The Accidental – Ali Smith

accidental

READ FOR BOOKCLUB

Chosen by Suzy

A 2005 novel which relays the consequences for a middle-class family when an uninvited visitor appears in their home while on holiday.

“I was really looking forward to reading this book for bookclub as I’d read such amazing reviews.  I didn’t follow it easily and this has been a repeating theme with most other Ali Smith books I’ve since read (Hotel World being the exception).  Unfortunately this is a reflection of my intellect rather than anything to do with the author! ” – Suzy

“Amber—thirtysomething and barefoot—shows up at the door of the Norfolk cottage that the Smarts are renting for the summer. She talks her way in. She tells nothing but lies. She stays for dinner.

Eve Smart, the author of a best-selling series of biographical reconstructions, thinks Amber is a student with whom her husband, Michael, is sleeping. Michael, an English professor, knows only that her car broke down. Daughter Astrid, age twelve, thinks she’s her mother’s friend. Son Magnus, age seventeen, thinks she’s an angel.

The Accidental is unlike any book I have read before. In it a stranger, a young woman, plants herself in the middle of a family in their holiday home. Each family member assesses her differently but ultimately all accept her a fixture. What she does is allow them to examine their own lives as they reflect off the stranger. At first I quite enjoyed discovering the novel’s unusual flow but sometimes it was almost too clever, making following the storyline difficult. Fantastically developed characters and a satisfying conclusion, though.” – Rachel

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Published 2005
Hamish Hamilton
320 pages

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

Wind up bird

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Chosen by Rachel

This seemingly simple story of a Japanese man whose cat runs away is anything but. 

⚈ “Wow. Just wow.

“This is the kind of book I adore. One with much complexity that not only wows me as I read, but wows me further as I discover more stylistic techniques and deeper meanings to the text afterward. The book is 600 pages and there are so many characters and stories that there is much to analyse.

A Wind Up Bird is about a man called Toru Okada whose cat goes missing. He begins a search for the cat and then for his wife, who is now also awol. These searches introduce a raft of characters and lends him much time, voluntary time, down a domestic well. On a basic level he is there for the calm in which to consider his life, but at a metaphysical level he travels through the walls of the well and into other worlds that contain doppelgängers for the main characters and help him connect with his missing wife. 

“Hmmm this is not an easy book to review. 

“Murakami’s style fits into the magical realism genre so yes weird and wonderful things do happen. But the settings and characters and mundane day-to-day actives (boiling eggs, taking the train) are so normal they make the phenomena acceptable. It’s important to look beyond the strangeness and observe the commentary on social history that lies beneath.

“Murakami’s writing style, and that of his translator Jay Rubin is known as ‘simple’. The books’ sentences do not attempt grandiose statements or complex structure. Instead they simply state what has happened and what has been said. It is a testament to Murakami’s ability that he can make somethings seem so simple but actually be incredibly literary.

Maybe it’s been like that for you till now. But you’re not a kid anymore. You have the right to choose your own life. You can start again. If you want a cat, all you have to do is choose a life in which you can have a cat. It’s simple. It’s your right… right?

“As well as a clear fondness for the West, Murakami also injects his own love of jazz, of whiskey, of cats and raises some serious questions about Japanese history too. If it were a meal this book would be a ten-course degustation. There is so much depth and flavour that the moment you accept what is infront of you, the course suddenly changes and a new character and a new event inject their life forces into yours. But at the end of it, everything links together in an abstract way and if you think about it long enough you come to acknowledge and relish the links of every person, of every story to the wind up bird that slowly clunks through the moments of time for all the world to hear.

“I have read a few Murakami books before and loved their fearless and visionary style, hence why I chose this. But I have to say that this has expanded my brain and my being more than any other book before and as such I have to declare it as my favourite book of all time. Yes my number one. It’s an emotional moment.” – Rachel

“The only word that describes this book is ‘weird’. But definitely in a good way! The story line drew me in and held my interest, even though there were parts I didn’t understand.” – Nadine

“Don’t read my comments.  Anything I have to say will be done so with far more eloquence and insight by Rachel.  A superb introduction into the world of Murakami. Meticulously researched by Rachel for our bookclub that night and I still remember her revelation that “MAY KASAHARA IS US!!!”. A book club highlight.” – Suzy

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Published 1997
Shinschosha (Japan)
607 pages

Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer

EverythingIsIlluminated READ FOR BOOKCLUB

Chosen by Suzy

The authors eponymous protagonist travels to the Ukraine, carrying a photograph of the woman, believed in the legends of the Safran Foer family, to have saved his granddad from the Nazis. 

