Arthur and George (Julian Barnes)

Mr Maxted has given us a synopsis for Julian Barnes’s novel, ‘Arthur and George’  and followed this with his own view:

“This novel is meticulously researched and based on the life and loves of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his involvement with the accusation of a mixed race Midlands lawyer of animal mutilation, a sequence of events known at the beginning of the Twentieth Century as ‘The Great Wyrley Outrages’. As well as being a gripping detective story, this is a sensitive insight into the personalities of both of the main characters, and an important social commentary on the prevalence of racism in Edwardian England. It also reveals much about Conan Doyle’s fascination with Spiritualism and its impact upon his second marriage.

 Having previously read Barnes’, ‘A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters’, an altogether lighter novel but also with semi-fictional elements, ‘Arthur and George’ adopts a more introspective and philosophical tone and is widely acclaimed as his best novel yet.”

Have you read this book?  If so, please let us know what you think…


Island (Aldous Huxley)

Aldous Huxley’s novel ‘Island’ is reviewed here by Mr Steed:

“Huxley’s vision of a utopian society on the fictional Pacific island of Pala is more challenging than captivating. Huxley’s Pala cherry-picks the best of Eastern mysticism and the benefits of Western civilisation, such as medicine and electricity – although his device of the two founder fathers being the Buddhist Raja and an enlightened Scottish doctor is somewhat artificial and a bit clunky at times. The happiness of this society is founded on good education, physical exercise, meditational and yoga techniques, effective birth control – and thus sustainable development, and  sexual liberation and drug-taking.

In outlining his idyllic society, Huxley holds up a mirror to our own through the arrival of Will Farnaby, a disillusioned cynical journalist, and through the young ambitious future Raja, Murugan, who plans to bring Pala all the benefits of Western civilisation: industrialisation, consumerism, militarisation, unhappiness.

There is half a pretence that there is a plot to this novel, but it is thin and quite predictable. The strength of the novel is in the descriptions of Palanese society.

This is one of those books that I am glad that I have read, even though it was at times rather tough going.  In his enthusiasm to outline his vision, Huxley drifts into an evangelical style that bordered on preaching – but perhaps that just goes with the territory.”

It would be extremely interesting to hear others’ views on this novel, please remember to leave your thoughts here.

The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga)

“Meet Balram Halwai, the ‘White Tiger’: servant, philosopher, entrepreneur and murderer. Balram, the White Tiger, was born in a backwater village on the River Ganges, the son of a rickshaw-puller. He works in a teashop, crushing coal and wiping tables, but nurses a dream of escape. When he learns that a rich village landlord needs a chauffeur, he takes his opportunity, and is soon on his way to Delhi behind the wheel of a Honda. Amid the cockroaches and call-centres, the 36,000,004 gods, the slums, the shopping malls, and the crippling traffic jams, Balram learns of a new morality at the heart of a new India. Driven by desire to better himself, he comes to see how the Tiger might escape his cage…”   Nielsen Book Data Online

This Man Booker Prize Winner (2008) also won the  Galaxy British Book Awards: Borders Author of the Year 2009 and was shortlisted for the  John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize 2008, the Heathrow Travel Product Award: Travel Read, Fiction 2009 and the Independent Booksellers’ Book of the Year Award: Adults 2009.  It certainly flew off the bookshop shelves when published!

Mrs Walker, (Mr Walker’s wife), has read and enjoyed the book, and comments thus:

“This book offers an insight into Indian life and culture – contrasts in society; lots of humour;  interesting relationships; great believability.  A brutal, shocking, fantastic journey.  You can enjoy reading it, it’s refreshingly different.”

