Books 1999

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January's Book - Empire of the Sun by JG Ballard

This harrowing story draws on the author's own experiences in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation between 1942 and 1945. He was at the time only 12-15 years old. Because Ballard tells the story from the perspective of young Jim, we gain a fascinating insight into the mind of a child under extreme circumstances. Anthony Burgess described the book as being "A brilliant fusion of history, autobiography, and imaginative speculation. An incredible literary achievement and almost intolerably moving." I think all of us that have read the book would echo those sentiments. Highly recommended. Click to buy now 

I'd also like to take the opportunity to recommend Ballard's follow-up to this book - The Kindness of Women. It continues the autobiographical story of Ballard's life, concentrating on the impact that women have had on his eventful, often tragic life. Fascinating reading, it explains a lot about the obsessions with which Ballard peppers his other writing. I came away from it feeling I understand him a little better and find him a fascinating and likeable man. Click to buy now

February's book - The Miracle Strain by Michael Cordy

This book is described as "A taut, gripping thriller" (The Times) and "Jurassic Park meets the quest for the Holy Grail meets Raiders of the Lost Ark" (Mail on Sunday). It is set a few years in the future and features a 2000 year old Brotherhood who are searching for the Second Messiah and a doctor searching for Christ's DNA. However, the book is not very well written and suffers from a lack of character development. It reads like a film script and although the idea is a good and original one, it has been poorly executed. The Bookworms discussed the book during 2 chats and although most of us quite enjoyed it, the general consensus was not to recommend it. However, if you are merely looking for something to while away a few hours and are looking for a good yarn rather than anything with any literary pretensions, you may well find this compelling. It certainly provokes thought & discussion and some of the issues, such as gene therapy, are very much in the news recently.    Click to buy now

                        March's book - Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks 

Having read, and greatly enjoyed, several of Iain Banks non Sci-Fi titles, I was curious to see if he could win me over to the Sci-Fi genre with his Iain M Banks novels. This book is the first in the Culture series and is described as "a space opera of stunning power and awesome imagination." It took some getting into, not only for me, but for several others in the group. I have to say that it tended to be the women that had more problems with it. We had difficulty in picturing some of these strange creatures and their space stations and weapons. Having said that, the book is well written and worth the effort. I did manage to get over my difficulties and can honestly say that I enjoyed the book, as did the majority of us. I was however, slightly disconcerted to find that the characters with which I felt most empathy were machines! Members of the group tell me that further Culture novels are even better than this one. There were certainly some interesting ideas here that I understand are given fuller treatment in subsequent books. Not an easy book, but if you are prepared to persist, well worth reading. Click to buy now


April's Book - The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde 

For a complete contrast to the previous books this year, we went back to a classic, a story of moral corruption which on publication in 1891 attracted outraged reviews. There were mixed reactions to the book, although I think it would be fair to say that the majority of us enjoyed it very much. Things we did note were: 1) the witty epigrams which are as apposite today as they were then. 2) The way in which a scandalous Victorian book seems fairly tame these days. 3) The contemptuous treatment of the "lower classes". Perhaps in some ways there is as much in it now to upset some folk as there was then. However, it is an extremely well written and entertaining novel, with a moral message. click to buy now

May's Book- The Beach by Alex Garland

This is Garland's first novel, set in Thailand - it is currently being filmed with Leonardo did Caprio in the leading role. This was a wonderful book, both in my opinion and in that of the majority of the Bookworms who read it. It tells the story of Richard, a backpacker who is left a map of a secret beach by a fellow traveller who commits suicide. There are many echoes of Lord of the Flies as the Beach's inhabitants search for their utopia. The book is very vivid and the characters are interesting and well-drawn. I doubt a film will be able to do it justice but will certainly watch it to see if my images of it bear any resemblance to those of the film makers. Highly recommended. There are lots of reviews on the Amazon site which you can access by clicking to buy now!  click to buy now

