Books 2002

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Book for January:  After You'd Gone  by Maggie O'Farrell 

This was January's Bookworms book and I do urge you to read it if you haven't already done so. The person that recommended it was adamant I should include it in the list, and having read it, I can see why, as could the other bookworms. I really couldn't put it down and zoomed through it, so desperate was I to find out the secrets that permeated the lives of the characters. It's slightly complicated to read in that it jumps around a lot - not only between characters, but between first & third person narratives for the central character, Alice. It's difficult to say too much without giving things away, suffice to say that Alice is obviously in a disturbed state at the beginning of the novel. She travels from London to Scotland on a whim, sees something at the station in Scotland that causes her to go straight back again and soon after, steps into the path of a car. Gradually the stories of Alice and her family are drawn together so we find out what has upset her so much. I loved this book, a first novel, and look forward to reading more of O'Farrell's work.  [In fact, since writing this, I have read and greatly enjoyed her second book, My Lover's Lover. It's just as compulsive but less complicated.]

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Book for February:  The Magician's Assistant  by Anne Patchett

This is an excellent book that I read several years ago and enjoyed reading again for our chat. It has an arresting opening - 'PARSIFAL IS DEAD. That is the end of the story.' It isn't, of course.  The novel tells the story of magician Parsifal, his lover, Phan, and his assistant and wife, Sabine. When he dies, Sabine finds out just how little she knew of Parsifal's past, and in the process of unravelling it, discovers hidden depths to herself.  Set in Los Angeles and Nebraska, the contrasts between Parsifal's two lives are immense. Sabine finds herself torn between the two and her intense grief is portrayed beautifully.  To say much more would spoil things so instead, I urge you to get a copy of this book and read it for yourself. 

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Book for March:  The Warhound & the World's Pain by Michael Moorcock

I confess I had not heard of Michael Moorcock until one of the Bookworms suggested this as his choice for a book. However, it seems that I may have unwittingly seen him in performance - apparently he was a member of rock band Hawkwind, who I saw in concert way back when. The Warhound is the first of 3 books in the Von Bek trilogy - which is in itself Volume 1 of The Tale of The Eternal Champion. For the purposes of the discussion, only Warhound was read. Described as a brilliant, utterly compelling fantasy epic, this is a tale in which universes of alternate time and space interact in a struggle for survival. I must say that I really enjoyed this book and read it almost in one sitting. Von Bek is charged by the devil with searching out and delivering the Holy Grail to him - the devil has decided to turn over a new leaf and become good. After all, he was originally an angel. It reminded me in some ways of Lord of the Rings - adventurer goes travelling in search of something, meeting people along the way, but was far less complex. It's also an old-fashioned love story. The vast majority of the bookworms also enjoyed it, although it's a book that few of us would normally have thought of reading. I shall certainly read the other two novels within this volume. 

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Click here to read an interview with Michael Moorcock.

 

  Book for April:  The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

This is an excellent book set in the Republic of Gilead in the 21st century when the world as we now know it has completely changed. Offred's function is to breed and the novel follows her new life, while also giving us flashes of her past. Everyone in this society has their own function - there is no freedom of thought or action (at least, not officially). This is the second time I have read this book and I was delighted that the bookworms agreed that it is a fascinating insight into a potential future state - a very frightening one at that. It's of the same genre as 1984 and Brave New World and is quite believable. Although it's a set text for both A level and some degree courses, this is a very accessible and easy-to-read novel. Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite writers - I have no hesitation in recommending this book to you.

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Click here for an interview with the writer and suggestions for discussion topics

 

 

  Book for May:  The Crow Road by Iain Banks

This is a terrific read - how could anything that starts with the line 'It was the day my grandmother exploded.' fail to capture the reader's imagination? The novel is about a young man who returns to his family in Scotland and is determined to solve the mystery of what happened to his Uncle Rory who disappeared one day, although that is but one aspect of the novel. It's funny, intriguing and full of great characters and was much appreciated by bookworms, from those that know the author's work to those that hadn't read him before. 