“Beautiful/sad/haunting/memorable.  Discovering this author (who – ahem – is one of my top 5 favourite vegetarians by the way) was a revelation. He writes consistently good books and I would also highly recommend Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – go straight to the book, don’t bother with the movie.” – Suzy

“Obviously there are autobiographical elements here, which make the story of Jonathan’s search to find the woman who apparently saved his grandfather from the Nazis extremely heartfelt. The cast of hilarious characters offset the seriousness of the quest. Not only is there is a one-eyed chauffeur guided by his seeing-eye dog, but also a translator who uses the thesaurus to comic effect. You’ll laugh, smile, cry and grimace all the way through this book.” – Rachel

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Published 2002
Houghton Mifflin
288 pages

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

The Blind AssasinREAD FOR BOOKCLUB

Chosen by Rachel

A novel within a novel within a novel. Set in a fictional Canadian town it recalls the life events of an ageing lady. It won the Booker Prize in 2000.

“The Blind Assassin is about storytelling. Storytelling within storytelling within storytelling. Clearly a book for those who love books! I could say it is about an ageing woman recalling her life in the 30s and 40s and the death of her sister, who drives her car off a bridge in the opening sentence. But this is merely just the beginning and it is becomes so much more than that. Layer after layer of intrigue is uncovered in this rich and uniquely rewarding reading experience. There are many tiers to this book, and I became instantly engrossed in all the stories being told, in the characters and their lives. It takes a little to get into rhythm with the various settings, timeframes and beats of the stories, but once you’re there, you’re living the book, and all its stories and it’s hard to put it down. Margaret Atwood is a master and I’m always apprehensive to start another of her novels knowing it will only have to end.” – Rachel

“Despite my initial confusion with The Blind Assassin it was definitely worth persevering with!  A stunning novel, one of my all-time favourites.  In conversations about books, I’m always surprised about the number of people who know of it but who haven’t read it.  Resulting in me shoving my copy in their hands and saying aggressively “SERIOUSLY YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK”.  Margaret Atwood is one of my heroes.” – Suzy

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Published 2000
McClelland & Stewart
536 pages

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

to-kill-a-mockingbird2

READ FOR BOOKCLUB

Chosen by Nadine

A 1960 novel which won the Pulitzer Prize and has been named one of the best novels of all time. The young narrator’s warmth and humour are offset by the racial and societal injustices she observes.

“I loved this book. I think as with a lot of the classics as soon as you start reading them you realise why they are a classic. And also you ask yourself why you haven’t read it until now!” – Nadine

“A great read – can you say anything but?  I also really enjoyed the research on Harper Lee & her mystique.  Also interesting was the controversy around whether the story was in fact written by Truman Capote.” – Suzy

“This book should be read by everyone without exception. There is much to relate to and learn from, especially the message of morality and the search to be free – whatever it is you are searching to be free of. It focuses on the idea of right and wrong, and this is portrayed in every character, from the courtroom trial to the young children playing freely around the neighbourhood, to the mysterious Boo Radley. And it’s these themes that make the book accessible and affecting for every reader. This book has a reputation which is deserved.” – Rachel

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Published 1960
Grand Central Publishing
384 pages

 

The Bone People – Keri Hulme

Featured image

READ FOR BOOKCLUB

Chosen by Suzy

A New Zealand book which won the Man Booker Prize in 1985. It is an unusual love story, depicting a utopian unity between Maori and Western culture.

“I felt uncomfortable for most of the time I was reading The Bone People. A lot of the content is grim – chick-lit it ain’t.  A stunning read though. And winning the 1985 Booker Prize is way more significant and exciting than the 1987 Rugby World Cup, okay?!” – Suzy

The Bone People really got under my skin. Although it was disturbing, I felt a strange connection to this book that just wouldn’t leave me.” – Nadine

“The beautiful NZ coastlines, Maori myth and legend and the startling storyline are captivating in The Bone People, and so well done it was as if I was standing on a desolate West Coast beach as I reading. A desperately moving story that captures not only what it means to be Maori but what it means to be Maori in changing times. Its use of faith and fables as a foundation for the modern story gave the story a solidity and strength which I imagine gave this very NZ tale its universal appeal. I also enjoyed hearing about the author and the story behind the story, which made the final result more of a masterpiece in my eyes.” – Rachel

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Published 1985
Penguin Books
450 pages

Life of Pi – Yann Martel

LifeofPi

READ FOR BOOKCLUB

Chosen by Nadine

A Canadian fantasy adventure in which the protagonist, Pi, is shipwrecked and must endure life at sea with a Bengal Tiger.