The Lost Symbol (Dan Brown)

The Lost Symbol is the third in Dan Brown’s series about the symbologist Robert Langdon, here follows a synopsis:

“WHAT WAS LOST WILL BE FOUND…Washington DC: Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned at the last minute to deliver an evening lecture in the Capitol Building. Within moments of his arrival, however, a disturbing object – gruesomely encoded with five symbols – is discovered at the epicentre of the Rotunda. It is, he recognises, an ancient invitation, meant to beckon its recipient towards a long-lost world of hidden esoteric wisdom. When Langdon’s revered mentor, Peter Solomon – philanthropist and prominent mason – is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes that his only hope of saving his friend’s life is to accept this mysterious summons and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon finds himself quickly swept behind the facade of America’s most historic city into the unseen chambers, temples and tunnels which exist there. All that was familiar is transformed into a shadowy, clandestine world of an artfully concealed past in which Masonic secrets and never-before-seen revelations seem to be leading him to a single impossible and inconceivable truth. A brilliantly composed tapestry of veiled histories, arcane icons and enigmatic codes, The Lost Symbol is an intelligent, lightning-paced thriller that offers surprises at every turn. For, as Robert Langdon will discover, there is nothing more extraordinary or shocking than the secret which hides in plain sight…”    Nielsen Book Data Online

Mrs Bailey from Kings Campus has this to say:

“This is the 3rd novel of Robert Langdon series. Easy reading, not as good as the other novels. 2 stars.”

What do you think?  How does it compare with the first two?  Please write reviews of these as well and send them in, together with your thoughts of the films…

The Other Hand (Chris Cleave)

“We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy [or borrow!] it so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice. Two years later, they meet again — the story starts there…Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds. ‘Totally believable.’ — Daily Express ‘It would be hard not to romp through it.’ — Financial Times ‘Impresses as a feat of literary engineering…the plot exerts a fearsome grip.’ — Telegraph   Nielsen Book Data Online

Mrs Bailey at Kings Campus says:

“Story about a Female refugee, written by a man ( you would never know!!!) Extremely well written book and very thought provoking! Compelling reading. 4 stars.”

Mmmm, perhaps we should take a look, I’ve never read Chris Cleave before…

Testimony (Anita Shreve)

‘Testimony’, one of Anita Shreve’s latest books is a story told by individuals – pupils, their parents and staff of a New England boarding school about a shocking event that happens there.  A sex scandal is about to break. Even more shocking than the sexual acts themselves is the fact that they were caught on videotape. A Pandora’s box of revelations, the tape triggers a chorus of voice that details the ways in which lives can be derailed or destroyed in one foolish moment. A gripping emotional drama with the pace of a thriller, Anita Shreve’s Testimony explores the dark impulses that sway the lives of seeming innocents, and the ways in which our best intentions can lead to our worst transgressions.  Nielsen Book Data Online.

Mrs Inchenko has also read and enjoyed this novel.  She says:

“I found this gripping, initially you are shocked by what the Head has found, but as the story evolves you see it from each of the participants’ point of view, and that of the adults.  Shreve handles the different voices in the book extremely well and is able to understand the feelings and the ethical dilemmas of the characters. It is heart-wrenching!  As a parent it really makes you think about how easy a reckless moment of teenage behaviour can have dire consequences.  It also makes you think what your actions and reactions may be in similar circumstances!  It reads like a thriller, but is much more, playing on the concerns of teenage morality, adultery and the consequences.

 I would think suitable for 6th form and adult readers only!”

Mmm, interesting…  Perhaps you have been inspired to try this novel, do let us know when you have!

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Mohsin Hamid)

This book has been read and enjoyed by two members of staff so far, both of whom highly recommend it.  It has won two prestigious book awards, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award 2008 and The South Bank Show Awards: Literature 2008 and been shortlisted for others all over the world included the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2007.

A synopsis of the book which follows has been taken from Neilsen Book Service:

“At a cafe table in Lahore, a Pakistani man converses with a stranger. As dusk deepens to dark, he begins the tale that has brought him to this fateful meeting…  Among the brightest and best of his graduating class at Princeton, Changez is snapped up by an elite firm and thrives on New York and the intensity of his work. And his infatuation with fragile Erica promises entree into Manhattan society on the exalted footing his own family once held back in Lahore. For a time, it seems as though nothing will stand in the way of Changez’s meteoric rise to personal and professional success: the fulfillment of the immigrant’s dream. But in the wake of September 11, he finds his position in the city he loves suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and perhaps even love.”