Here are a couple of quotes from bookworms: 

'I'm not a literary expert and this was the first Banks novel I had read. From the first line "it was the day my grandmother exploded" it had me hooked. So much so that I have now read "Complicity" which is very different. The subtle Scottish tones, the dry humour and a very likeable character in Prentice, together with a clever avoidance of mushy tones at the end where he thankfully finally gets his act together with Ashley, made it a wonderful introduction to Iain Banks' books.'

'I enjoyed the book, but I'm not really sure it worked for me as a 'Whodunnit'. The evidence was very circumspect and there didn't seem to be a real resolution. There seemed to be a concentration on parts of the plot that didn't really add to resolving Prentice's suspicions and I felt that that angle to the book was a bit of a let down. The best part of the book for me was the exploration of Prentice's relationships with his family and Ashley. He painted a very good picture of a young man maturing and how the life-changing events affected him. I also thought the competitiveness he had with Lewis and how his relationship with his mother developed was very well written.'

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  Book for June:  Border Crossing by Pat Barker

This is a brilliant book from Pat Barker that I first read during the controversy over releasing John Venables and Robert Thompson, convicted killers of James Bulger.  Danny Miller killed when he was a child. Tom Seymour is the child psychologist that gave evidence during his trial. The two meet up after Danny's release - is this coincidence? What does Danny want from Tom, and how will this affect Tom's relationships? This is a fascinating and relevant subject and should provoke much discussion. There has been much praise for this novel: 

"What Pat Barker has to say of society's attitude to children is spot on." - Financial Times.

"Barker...is second to none at writing about the tragedy of life as it affects ordinary people, making her novels readable without ever underselling the subject." - Hello Magazine

"Pat Barker once again shows how she warrants her international success and popularity. Border Crossing is a thrilling, gripping novel that will leave you in a fearful trance throughout, thanks to Barker's mesmeric style of writing." - Punch

"Unflinching yet sensitive, this is a dark story, expertly told." -Daily Mail

The Bookworms discussion of this book was probably the longest we have had. We spent well about 90 minutes talking about it during one chat and at least a further 30 mins the following week. It certainly raises many issues and we weren't in total agreement with our opinions of Danny. It's a shame Pat Barker didn't pop in to help us out a bit! I'd recommend this to anyone with an interest in psychology or crime and especially to reading groups as it lends itself to detailed discussion.

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Book for July:  Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

This was my first Anne Rice novel and I enjoyed it very much. It tells, through the interview of its title, the story of Louis who becomes a vampire after family problems. He finds it difficult to reconcile the fact of his being a vampire with the necessity of feeding on the blood of other creatures, so for some time seeks out animals rather than human victims. Louis is a vampire with a conscience and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. We travel the world with him as he searches for other vampires. I found myself being curiously sympathetic to his plight, but that was much reduced in the film version which I have seen since reading the book. If you enjoyed the film, you would probably find the book even more fascinating, but enjoying the book won't guarantee you'll like the film! I found it rather revolting and much less sympathetically drawn. The majority of the bookworms found this to be a worthwhile read and we enjoyed a stimulating discussion about it. I shall certainly read more of Anne Rice's books in the future.

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Book for August:  The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

This novel is described as being 'a rich and intimate tale of love, honour and betrayal that has captured the hearts of women across the world'. It tells the story of Dinah, a biblical character whose fate is only hinted at in the Book of Genesis, through her eyes. Dinah is the only daughter of Jacob, sister to the far more famous Joseph, of technicolour dreamcoat fame. Her mother is Leah, first of Jacob's four wives. The Red Tent of the title is the tent in which all the women come together, during menstruation, childbirth and illness. We learn about all the wives and their children and the rivalry between them during the earlier part of the book. As Dinah grows up, she learns the skills of midwifery from Rebecca and this skill remains with her during her lifetime. One or two of the bookworms felt that there was 'too much birthing' in the novel but the mothers amongst us disagreed! Male readers thought it an excellent insight into the world of women - and although our lifestyles are far removed from those of biblical times, the emotions are eternal. The novel follows Dinah as she moves from Haran (contemporary Iraq/Syria, through Canaan and into Shechem (Israel) with the family and then on to Egypt where she has to forge a new life for herself. I found this novel fascinating and would love to read more novels of this type. The social history and the geography of the land was realistically portrayed and made for a very colourful read. Having visited some of the places in Egypt that are mentioned in the book, I  was able to picture Dinah living and working there. I recommend this book very highly - for men as well as women. It's highly original, skillfully written and a 'stonking good yarn'!

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Book for September:  The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

I'm quoting the Amazon review of the book as it's a difficult book to explain in many ways and this review does it so much better than I could. 

'Originally published in Switzerland and gracefully translated into English by Carol Brown Janeway, The Reader is a brief tale about sex, love, reading and shame in post-war Germany. Michael Berg is 15 when he begins a long, obsessive affair with Hanna, an enigmatic older woman. He never learns very much about her and when she disappears one day, he expects never to see her again. But, to his horror, he does. Hanna is a defendant in a trial related to Germany's Nazi past and it soon becomes clear that she is guilty of an unspeakable crime. As Michael follows the trial, he struggles with an overwhelming question: what should his generation do with its knowledge of the Holocaust? "We should not believe we can comprehend the incomprehensible, we may not compare the incomparable... Should we only fall silent in revulsion, shame, and guilt? To what purpose?"'

Bookworms enjoyed this book although one or two felt something was lots in the translation. We were amazed at the fact that Hanna refused to reveal the secret that affected her life and ultimately forced her to make choices that finally led to her imprisonment. It's a book that makes you face some difficult questions about what you would do in certain situations and how much individual responsibility one should take when faced with standing alone against authority. A novel such as this is always going to be a difficult one to discuss - but there are issues here that cannot be swept under the carpet. Read it.

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Book for October:  Drachenfels by Jack Yeovil

And now for something rather different - a fantasy novel set in Games Workshop's Warhammer universe.  Warhammer is a fantasy game where opponents pit their wits and their plastic armies against each other. It sounds rather bizarre to me and only seemed to me to have a passing connection with the book. Drachenfels is a baddie and the novel starts with a battle in which he is destroyed. There are all sorts of strange creatures involved in this, including dwarves and a female vampire. It's rather more bloodthirsty than most of us would have liked but wasn't a bad read. Much of the action involves a play depicting the fall of Drachenfels and I rather enjoyed this part of the book. Whilst I found it a fairly enjoyable read, I shan't be rushing to read the next book in the series.

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Book for November:  Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

This fascinating novel is set in the time of the Great Plague (1666), about a community in Derbyshire who decide to quarantine themselves when the plague comes to their village. This novel is based on a true story and explores love & learning, fear & fanaticism, and the struggles between science and religion. Most of us really enjoyed it although the ending was considered by some to be a bit superfluous. There was also a fair bit of 'birthing', as in The Red Tent! But don't let that put you off, this is living history and birthing is a fact of life! The characterisation was excellent and the writing very vivid. I could 'see' it all happening before my eyes. Ironically, the village of Eyam that inspired this story, is very close to Cressbrook, where bookworms held a meet last summer! Perhaps a further meet should be arranged so we can visit Eyam armed with our views on Year of Wonders.  :-) Further information about Eyam can be found here.

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Book for December:  Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

This was my first Pratchett book and while I found it quite entertaining, I haven't felt the need to rush out and stock my shelves with his other novels. Bookworms were divided into 2 camps - the die-hard TP fans and those for whom this was a first, or almost a first. The non-fans tended to share my views. I guess you could divide the groups in another way - those that want a laugh a line and those that prefer their humour in smaller doses! The story is a clever take on our old fairy stories, full of witches, princes, princesses, pumpkins and fairy godmothers but I felt the writer was trying a little too hard to be clever. I did find the book in the Young Adult section of the local library and it would certainly be a good read for younger people trying out adult fiction for the first time.

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