Wivenhoe Bookshop Magazine & Newsletter | Friday 24 October 2014

Wivenhoe Bookshop Reading Group at The Bake House

FINE DINING  & BOOK TALK AT THE BAKE HOUSE

Join us for book talk and fine dining at ‘The Bake House’ Wivenhoe, where we meet monthly for an informal discussion of our chosen book. The Bake House Restaurant is a small restaurant set near the waterfront of the historic port of Wivenhoe in Essex, with a Modern British menu. The atmosphere’s friendly and relaxed, and the food is superb.

We average about 25 members per meeting on a Wednesday night, although we try to keep table numbers down to four so everyone has a good chance to put their views forward, and we seat people so that they meet someone new each time. We celebrated our 10th anniversary in 2013.

Many new friendships have been made - what better way to break the ice with a stranger than to have both read the same book and be eager to discuss it over a relaxing glass of wine?

This Boy’s a Winner

Last night the Bake House was crammed with readers eager to discuss our October book “This Boy” by Alan Johnson.

It proved universally popular, and discussion was even more animated than usual as for many it evoked memories of their own childhood.

We love to know what readers think of the book, and here is the feedback from this month’s meeting:

“A fantastic read! A page turner – what a shame he isn’t leader of the Labour Party!”

“Very good choice, well written and evocative. I liked the sense of optimism described by Alan Johnson, despite the poverty that he was brought up in”

“Brilliant choice. Gripping narrative, well written, and an incredible insight into post-war London”

“Readable, insightful and gripped me to the end of the story so far…eagerly awaiting the next volume”

“A humane story by a humane and left-leaning man, a description of a hard life full of humour and lacking self-pity. As an autobiography it was well written and made a good read. I look forward to the next one in his life series!”

“I really enjoyed the book. It was very interesting socio-historical account of a childhood which could have been full of self pity, but on the contrary it was very upbeat”

“Engrossing, absorbing, so accessible and incredibly timely with an election coming up to be reminded of exactly why we needed, and still need, the NHS, welfare state and affordable housing to combat the evils of social inequality through accident of birth.”

“I was really engaged by the narrative, and fascinated to have a window onto the life of someone my own age, in the same country, whose life was so different”

“I really enjoyed this easy read – it was my kind of book about the years of my childhood and about the time and people – a social reflection.”

“I really liked it, easy to read, visual, well written story with bitterness in spite of hardships. Nicely drawn characters – good empathy for Linda. What a girl! Thank you Alan Johnson”

“I wouldn’t normally read an autobiography but I found this book very good – fascinating. Very well written – looking forward to reading the next one.”

“An astonishing memoir of an impoverished life in the 1950s, half shocking and half nostalgic.”

“A great read, very enlightening! Enjoyable, and well written. Not self pitying or indulgent – I am keen to read the next one.”

“Good writing, easy reading, down to earth, empathetic, but for me I lived this life more or less, mostly less and found nothing very interesting in these nostalgic reminiscences. How did it get so many awards!!”

October 22nd – ‘This Boy’ by Alan Johnson

About the Book

Alan Johnson’s childhood was not so much difficult as unusual, particularly for a man who was destined to become Home Secretary. Not in respect of the poverty, which was shared with many of those living in the slums of post-war Britain, but in its transition from two-parent family to single mother and then to no parents at all…
This is essentially the story of two incredible women: Alan’s mother, Lily, who battled against poor health, poverty, domestic violence and loneliness to try to ensure a better life for her children; and his sister, Linda, who had to assume an enormous amount of responsibility at a very young age and who fought to keep the family together and out of care when she herself was still only a child.
Played out against the background of a vanishing community living in condemned housing, the story moves from post-war austerity in pre-gentrified Notting Hill, through the race riots, school on the Kings Road, Chelsea in the Swinging 60s, to the rock-and-roll years, making a record in Denmark Street and becoming a husband and father whilst still in his teens.
This Boy is one man’s story, but it is also a story of England and the West London slums which are so hard to imagine in the capital today. No matter how harsh the details, Alan Johnson writes with a spirit of generous acceptance, of humour and openness which makes his book anything but a grim catalogue of miseries.
Publisher’s Synopsis

How To Join

To join us simply provide us with your email address, and we’ll let you know the monthly book choice. We’ll also email you the menus for the dinner meeting. All you need to do is read the book,  reply with your menu choices, and pop into the shop to pay before the meeting. Membership also entitles you to a special price on the book.

2014 dates July 16th, NB no meeting in August, Sept 24th, Oct 22nd, Nov 26th

N.B. Payment must be received by the Saturday before each meeting, and cash is preferable, as card payment attracts a transaction fee of 50p.

The requirements of the restaurant mean that should you need to cancel we are unable to refund payment unless a minimum of 48 hours notice is given by calling 01206 824050.

Sept 24th ‘Little Egypt’ by Lesley Glaister

Little Egypt was once a well-to-do country house in the north of England. Now it’s derelict and trapped on a small island of land between a railway, a dual carriageway and a superstore, and although it looks deserted it isn’t.

Nonagenarian twins, Isis and Osiris, still live in the home they were born in, and from which in the 1920s their obsessive Egyptologist parents left them to search for the fabled tomb of Herihor – a search from which they never returned. Isis and Osiris have stayed in the house, guarding a terrible secret, for all their long lives until chance meeting between Isis and young American anarchist Spike, sparks an unlikely friendship and proves a catalyst for change.

Publisher’s Synopsis

About the Author

Lesley Glaister is a fiction writer, playwright and teacher of writing.  Her first novel was published in 1990 and since then she’s published 11 further novels and numerous short stories.

She received both a Somerset Maugham and a Betty Trask award for Honour Thy Father (1990), won the Yorkshire Post Author of the Year Award in 1993 for Limestone and Clay and has been short and long-listed for literary prizes for her other novels.

She has had broadcast several dramas on BBC Radio 4 and her first stage play, Bird Calls, was performed at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio Theatre in 2004.   She had three grown up sons and lives in Edinburgh (with frequent sojourns to Orkney) with husband Andrew Greig. She teaches creative writing at the University of St Andrews and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Praise for Little Egypt

‘Glaister is very good at creating an atmosphere of rank gloom, and her alternating structure gives her rich opportunities for dramatic tension, which she exploits brilliantly. She slowly ramps up the grotesqueries with just the right amount of dark and light: a gleam of macabre humour leavens the misery.’

The Guardian

‘Written with unshowy elegance and compassion’

The Herald, Scotland

July 16th ‘Harvest’ by Jim Crace

As late summer steals in and the final pearls of barley are gleaned, a village comes under threat. A trio of outsiders – two men and a dangerously magnetic woman – arrives on the woodland borders triggering a series of events that will see Walter Thirsk’s village unmade in just seven days: the harvest blackened by smoke and fear, cruel punishment meted out to the innocent, and allegations of witchcraft.

But something even darker is at the heart of Walter’s story, and he will be the only man left to tell it . . .

Publisher’s Synopsis

About the Author

Jim Crace is the author of Continent, The Gift of Stones, Arcadia, Signals of Distress, Quarantine and Being Dead. He has won the Whitbread First Novel Prize, the E. M. Forster Award, the Guardian Fiction Award and the GAP International Prize for Literature. His novels have been translated into fourteen languages. Quarantine won the 1997 Whitbread Novel Award and was shortlisted for the 1997 Booker Prize for Fiction.

Jim Crace lives in Birmingham with his wife and two children.

Praise for ‘Harvest’

‘Crace’s prose – percussive, rhythmic, resonant – is unmistakable.’ Independent on Sunday

‘Terrible, lyrical, beauty that is nothing like any other novel I have ever read . . . Crace achieves a cadence of speech which sounds and feels as if it is absolutely authentic.’ Spectator

‘Harvest, his latest novel, dramatises one of the great under-told narratives of English history . . . Crace brings his signature combination of atmosphere and exactitude to every aspect of this far-off world . . . the prose is extraordinary: rich yet measured, estranged and familiar, both intimate and austere . . . Harvest can be read in mythical, even biblical terms, but the physical and emotional displacement of individuals and communities at its heart remains as politically resonant today as it was at the time.’ Guardian

‘This is a novel of beautiful writing and careful structure, in tune with the gentle harmonies of autumn and yet aware of how ruin is always around the corner. … Crace has a great gift for clarity, his prose precise and heartfelt, achieving a timeless, polished quality.’ Daily Telegraph

To buy ‘Harvest’ call us on 01206 824050 or order by email

 

June 11th ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig

After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, he is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confound him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog.

What could possibly make someone change their mind about the human race. . . ?

Publisher’s Synopsis

About the Author

Matt Haig was born in 1975. His debut novel, The Last Family in England, was a UK bestseller. The Dead Fathers Club, an update of Hamlet featuring an eleven-year-old boy, and The Possession of Mr Cave, a horror story about an overprotective father, are being made into films and have been translated into numerous languages.

He is also the author of the award winning children’s novel Shadow Forest, and its sequel, The Runaway Troll. A film of The Radleys is in production with Alfonso Cuaron. Matt has lived in London and Spain, and now lives in York with the writer Andrea Semple and their two children.

Praise for ‘The Humans’

The Humans is a laugh-and-cry book. Troubling, thrilling, puzzling, believable and impossible. Matt Haig uses words like a tin-opener. We are the tin. Jeanette Winterson

A brilliant exploration of what it is to love, and to be human, The Humans is both heartwarming and hilarious, weird, and utterly wonderful. One of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. S J Watson

Utterly wonderful. Mark Billingham

The Humans is tremendous; a kind of Curious Incident meets The Man Who Fell to Earth. It’s funny, touching and written in a highly appealing voice. Joanne Harris
Matt Haig’s hilarious novel puts our species on the spot. Guardian

Haig strikes exactly the right tone of bemusement, discovery, and wonder in creating what is ultimately a sweet-spirited celebration of humanity and the trials and triumphs of being human. The result is a thought-provoking, compulsively readable delight. Starred Review, Booklist 

A wonderfully funny, gripping and inventive novel. Like Kurt Vonnegut and Audrey Niffenegger, Haig uses the tropes of science fiction to explore and satirise concepts of free will, love, marriage, logic, immortality and mercy with elegance and poignancy. The Times

Extraordinary The Independent

Excellent . . . very human and touching indeed. Patrick Ness

Haig’s unexpectedly raw tale of love, belonging, and peanut butter… It’s funny, clever and quite, quite lovely. Sam Baker, The Sunday Times

To buy ‘The Humans’ call us on 01206 824050 or order by email

May 7th Gossip From the Forest by Sara Maitland

Fairytales are one of our earliest and most vital cultural forms, and forests one of our most ancient and primal landscapes. Both evoke a similar sensation in us – we find them beautiful and magical, but also spooky, sometimes horrifying.

