Wednesday, May 9, 2018: The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble: Several members of our group had notified us in advance that they were not coming to the discussion because they did not like the author’s style that was “like an insurmountable wall.” A number of participants could not stand the rambling of the author, frequent repetitions, and meandering plotline with far too many characters (about 50). These complaints were debated during our lively discussion since about half of those present admired the good writing, the author’s skills in observing with so much insight (and often humour) the many challenging themes that occupy even the healthy elderly today:  the importance of feeling needed by someone, having time to reconnect with family and old friends, finding new interests and coping with unbearable idleness. We also shared opinions − just on the eve of David Goodall’s assisted suicide in Basel – about the legal situation of euthanasia in Switzerland. We had a very cheerful evening discussing a not particularly cheerful topic. DD


 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018: Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: We all enjoyed the book very much and could have gone on for hours discussing it and its many themes. DD

 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: Eleanor, who seemed to be an unpleasant weirdo who spent her weekends in a vodka-induced fog, put off most of us at first. The excruciating description of her bikini wax made us worry if reading this book would be worthwhile. Fortunately we all kept reading and it turned out to be an uplifting and valuable reading experience and discussion. Once we realized this is an unreliable narrator and suspected the abuse Eleanor had experienced as a child, a deeper level was exposed to show in often very entertaining ways just how difficult and complicated communication, proper behavior and making friends can be. Most of the unspoken rules for our social interaction (eye contact, touching others, posture, facial expressions, rhythm of speech, voice patterns, choices of style in our clothes and grooming, formality of language and depth of engagement with others) are picked up in childhood. How can we learn these rules as adults? Anyone who exhibits flaws in their abilities to understand these social codes is subject to embarrassment or to ostracism. Eleanor’s life changes with a fantasy romance. She takes steps to overcome her loneliness and her tragic past, seeks help to improve her appearance, manner, and behavior to fit into a group and become a ‘pal’. Our group loved her platonic friend Raymond and especially her cat Glen. The very serious lesson of this often very amusing book is the power of little acts of spontaneous kindness. Not everyone in our group would call this ‘literature’ but we all enjoyed the discussion. DD

 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles:
Most of the group were charmed by this cleverly constructed and wryly humorous novel, one participant finding it the most enjoyable she’d read recently. One participant likened it to a kaleidoscope of characters and encounters which emerged over the decades-long imprisonment of Count Rostov in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel beginning with the Bolshevik Revolution and ending at the height of the Cold War. The Count acknowledges the sea of suffering going on around him with a few understatements and a couple of footnotes, but is otherwise cheerful and gracious, de rigueur behavior for a gentleman of his class. This attitude irked one participant in particular who found it glib. Most of the group, however, would definitely recommend this novel. MH

 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018: Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty:

We all thought it was a well-written novel. One participant called it “an achingly beautiful read.” However, our judgements were based on conflicting reasons. Some thought Stella and Gerry's relationship was worth saving, considering their long marriage and the way they did things out of habit and routine and could have different opinions without it causing arguments. They shared a great sense of humour and limited their daily exchanges about their health issues to an hour they called ‘organ recitals’. Gerry recognized how valuable Stella was to him even though he could not share her strong religious beliefs. This book left other discussion participants with almost the opposite impression of Stella and Gerry’s marriage. Is it a good relationship when couples avoid conflict and talking about their innermost needs and desires? Hadn’t she organised this trip to Amsterdam under false pretences, yearning to find a way to leave him and his alcoholism? Was it admirable or irresponsibly neglectful that Stella always tried to just ignore his drinking? Our personally different attitudes towards coping in relationships made this the perfect book for an enriching book discussion. DD