.  Pregnant and recently bereaved, our feelings ranged from feeling empathy to feeling annoyed that a child was left to fend for herself.  There was also the notion that surrounding family should help and certainly you would have thought that there would have been a moral obligation to assist from those around.

The relationship between Claude and Pea was one that at first was quite uncomfortable.  Isn’t it terrible that you automatically judge something that turned out to be quite innocent?  By Claude looking after Pea, he indirectly was also helping her Mother and indulged Pea with her imaginary games.

Margot was a character that had most of us perplexed.  Nearly all of us thought that she was real but looking back there are a few clues dotted throughout the storyline. The fact that Margot disappeared after the baby was born and her Mother was starting to come back to normal, shows that Pea didn’t require this imaginary sister to detract from what was happening at home any more.

Was the author sympathetic towards Pea or her Mother?  Certainly we felt that the author had perhaps experienced something similar.

Finally ‘the night rainbow’ does exist and is a rare meter-logical event.  To what it laid claim to the book we can only guess that it represents a new beginning and thankfully Pea did have chance to have a new beginning.

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Treachery by S J Parris

imageTreachery by S J Parris was July’s read and also a World Book Night book!  Firstly congratulations to everyone that managed to finish this, as it was a monster of a book!  First impressions where that there were a lot of unnecessary words and it was quite long-winded.  The fact that it was the fourth book in the series did make readers feel that they had dropped into the middle of something, although that didn’t detract from them finishing the book.

It was felt that the author did a good job in describing Tudor England and it was very much akin to the Musketeer’s in the swash buckling characters, but one sharp eyed reader noticed the author’s use of ‘boycott’ which didn’t come in until the late 1800’s!  The description of the ‘pox’ and the whore’s house were also incredibly realistic and made most readers shudder at the thought of them!

The main character of Bruno was felt to be not a convincing male character;having too many feminine qualities and perhaps the writer struggled to develop male qualities.  However one reader gained a good visualisation of the character of Sir Phillip and it was considered that the author had done an incredible amount of research (one reader even went away to read Phillip Sidney’s poetry).

Most of the characters were felt to be too detached and it felt like you were looking down on the scenes unfolding other than feeling part of their lives.  The sarcasm and humour was felt to be used well throughout the novel and Sir Phillip was definitely the most memorable of characters, although we did feel the use of Sir Francis Drake was not required.

So what makes a good historical fiction?  Something definitely that transports you back to those times.   Philippa Gregory, Cadfile and Josephine Tey were authors/books mentioned as ones to read.

Towards the end of the book, when the murderer began to be revealed, it was felt that there were too many red herrings, although we felt that the plots around the characters were well liked.  It was also mentioned that each character had their own agenda and losing their reputation in those times had so many implications that some characters did have an element of justification for their behaviour.  One thing we were not sure about though was the justification of the murderer.

All in all, we thought this was a well written crime novel rather than a good historical novel.

 

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The Snow Child- Eowyn Ivey

imageThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey was the book club read for June and one of which we had mixed feelings about.

On one hand the author did an excellent job of creating an impressive sense of time and space, depicting the bleak Alaskan landscape elegantly and the loneliness of working and living in such an environment.  On the other hand, most of us couldn’t getting to grips with the magical realism  element to the story.

Was it fiction, was it a fairy tale – most of us were unsure.  Was Faina real?  If so, why where her conversations not in speech marks?  Why did she appear as this angelic character at first and then turn into a feral type creature?  Was she someone that appeared to other people, as well as Jack and Mabel, as a sign to improve lifes?  Certainly her gifts and presence enriched their lives and that would explain why she disappeared.

Her relationship with Garrett, also changed his once shallow character, bringing some much needed depth.  Her killing of the swan that resulted in her wedding dress made of feathers perhaps was a sign that she intended to cement their relationship as one that would be for life, but it was not to be.

Perhaps it was Faina’s relationship with the fox that served as a metaphor that when man encounters anything of a wild nature, the latter will suffer.  Certainly Faina didn’t seem unduly distressed when this happened and what purpose did the fox serve – perhaps a Guardian?

The character of Mabel was one that irritated members; the fact that she seemed so unhappy with the landscape and was tied, perhaps more so by tradition, to the cabin.  Certainly the fact that she seemed reluctant to help out on the farm, when Jack was clearly struggling, seemed strange.  Who would see her do this in the middle of nowhere, but it seemed to be the reluctance of stepping outside convention that was driving a wedge in their relationship.

Of course the fact they were childless had affected their relationship deeply.  The fact that Jack was unable to tell his wife of the sex of their stillborn child and that he had buried the body, spoke volumes of their lack of communication and provided a residue of pent up emotion.

Mabel’s relationship with her sister also proved one where Mabel barely kept in touch, afraid to show that Jack and her had failed in their endeavours.  However, it was her relationship with Esther that proved to be the most satisfactory and in turn provided a more secure base for her and Jack to begin to turn their fortunes around on their farm.

All in all, the book provided us with an excellent discussion and we came to the conclusion that it was a marvellous fairy tale  and an easy read!

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