In this fascinating book, Maitland argues that the two forms are intimately connected: the mysterious secrets and silences, gifts and perils of the forests were both the background and the source of fairytales. Yet both forests and fairy stories are at risk and their loss deprives us of our cultural lifeblood. Maitland visits forests through the seasons, from the exquisite green of a beechwood in spring, to the muffled stillness of a snowy pine wood in winter. She camps with her son Adam, whose beautiful photographs are included in the book; she takes a barefoot walk through Epping Forest with Robert Macfarlane; she walks with a mushroom expert through an oak wood, and with a miner through the Forest of Dean. Maitland ends each chapter with a unique, imaginitive re-telling of a fairystory.

Written with Sara’s wonderful clarity and conversational grace, Gossip from the Forest is a magical and unique blend of nature writing, history and imaginative fiction.

Publisher’s Synopsis

About the Author

SARA MAITLAND is the author of numerous works of fiction, including the Somerset Maugham Award-winning Daughters of Jerusalem, and several non-fiction books about religion. Born in 1950, she studied at Oxford University and currently tutors on the MA in creative writing for Lancaster University. She lives in Galloway.

April 2nd 2014 Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

WINNER OF THE COSTA NOVEL AWARD

What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Ursula’s world is in turmoil, facing the unspeakable evil of the two greatest wars in history. What power and force can one woman exert over the fate of civilization — if only she has the chance?

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.

 Publisher’s Synopsis

Praise for Life After Life

‘Merging family saga with a fluid sense of time and an extraordinarily vivid sense of history at its most human level. A dizzying and dazzling tour de force.’

Amber Pearson - Daily Mail

‘Kate Atkinson’s new novel is a box of delights. Ingenious in construction, indefatigably entertaining, it grips the reader’s imagination on the first page and never lets go. If you wish to be moved and astonished, read it. And if you want to give a dazzling present, buy it for your friends.’

Hilary Mantel

‘Deliriously inventive, sharply imagined and ultimately affecting…The scenes set in Blitz-stricken London will stay with me forever…Atkinson has written something that amounts to so much more than the sum of its (very many) parts. It almost seems to imply that there are new and mysterious things to feel and say about the nature of life and death, the passing of time, fate and possibility.. . [a]magnificently tender and humane novel.’

Julie Myerson - Observer

To buy ‘Life After Life’ call us on 01206 824050 or order by email

 Feb 2014 May We Be Forgiven by A M Homes

Harry is a Richard Nixon scholar who leads a quiet, regular life; his brother George is a high-flying TV producer, with a murderous temper.They have been uneasy rivals since childhood.Then one day George loses control so extravagantly that he precipitates Harry into an entirely new life.

In May We Be Forgiven, Homes gives us a darkly comic look at 21st century domestic life – at individual lives spiraling out of control, bound together by family and history.The cast of characters experience adultery, accidents, divorce, and death. But this is also a savage and dizzyingly inventive vision of contemporary America, whose dark heart Homes penetrates like no other writer – the strange jargons of its language, its passive aggressive institutions, its inhabitants’ desperate craving for intimacy and their pushing it away with litigation, technology, paranoia. At the novel’s heart are the spaces in between, where the modern family comes together to re-form itself. May We Be Forgiven explores contemporary orphans losing and finding themselves anew; and it speaks above all to the power of personal transformation – simultaneously terrifying and inspiring.

Publisher’s Synopsis

About the Author

A. M. HOMES is the author of the novels, This Book Will Save Your LifeMusic for TorchingThe End of Alice, In a Country of Mothers and Jack, and two collections of short stories, Things You Should Know and The Safety of Objects and the highly acclaimed memoir, The Mistress’s Daughter, as well as the travel memoir, Los Angeles: People, Places and the Castle on the Hill.

She is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and writes frequently on arts and culture for numerous magazines and newspapers. She lives in New York City.

Jan 2014 ‘The Ice Palace’ by Tarjei Vasaas

Translated from the Norwegian by Elizabeth Rokkan

A new edition of what is commonly seen as the legendary Norwegian writer’s masterpiece.

Siss and Unn are new friends – so new that they have spent only one whole evening in each other’s company. But so profound is that evening that when Unn inexplicably disappears Siss’s world is shattered. Siss’s struggle with her fidelity to the memory of her friend and Unn’s fatal exploration of the strange, terrifyingly beautiful frozen waterfall that is the Ice Palace are described in prose of a lyrical economy that ranks among the most memorable achievements of modern literature.

Tarjei Vesaas is regarded as one of the finest writers ever to have come out of Scandinavia – he is notable for having been nominated for the Nobel Prize three times and has been considered one of the greatest prose stylists never to have won. Nevertheless, his reputation is secure and growing all the time. Peter Owen has long considered The Ice Palace to be the greatest work ever to have come from his publishing house, which boasts seven Nobel Prize winners on its list.

Publisher’s Synopsis

Praise for ‘The Ice Palace’ 

‘How simple this novel is. How subtle. How strong. How unlike any other. It is unique. It is unforgettable. It is extraordinary.’ — Doris Lessing, Independent

‘It is hard to do justice to The Ice Palace . . . The narrative is urgent, the descriptions relentlessly beautiful, the meaning as powerful as the ice piling up on the lake.’ — The Times

‘Vesaas’s laconic sentences are as cold and simple as ice — and as fantastic.’ — Daily Telegraph

‘Believable and haunting . . . this beautiful and neo-prose poem is as sombre and Scandinavian as a Bergman film . . . the evocation of rime, frost and cracking ice have so eternal a quality that the mention of a passing car comes almost as a shock.’ — Nova

‘Austere poetical clarity, stoical wisdom and a vivid response to nature.’ — Times Literary Supplement

TARJEI VESAAS was born in 1897 in the remote rural Telemark district of Norway, where he spent most of his life. Throughout his life he published several novels, volumes of poetry and a book of short stories which was awarded an international prize at Venice in 1952. He was awarded several other prizes and was a candidate for the Nobel Prize in 1964, 1968 and again in 1969. He died in 1970, his reputation as the leading Nordic writer firmly established.