“I really enjoyed Life of Pi, especially the twist at the end. Although, I still have some unanswered questions like who was the Frenchman?!” – Nadine

“I have solidly resisted watching the movie, despite it’s fantastic reviews.  Would much rather keep the story’s amazing imagery firmly slotted into my own imagination.  I found this book uncomfortable reading at the best of times, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed it.  A classic.” – Suzy

“I love a seemingly simple story with a twist. But I adore a book that makes me turn back to page one immediately upon completion for a re-read! Martel writes as if combining fact and fiction, with a narrator who is likeable and believable. The zoo animals and Pi’s ringmaster type control of them lends the book a fable type atmosphere that kept me spellbound. A clever and interesting story.” – Rachel

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Published 2003
Mariner Books
236 pages

The Catcher In The Rye – J D Salinger

catcher-in-the-rye-2READ FOR BOOKCLUB

Chosen by Suzy

Controversial when published in 1951, The Catcher In The Rye quickly achieved a cult following, and its protagonist Holden Caulfield became an icon for teenage rebellion.

“I have read this book every 2-3 years since I was a teenager and Holden Caulfield is still one of my all-time favourite anti-heroes.  Many of the book’s characters & their traits are so recognisable.  I heart you Holden, although it worries me that as I get closer to 40 years old I still find you so relatable xx.   ” – Suzy

“An advantage of reading a classic some decades after it’s been written is the ability to recognise the influence said work has had on many modern day novels. Felt like I had known this story all my life and absorbed it fully and willingly. I especially enjoyed the use of time and timelessness. Holden wanders through the hours without the normal human requirements for sleeping and eating, Rather the world is revolving around him (as every teenager of every generation feels it should!) and I felt pulled into his dreamy world. A must read.” – Rachel

“A classic for good reason, loved it!” – Nadine

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Published 1951
Little Brown & Co
224 pages

Vernon God Little – DBC Pierre

VGLREAD FOR BOOKCLUB:

Chosen by Rachel

A 2003 novel that explores the world’s obsession with America. This black comedy details the aftermath of a school yard shooting and is written in a contemporary vernacular.

“Startling satirical comments regarding a school yard mass murder was initially a difficult concept to grasp. War satire has been done to death (pun intended) but school shootings, at a time when they were leading the news, was another story. But once Vernon sucked me in, there was no going back and I had to hear his story, prepared to be entertained but also shocked. A powerful book that has stayed with me.” – Rachel

“I remember this was the very first novel our bookclub looked at.  I still remember Nadine’s insights too, picking up so much that I had missed!  A sad, angry, entertaining read.  Interesting author information too for Dirty But Clean Pierre.” – Suzy

“I really liked this book. For me it sparked my love of reading again. Yay! I enjoyed the dark humour and found it very refreshing.” – Nadine

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Published 2003
Faber & Faber
288 pages

2007 – The First Draft

2007 listThe first draft, or when an idea grows out of the speculative stage and into implementation. The first draft, or when execution is in a formative state and those involved seem to tip toe around each other, around the idea, feeling their way, excited and energised about what could be.

This was us in 2007 when bookclub became more than a thought; more than a dream! The concept was thrown out there, I mean our love of literature was apparent but it was our desire to form a serious bookclub that propelled us. Less women’s group, more English Lit lecture.

So we threw it out there into the universe and the universe answered. Here’s what we achieved: three founding members, Suzy, Rachel and Nadine who alternated between one another’s book choices (which were picked  at random) and one another’s homes for nibbles, dessert and a glass of wine. 

Crazily, we met every two to three weeks at the start (first drafts are meant to be revised!), so we happily got through many books in that first year. But it was never a struggle, never a chore. We were three mothers with young children in bed early and minds that needed stimulation. Bookclub was the answer.

Here, we outline our thoughts on each book. This blog was not built at this time but at a later date, so we are trusting our fading memories for posts this far back, but then good books stay with you forever, don’t they?

2007 Reading Schedule

Vernon God Little – DBC Pierre
The Catcher In The Rye – J D Salinger
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
The Bone People – Keri Hulme
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
Everything Is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
The Accidental – Ali Smith
She’s Come Undone – Wally Lamb
Teh Red Tent – Anita Diamant
The People’s Act Of Love – James Meek
The Unconsoled – Kazuo Ishiguro
Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka