Wednesday, April 12, 2017: The Sellout, by Paul Beatty:
Almost everyone found this book to be difficult reading. Some had given up in frustration and anger at the profanities and dense prose. One participant enjoyed it and felt it points out some realities most of us don’t want to see or understand. Another defended the author and pointed out some well-written parts. We tried to figure out how this book could win the prestigious Booker Prize for Literature for 2016 and receive so many raving reviews. Listening to an interview Claire Armistead had with the author (see link below) helped many of us to appreciate this book more. Regardless of our opinions about the book we all agreed that our discussion of The Sellout was indeed interesting and worthwhile.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017: Golden Hill, by Francis Spufford:
This novel, set in 1750 New York, begins with a daunting first sentence of 17 lines in an 18th century voice that made some of us dread the thought of slogging through such a cumbersome work. But once accustomed to the voice and style, most of us found it completely engrossing: brilliantly plotted with fabulously original characters, it describes New York when it was still a small, raucous colonial town. It's a swashbuckler but with a dark secret which is only revealed at the end of the novel. Not surprisingly, the non-native English speakers in our group found the writing, with its vocabulary and cadences of that period, almost impenetrable. MH
Wednesday, February 11, 2017: The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain:
Rose Tremain's research for her latest novel, which begins in post-war Switzerland and jumps to the 1990's, was for one participant all too obvious, something the author herself says should not be apparent to the reader. Another participant felt that the ending was too abrupt. The two boys at the center of this coming-of-age narrative were well drawn but we wanted to know more about some of the minor characters. On the positive side, we agreed that the author was successful in bringing out a few significant characteristics we can recognize in our Swiss friends and families - a high regard for self-mastery and neutrality. However, we didn't feel that the author was completely successful in her rendering of the overarching themes: the idea of neutrality embodied by Gustav. Some of us enjoyed reading the novel, a couple of us, not at all, but, on the whole, we felt that this was definitely not one of Tremain's best. MH
Wednesday, January 11, 2017: Stoner by John Williams:
Rescued from oblivion a few years ago (it was written in 1965) this novel went on to become a European bestseller solely by word-of-mouth. Beginning in 1910, it chronicles the undistinguished life of William Stoner from his humble farming beginnings through his career as a Professor of English until his death in 1956. Along the way, he soldiers on through a disastrous marriage and a vicious university feud, kept from despair by his passion for English literature and his calling as a teacher. In an exquisitely moving deathbed scene, a joyous calm descends upon him as he takes stock of his life. Is Stoner a passive loser or a reluctant hero? Did his life have meaning? While not of one mind in our conclusions, we were unanimous in our praise of the quiet, spare prose. For most of us, this novel was deeply moving. MH