To buy ‘The Ice Palace’ call us on 01206 824050 or order by email. 

Nov 2013 ‘The Unlikely Pilgramage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce

When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone.

All he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else’s life.

Publisher’s Synopsis

Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, as well as being picked up by Kevin Loader/Channel Four Films for a major film adaptation.

Praise for ‘Harold Fry’

‘The odyssey of a simple man, original, subtle and touching’. - Claire Tomalin 

‘From the moment I met Harold Fry, I didn’t want to leave him. Impossible to put down.’ - Erica Wagner, The Times

‘A brilliant and charming novel: full of comic panache yet acute and poignant’ The Spectator

Read a review in The Independent

Oct 2013 ‘Yellow Birds’ by Kevin Powers

An unforgettable depiction of the psychological impact of war, by a young Iraq veteran and poet, THE YELLOW BIRDS is already being hailed as a modern classic.

‘Everywhere John looks, he sees Murph.

He flinches when cars drive past. His fingers clasp around the rifle he hasn’t held for months. Wide-eyed strangers praise him as a hero, but he can feel himself disappearing.

Back home after a year in Iraq, memories swarm around him: bodies burning in the crisp morning air. Sunlight falling through branches; bullets kicking up dust; ripples on a pond wavering like plucked strings. The promise he made, to a young man’s mother, that her son would be brought home safely.’

Publisher’s Synopsis

With THE YELLOW BIRDS, poet and veteran Kevin Powers has composed an unforgettable account of friendship and loss. It vividly captures the desperation and brutality of war, and its terrible after-effects. But it is also a story of love, of great courage, and of extraordinary human survival.

Written with profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on families at home, THE YELLOW BIRDS is one of the most haunting, true and powerful novels of our time.

Praise for the Book

‘THE YELLOW BIRDS is the All Quiet on the Western Front of America’s Arab Wars.’
(Tom Wolfe, author of The Bonfire of the Vanities )

‘Kevin Powers has conjured a poetic and devastating account of war’s effect on the individual.’
(Damian Lewis, star of Homeland and Band of Brothers )

‘Inexplicably beautiful’.
(Ann Patchett, Orange Prize-winning author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder)

WINNER OF THE GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD 2012

WINNER OF THE HEMINGWAY/PEN AWARD 2012

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST

AN AMAZON EDITOR’S PICK: BEST BOOKS OF 2012

A NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN BOOK OF THE YEAR

TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR

AN INDEPENDENT BOOK OF THE YEAR

TLS BOOK OF THE YEAR

AN EVENING STANDARD BOOK OF THE YEAR

SUNDAY EXPRESS BOOK OF THE YEAR

GUARDIAN BOOK OF THE YEAR

NEW YORK TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR

SCOTSMAN BOOK OF THE YEAR

SUNDAY HERALD BOOK OF THE YEAR

AN IRISH TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR

 Sept 2013 The Silver Dark Sea by Susan Fletcher

A profound tale of love, loss and the lore of the sea.

The islanders of Parla are still mourning the loss of one of their own. Four years since that loss, and a man – un-named, unclothed – is washed onto their shores. Some say he is a mythical man from the sea – potent, kind and beautiful; others suspect him. For the bereft Maggie, this stranger brings love back to the isle. But as the days pass he changes every one of them – and the time comes for his story to be told…

Tender, lyrical and redemptive, THE SILVER DARK SEA is the dazzling new novel from the author of EVE GREEN (winner of Whitbred First Novel award) and WITCH LIGHT. It is a story about what life can give and take from us, when we least expect it – and how love, in all its forms, is the greatest gift of all.

Publisher’s Synopsis

Praise for ‘The Silver Dark Sea’

‘Quietly beautiful…poetic, dreamlike prose’ Sunday Times

 ‘Smooth, flowing and feminine, Fletcher’s prose lulls you with its lyricism and emotional resonance… [a] fishy, mythical tale of love and loss and the depths that grief can reach’ Herald
‘Fletcher is a powerful storyteller- full-blooded, a bit old-fashioned and with a knack for combining sensual narratives with a feel for ancient myth and natural landscape… Delicious, briny writing’ Metro

July 2013 NW by Zadie Smith

NW is Zadie Smith’s masterful novel about London life.

Zadie Smith was born in north-west London in 1975. She is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man and On Beauty, and of a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. She is also the editor of The Book of Other People

Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragi-comic NW follows four Londoners – Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan – after they’ve left their childhood council estate, grown up and moved on to different lives. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their city is brutal, beautiful and complicated.

Yet after a chance encounter they each find that the choices they’ve made, the people they once were and are now, can suddenly, rapidly unravel. A portrait of modern urban life, NW is funny, sad and urgent – as brimming with vitality as the city itself.

Publisher’s Synopsis

Praise for NW:

‘Her dialogue sings and soars; terse, packed and sassy. Smith is simply wonderful: Dickens’s legitimate daughter’ Boyd Tonkin, Independent

‘Astonishing, dazzling. Really – without exaggeration – not since Dickens has there been a better observer of London scenes. Zadie Smith is a genius. It’s hard to imagine a better novel this year – or this decade’ A.N. Wilson

‘Intensely funny, richly varied, always unexpected. A joyous, optimistic, angry masterpiece. No better English novel will be published this year’ Philip Hensher, Daily Telegraph

‘Absolutely brilliant. So electrically authentic’ TIME

‘Captivating. Funny, sexy, weird, full of acute social comedy, like London. She’s up there with the best around’ Evening Standard

‘Marvellous . . . crackles with reflections on race, music and migration. A lyrical fiction for our times’ Spectator

‘Undeniably brilliant . . . rush out and buy this book’ Observer

Take a look at the Guardian review here.

June 2013 Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man.

She hikes up a mountain road behind her house towards a secret tryst, but instead encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders and the media.

The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town and a larger world, in a flight towards truth that could undo all she has ever believed.

Flight Behaviour takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time: climate change. With a deft and versatile empathy Kingsolver dissects the motives that drive denial and belief in a precarious world.

Publisher’s Synopsis

Below – Barbara Kingsolver talks about ‘Flight Behavior’

May 2013 Skios by Michael Frayn

Good God, thought Oliver, as he saw the smile. She thinks I’m him! And all at once he knew it was so. He was Dr Norman Wilfred. 

On the sunlit Greek island of Skios, the Fred Toppler Foundation is preparing for the most important event in its calendar: its annual lecture. This year they have secured a major star: Dr Norman Wilfred, the world-famous authority on the scientific organisation of science. When he arrives he turns out to be surprisingly young and charming – not at all the intimidating figure they had been expecting.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the island, a young woman waits for the notorious chancer she has rashly agreed to go on holiday with and who has only too characteristically failed to turn up. Trapped in the villa with her instead, by an unfortunate chain of misadventure, is a balding old gent called Dr Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper and increasingly all normal sense of reality …

 And as the time draws ever nearer for one or other Dr Wilfred – or possibly both – to give the eagerly-awaited lecture, so Skios – Greece – Europe – career off their appointed track.

Publisher’s Synopsis

Group members can buy the book at a special price of £7! It’s now in stock – alternatively , reserve you copy by calling 01206 824050 or by email.

Below – Michael Frayn talks about how he wrote Skios.

March 2013 ‘Ill Fares the Land’ by Tony Judt

‘Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,

Where wealth accumulates, and men decay’ – Oliver Goldsmith

Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of shared purpose. But we have forgotten how to think about the life we live together: its goals and purposes.

We are now not only post-ideological; we have become post-ethical. We have lost touch with the old questions that have defined politics since the Greeks: is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society? A better world?

The social contract that defined postwar life in Europe and America – the guarantee of security, stability and fairness – is no longer assured; in fact, it’s no longer part of collective conversation.

In this exceptional short book, Tony Judt reveals how we have arrived at our present dangerously confused moment and masterfully crystallizes our great unease, showing how we might yet think ourselves out of it. If we are to replace fear with confidence then we need a different story to tell, about state and society alike: a story that carries moral and political conviction. Providing that story is the purpose of this book.

Publisher’s Synopsis

Group members can buy the book at a special price of £8! It’s now in stock – alternatively , reserve you copy by calling 01206 824050 or by email.

 February 2013 The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend

The day her gifted twins leave home for university, Eva climbs into bed and stays there. For seventeen years she’s wanted to yell at the world, ‘Stop! I want to get off’. Finally, this is her chance. Perhaps she will be able to think.

Her husband Dr Brian Beaver, an astronomer who divides his time between gazing at the expanding universe, an unsatisfactory eight-year-old affair with his colleague Titania and mooching in his shed, is not happy. Who will cook dinner? Eva, he complains, is either having a breakdown or taking attention-seeking to new heights.

But word of Eva’s refusal to get out of bed quickly spreads.

Alexander the dreadlocked white-van man arrives to help Eva dispose of all her clothes and possessions and bring her tea and toast. Legions of fans are writing to her or gathering in the street to catch a glimpse of this ‘angel’. Her mother Ruby is unsympathetic: ‘She’d soon get out of bed if her arse was on fire.’

And, though the world keeps intruding, it is from the confines of her bed that Eva at last begins to understand freedom.

Publisher’s Synopsis

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year is a funny and touching novel about what happens when someone stops being the person everyone wants them to be. Sue Townsend, Britain’s funniest writer for over three decades, has written a brilliant novel that eviscerates modern family life.

Group members can buy the book at a special price of £7! It’s now in stock – alternatively , reserve you copy by calling 01206 824050 or by email.

January 2013 Never Mind by Edward St Aubyn

‘At his mother’s family house in the south of France, Patrick Melrose has the run of a magical garden. Bravely imaginative and self-sufficient, five-year-old Patrick encounters the volatile lives of adults with care. His father, David, rules with considered cruelty, and Eleanor, his mother, has retreated into drink. They are expecting guests for dinner. But this afternoon is unlike the chain of summer days before, and the shocking events that precede the guests’ arrival tear Patrick’s world in two.’