June's Book - Cloudstreet by Tim Winton  

Winton is an Australian writer and this novel is set in Western Australia. Comments on the book include "A fragmented, hilarious, crude, mystical soap opera", "Imagine Neighbours taken over by the writing team of John Steinbeck and Gabriel Garcia Marquez" and" The writing is alive and kicking with a sense of wonder and absurdity of life and people." There were mixed reactions to this book, although on the whole people enjoyed it. It did jump around a lot and that got confusing at times. There has recently been a very well-received stage performance of this novel.  The reviews above seem to hit the nail on the head, so if that sounds good to you, then try it. click to buy now

July's Book - On The Road by Jack Kerouac

Well, what can I say about this book? I have tried and tried to enjoy, or at the very least, appreciate it, but I have had to admit defeat and can't even bring myself to finish it. However, I hasten to add that I am very much in the minority so don't let me put you off. Many people enjoyed it, both now and in the past. My own view is that it is dull and repetitive but I guess it was a breath of fresh air when first published in 1957. In brief, it tells the story of several young men (sometimes with a woman or two on board) and their journeys across America, their enjoyment aided by drink, drugs and sex. click to buy now

August's Book - About A Boy by Nick Hornby

This is a very entertaining read. Seemingly lightweight, it has some fascinating observations on men and women. I guess most men will recognise parts of themselves in this novel, and Hornby's character must be familiar to the majority of young (and youngish) women readers! It tells the story of confirmed bachelor Will and his relationship with a young boy called Marcus. Will has no need to work for a living, earning sufficient from royalties for a Christmas song written by his father many decades earlier and consequently his life lacks direction. The novel charts Will's growth as he learns about life from the various people he meets along the way. An excellent gift for someone who professes to be a non-reader.  click to buy now

September/October's Book - Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes finally tried to exorcise the ghost of Sylvia Plath with the publication of this volume of moving poetry. After 35 years of silence it was time to give his view of this celebrated and tragic love story. Plath had been raised as an Icon by the feminist movement as a woman betrayed by a hard hearted man. These poems go some way to dispelling that myth. Rather than laying the story to rest the poems have re kindled interest in the story which has been further stoked by Hughes own death. This volume has been hailed as a modern classic and has deservedly won many prizes.  Don't be put off if you don't usually read poetry - this book can be read as a narrative and is easy to understand, despite the occasional references to the couple's earlier work which may seem obscure if you're not familiar with it. The bookworms gave this book the overall thumbs up, although it wasn't unanimous. Some found it distressing to read and preferred to read it in small sections rather than all at once. If you only ever read one volume of poetry then make it this one.   click to buy now

November's Book - Restoration by Rose Tremain 

 Set at the Court of Charles ll, it was short listed for the Booker prize a few years ago and has received much critical acclaim. "Comic & profound, subtle & bawdy ... a joy to read" (The Listener), "Brilliant - a marvellously, stylish, meaty story" Sunday Express), A most beautiful & original novel" Independent). We had a couple of attempts at discussing this book but not too many of us had read it. However, those of us that had done so, enjoyed it very much. I would rate it very highly. A historical novel set during the time of Charles II, it tells the story of Merivel, a man who loses his way in life but eventually, after much trial & tribulation,  achieves his own restoration.  In narrating the novel as Merivel, Rose Tremain has achieved a tremendous feat in making him such a realistic character, getting right into his skin. It is a very believable story and despite his many failings, I couldn't help but feel affection for  Merivel. We felt that the novel was extremely colourful, definitely a technicolour read! Highly recommended.  click to buy now

December's Book - The Heart of The Matter by Graham Greene 

This classic novel is set in West Africa during World War II and tells the story of how Scobie, the deputy police commissioner, is forced into the betrayal of everything in which he has ever believed, when he falls in love. His deceit is posthumously exposed by a young intelligence agent who has been watching his every move. "The novel vividly evokes an area of 'Greeneland' characterized by intense heat, vultures, cockroaches, rats, heavy drinking, corruption, and a painful struggle to maintain faith, in a hostile environment, with concepts of justice &

 religion." (Oxford Companion to English Literature)  The group had mixed feelings about this one. I thought it OK but rather dull and couldn't empathise with any of the characters. However, I was in the minority. The general consensus was that it is a good study of the British "stiff upper lip" of it's time.   click to buy now



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