Publisher’s synopsis

‘St Aubyn puts an entire family under a microscope, laying bare all its painful, unavoidable complexities. At once epic and intimate, appalling and comic, the novels are masterpieces, each and every one’ Maggie O’Farrell

‘Nothing about the plots can prepare you for the rich, acerbic comedy of St Aubyn’s world – or more surprising – its philosophical density’ Zadie Smith

Harpers ‘St Aubyn’s prose has an easy charm that masks a ferocious, searching intellect. One of the finest writers of his generation’ The Times

From the first pages of Edward St. Aubyn’s Never Mind, it’s clear that his cycle of Patrick Melrose novels will be delightfully packed with gross privilege, dysfunction, and savage humour….I look forward to devouring them all.

Paris Review

November 2012 The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe

Sillitoe’s groundbreaking work of fiction has recently been reissued in acknowledgement of his status as a major twentieth century writer.

‘The title story in this classic collection tells of Smith, a defiant young rebel, inhabiting the no-man’s land of institutionalised Borstal. As his steady jog-trot rhythm transports him over an unrelenting, frost-bitten earth, he wonders why, for whom and for what he is running.

A groundbreaking work, ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ captured the grim isolation of the working class in the English Midlands when it was first published in 1960s. But Sillitoe’s depiction of petty crime and deep-seated anger in industrial and desperate cities remains as potent today as it was almost half a century ago.’

Publisher’s synopsis

‘I have read nothing to compare with it.’ Penelope Mortimer

‘Sillitoe writes with tremendous energy, and his stories simply tear along.’ Daily Telegraph

‘All the imaginative sympathy in the world can’t fake this kind of thing. It must have been lived in, seen, touched, smelled: and we are lucky to have a writer who has come out of it knowing the truth, and having the skill to turn that truth into art.’ New Statesman

‘Graphic, tough, outspoken, informal.’ The Times

‘A beautiful piece of work, confirming Sillitoe as a writer of unusual spirit and great promise.’ Guardian

‘A major writer.’ Malcolm Bradbury

Group members can buy the book at a special price of £7! It’s now in stock – alternatively , reserve you copy by calling 01206 824050, or by email.

Readers attending the Group discussions at Jardine on 28th and 30th November are invited to join us for an exclusive ‘members and guests’ screening of the film, with a talk and discussion, organised by Wivenhoe’s community cinema Moving Image. 

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

7pm Monday 10th December

British Legion

Wivenhoe Quay

Tickets £4.50 members/£6 guests, available from the bookshop in person, or by calling 01206 824050. If you prefer, you can also book by email.

October 2012 Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

WINNER OF THE ORANGE PRIZE FOR FICTION 2012

 What the Critics Say

“Mary Renault lives again! A ravishingly vivid and convincing version of one of the most legendary of love stories” – Emma Donoghue, author of number one bestseller, Room

 “Original, clever, and in a class of its own … an incredibly compelling and seductive read” – Independent on Sunday

 “A remarkably fresh take on one of the most familiar narratives in western literature” – The Times

 ”Extraordinary … Beautifully descriptive and heart-achingly lyrical, this is a love story as sensitive and intuitive as any you will find” – Daily Mail

 Publisher’s Synopsis

 ”Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles.

Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
September 2012 State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Shortlisted for the Orange Prize 2012

There were people on the banks of the river.

Among the tangled waterways and giant anacondas of the Brazilian Rio Negro, an enigmatic scientist is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women for ever. Dr Annick Swenson’s work is shrouded in mystery; she refuses to report on her progress, especially to her investors, whose patience is fast running out. Anders Eckman, a mild-mannered lab researcher, is sent to investigate.
A curt letter reporting his untimely death is all that returns.

Now Marina Singh, Anders’ colleague and once a student of the mighty Dr Swenson, is their last hope. Compelled by the pleas of Anders’s wife, who refuses to accept that her husband is not coming home, Marina leaves the snowy plains of Minnesota and retraces her friend’s steps into the heart of the South American darkness, determined to track down Dr. Swenson and uncover the secrets being jealously guarded among the remotest tribes of the rainforest.

What Marina does not yet know is that, in this ancient corner of the jungle, where the muddy waters and susurrating grasses hide countless unknown perils and temptations, she will face challenges beyond her wildest imagination.

Marina is no longer the student, but only time will tell if she has learnt enough.

(Publisher’s Synopsis)

What the Reviewers Say

“The best book I have read all year. It made me laugh and weep and left me in a state of wonder: perfect from first page to last … a masterpiece” – Emma Donoghue

“A triumph and Pachett’s best book yet” – Guardian

“Written with a wry grace and irony that reminded me of The Poisonwood Bible (another favourite). I like Patchett’s Bel Canto – but I loved this” – Joanna Trollope, Sunday Telegraph

“An absorbing novel, intelligent yet magical, that will keep you wondering until the very last page” – Sunday Telegraph

“It pulls you into the book, has you standing in the jungle in the heat and sweat, as realistic as any computer-generated trickery, genuinely wondering what might happen next … Just read it and be happy that such a writer as Patchett exists” – The Times

“Something special and worth considering for all the literary prizes, festivals and reading groups going this year … exhilarating” – Daily Telegraph

May/June 2012 – The Secret Life of France’ by Lucy Wadham

Our reading choice for June is Lucy Wadham’s ‘The Secret Life of France’, now in stock.

About the Book

This non-fiction book is a measured and funny account of life in her adoptive country. It’s part social history, part anecdote, with a large measure of dry observation.

Wadham decodes the French way of life, exploring attitudes towards sex, marriage, adultery, money, work, happiness, war and race, and in so doing reveals much about our own priorities and the nature of our identity.

Read Janine Di Giovanni’s ‘Guardian’ review of the book.

April 2012 – ‘The Importance of Being Seven’ by Alexander McCall Smith

For April, we’ll be reading Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘The Importance of Being Seven’ – copies now in stock, and remember to ask for your Reading Group discount.

About the Book

Despite inhabiting a great city renowned for its impeccable restraint, the extended family of 44 Scotland Street is trembling on the brink of reckless self-indulgence. Matthew and Elspeth receive startling – and expensive – news on a visit to the Infirmary, Angus and Domenica are contemplating an Italian ménage a trois, and even Big Lou is overheard discussing cosmetic surgery.

But when Bertie Pollock – six years old and impatient to be seven – mislays his meddling mother Irene one afternoon, a valuable lesson is learned: that wish-fulfilment is a dangerous business.

Warm-hearted, wise and very funny, The Importance of Being Seven brings us a fresh and delightful set of insights into philosophy and fraternity among Edinburgh’s most loveable residents.

March 2012 – ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ by Tea Obreht

For March, the Reading Group choice is Tea Obreht’s brilliant debut novel ‘The Tiger’s Wife’, which is available at the bookshop. At 25, Obreht was the youngest ever Orange Prize winner.

The novel is a mythologisation of Yugoslavia’s history, set in a ‘Balkan country’ recovering from war, where young doctor Natalia searches for clues to the curious circumstances surrounding the death of her beloved grandfather.

She turns to the stories he told her as a child, his tattered copy of The Jungle Book and his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But she will find her answers in the most extraordinary story of all, the one her grandfather never told her—the legend of the tiger’s wife.

Read Kapka Kassabova’s review in the ‘Guardian’

February 2012 – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Our next read is Emily Bronte’s impassioned Gothic tale of thwarted longing, bitterness and revenge set on the bleak Yorkshire moors. First published in 1847, early critics were shocked by it’s passion and coarseness, but a second edition published posthumously in 1850 met with more success, and critical acclaim for the novel has increased over the years.

The story is related retrospectively through the eyes of Mr Lockwood, the newly arrived tenant at Thrushcross Grange, and the words of the servant, Nelly Dean.

The narrative follows the life of the foundling Heathcliff, who prospers in his adoptive family, but is then reduced to the status of servant, running away when the young woman he loves, Catherine Earnshaw, decides to marry another. He returns later, rich and educated, and wreaks his revenge on the two families he holds responsible for ruining his life.

Wivenhoe’s very own cinema Moving Image will be screening the new film of ‘Wuthering Heights’, directed by Andrea Arnold, in March. The date will be posted shortly on their website.

November 2011 – Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb

Anxious to please his bourgeois father, Mihaly has joined the family firm in Budapest. Pursued by nostalgia for his bohemian youth, he seeks escape in marriage to Erzsi, not realising that she has chosen him as a means to her own rebellion.

On their honeymoon in Italy Mihaly ‘loses’ his bride at a provincial station and embarks on a chaotic and bizarre journey that leads him finally to Rome. There all the death-haunted and erotic elements of his past converge, and he, like Erzsi, finally has to choose.

‘Journey by Moonlight’, written in 1937,  Szerb’s quintessential amalgamation of the romantic, the mystical and the transcendental is a Pushkin Press bestseller, and is considered a classic in Hungary.

“Never off our bestseller list, this radiant novel thoroughly deserves its place here”
London Review Bookshop

“Journey by Moonlight is a burning book, a major book”
GEORGE SZIRTES  Times Literary Supplement

“No one who has read it has failed to love it”
NICHOLAS LEZARD  The Guardian

“Just divine….” Read Nicholas Lezard’s review in The Guardian

Like it? Buy the book on our website.

October 2011 – The Outcast by Sadie Jones

The Outcast, Sadie Jones’s first novel, won the UK’s coveted Costa First Novel Award and was a finalist for the Orange Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction. She lives in London.

In 1957 Lewis Aldridge, newly released from prison, returns home to Waterford, a suburban town outside London. He is nineteen years old. A decade earlier his father’s homecoming at war’s end was greeted with far less apprehension by the staid, tightly knit community—thanks to Gilbert Aldridge’s easy acceptance of suburban ritual and routine. Nobody is surprised that Gilbert’s wife counters convention, but the entire community is shocked when, after one of their jaunts, Lewis comes back without her.

No one in Waterford wants Lewis back—except Kit, a young woman who sympathizes with his grief and burgeoning rage. But in her attempts to set them both free, Kit fails to foresee the painful and horrifying secrets that must first be forced into the open. The consequences for Lewis, his family, and the tightly knit community are devastating.

Read a review from Hermione Eyre in ‘The Independent’

Sadie Jones talks about the book in a video interview WARNING!! Contains spoilers!!

Like it? Buy it on our website….

or from the bookshop direct on 01206 824050 , or by email

September 2011 – The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

‘He should have seen it coming. His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one…’

Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they’ve never quite lost touch with each other – or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik, a Czech always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results.

Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libor’s grand, central London apartment.

It’s a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you have less to mourn? Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends’ losses.

And it’s that very evening, at exactly 11:30 pm, as Treslove, walking home, hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country, that he is attacked. And after this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change.

The Finkler Question, winner of the 2010 Man Booker prize,  is a scorching story of friendship and loss, exclusion and belonging, and of the wisdom and humanity of maturity. Funny, furious, unflinching, this extraordinary novel shows one of our finest writers at his brilliant best.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY

“Jacobson’s prose is a seamless roll of blissfully melancholic interludes. Almost every page has a quotable, memorable line.”

Christian House, The Independent

“The Finkler Question is full of wit, warmth, intelligence, human feeling and understanding. It is also beautifully written with that sophisticated and near invisible skill of the authentic writer.”

Read The Observer review by Edward Docx

Like it? Buy it on our website….

or from the bookshop direct on 01206 824050 , or by email

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Dejima, 1799 -  a place like no other: a tiny, man-made island in the bay of Nagasaki, for two hundred years the sole gateway between Japan and the West. Here, in the dying days of the 18th century, a young Dutch clerk arrives to make his fortune. Instead he loses his heart.

Step onto the streets of Dejima and mingle with scheming traders, spies, interpreters, servants and concubines as two cultures converge. In a tale of integrity and corruption, passion and power, the key is control – of riches and minds, and over death itself.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY

‘A love story from 18th century Japan confirms David Mitchell as the most dazzling British novelist of his generation’

Read the ‘Observer’ review by Alexander Linklater

‘Lose yourself in a world of incredible scope, originality, and imaginative brilliance.’

Katy Guest, Independent on Sunday

‘That rare thing – a novel which actually deserves the accolade ‘tour de force”

Kamila Shamsie, Books of the Year, Daily Telegraph

Pitch-perfect’

Boyd Tonkin, Books of the Year, Independent

Here’s a reading of my favourite excerpt from ‘Jacob de Zoet’

No Fond Return Of Love by Barbara Pym

Philip Larkin declared that he’d “sooner read a new Barbara Pym than a new Jane Austen”. No Fond Return of Love was first published in 1961. A 14-year hiatus without a publisher followed, prompting Larkin’s advocacy.

Pym’s tale of altruistic young spinster Dulcie Mainwaring and her oblique pursuit of the unsuitably married and unhappily mistressed academic heartthrob Aylwin Forbes is both sympathetic and deliciously satirical. Very few of her characters have their youthful hopes left intact and her observation of their daily trials and humiliations is exact. Her moral understanding and their romantic ideals might derive from Austen, but Pym’s interest in disappointment and the sense that the 60s came too late for her characters aligns her with her poet-admirer.

Caroline Miller, The Guardian

The Warasw Anagrams by Richard Zimler

Zimler is a native of New York who worked as a journalist in the US before moving to Portugal to teach the subject. He also reviews books for the San Francisco Chronicle and The Los Angeles Times. His previous books were much acclaimed, and have been translated into more than 20 languages and have been worldwide bestsellers.

A chilling and stunningly written mystery set in Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto. Profoundly moving and darkly atmospheric, this historical thriller takes the reader into the most forbidden corners of Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Perfect for fans of “A Winter in Madrid, An Interpretation of Murder” and “Child 44″.

Jardine will be holding a ‘Meet the Author’ event with Zimler on Fri 18th March from 7.30pm, and admission is free, although booking is advisable as space is limited. To book call 01206 820390 or e-mail info@jardine-bistro.co.uk.

Room by Emma Donoghue

It’s Jack’s birthday, and he’s excited about turning five. Jack lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures 11 ft by 11 feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real – only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there’s a world outside …

Told in Jack’s voice, “Room” is the story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible. Unsentimental and sometimes funny, devastating yet uplifting, “Room” is a novel like no other.

‘Emma Donoghue’s writing is superb alchemy, changing innocence into horror and horror into tenderness. “Room” is a book to read in one sitting. When it’s over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days’

- Audrey Niffenegger.

Browse reviews from the ’Guardian’ and the ‘Telegraph’ here.

The Professor + The Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa

Ogawa is one of Japan’s most highly regarded novelists, and this book tells the story of a young single mother who goes to work as the housekeeper of an aging former professor of mathematics. The Professor was involved in a car-accident many years before, as a result of which his short-term memory lasts for only eighty minutes. Post-it notes pinned to his clothing, he is re-introduced to his world (and his housekeeper) every morning, and, unable to continue teaching, he spends his time solving maths puzzles in specialist journals.

The housekeeper’s relationship with the professor begins anew each day, and develops through a shared love of mathematics. It’s a quiet, understated, and poetic novel in which the fixed and eternal nature of the numbers contrasts poignantly with the Professor’s deteriorating condition and with the unpredictable, unstable life of the housekeeper, struggling to raise a child on her own.

‘The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family.

And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities–like the Housekeeper’s shoe size–and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.’

Listen to Takashi Kako’s ‘Prelude’ from the film of the book, “The Professor and His Beloved Equation’

A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova

Elena Gorokhova’s coming-of-age-in-the-Soviet-block memoir is told vividly, with admirable candour and disarming wit. Mountain of Crumbs is the moving story of a young Soviet girl’s discovery of the hidden truths of adulthood and her country’s profound political deception.

Her memoir re-creates the world that both oppressed and inspired her. She recounts stories passed down to her about the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution and probes the daily deprivations and small joys of herfamily’s bunkerlike existence. Through Elena’s captivating voice, we learn not only the personal story of Russia in the second half of the twentieth century, but also the story of one rebellious citizen whose love of a foreign language finally transports her to a new world.

‘Gorokhova’s memoir looks back with love at the lost world of the dacha, of mushroom-picking in the forest, and the utterly reassuring homeland contrained within her mother’s apple-print polyester dress. Her prose brims with an elegiac emotion and sensuality which even Turgenev, in his own European exile, might have envied.’ The Spectator

Read ‘The Guardian’ review by Kapka Kassabo

 

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