Mrs Inchenko, administrator for The Old Berkhamstedians,  says:

“A really fast paced book, makes you think about how the views of the ‘western world’ changed towards Muslims following 9/11 and the consequences of that event.  It takes you from Changez’s original excitement with everything ‘Western’ to his growing disenchantment.

I would think a really good book for discussion and debate.”

Mr P Harvey also couldn’t put the book down:

“I’m halfway through but love this book, have read 100 pages in the last two nights, very unusual for me! It is gripping because very hard to predict where it’s heading and it makes you imagine a lot and guess a lot – about the narrator and about the American visitor. It is very quick to read…”

and after he’d finished it, he wrote:

“… it kept me reading as fast as I could to the end, certain that something significant would happen. But it didn’t. You’re clearly supposed to think that something bad is ABOUT to hapen at the end – but you are left dangling . . . a bit frustrating but I admired the way the writer had kept me wanting to know right to the end. The other thing I realised as I read on is that there is (perhaps?) a whole symbolic level that this book is working on. An example would be that this Asian man has a relationship with someone called Erica. Surely short for Am-Erica? The relationship starts well but then Erica becomes very odd and self-destructive. Is that one of the points the book is making? Especially since the narrator is talking all the way through the book to an American visitor. To try to understand more about this deeper level, I’d have to read it again!

Was recommended by Dr.Redman. At the moment, I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars.”

Sounds good and a must-read for our times…  Please leave your thoughts and comments here.

The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

Mrs K Tomlin has read and enjoyed this book enormously.  Here, she shares her views of the book, following a collection of reviews of it taken from Neilsen Book (publisher of  The Bookseller magazine):

‘The first great masterpiece of the globally warmed generation. Here is an American classic which, at a stroke, makes McCarthy a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature’ – Andrew O’Hagan.  ‘McCarthy conjures from this pitiless flight the miracle of unswerving humanity. Gripping beyond belief’ – Chris Cleave, “Sunday Telegraph”. ‘One of the most shocking and harrowing but ultimately redemptive books I have read. It is an intensely intimate story. It is also a warning’ – Kirsty Wark, “Observer Books of the Year”. ‘A work of such terrible beauty that you will struggle to look away. It will knock the breath from your lungs’ – Tom Gatti, “The Times”. ‘You will read on, absolutely convinced, thrilled, mesmerized. All the modern novel can do is done here’ – Alan Warner, “Guardian”. ‘A masterpiece that will soon be considered a classic’ – “Herald”. ‘McCarthy shows that he is one of the greatest American writers alive’ – “Times Literary Supplement”.

Mrs Tomlin says:

“‘The Road’ is a compelling read that I found moving in many ways. I didn’t want to put it down but at the same time was desperate for it to reach some conclusion – but also feared that conclusion. I am ambivalent about the upcoming film: the haunting and gripping dystopic world will adapt well to the screen but some of the moments of great tension (what IS in that abandoned house?) will work better for someone who has not read the book. Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee will need to convey acute intimacy and carry the film and have in same way Will Smith carried the film adaptation of ‘I Am Legend’. I hope they’re up to it but I may not able to go through their traumas with them. Once was enough!”

The film came out on 8 January 2010 here in the UK and a review from Time Out London follows:

“When Cormac McCarthy’s brutal saga of post-apocalyptic angst won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007, a big screen adaptation became inevitable. Whether or not this was a good idea seemed irrelevant: it was a bestselling book with a timely, inherently cinematic theme; the movie had to be made.

‘The Proposition’ director John Hillcoat’s film is as direct and unflinching an adaptation as one could reasonably hope for. A man (Viggo Mortensen) and a boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) wander the American wasteland after an unnamed ecological disaster. The trees are bare, the animals dead, the few human survivors starving, desperate, often violent, occasionally monstrous.‘The Road’ is certainly the bleakest and potentially the least commercial product in recent Hollywood history. Both book and movie suffer from the same inherent weakness – they exist purely to make you miserable. Sure, there’s a smattering of subtext – a little eco-politics here, a spot of family psychology there – but the central purpose is to break your heart and shatter your soul.

On which level, Hillcoat’s movie is a resounding triumph. Stunning landscape photography sets the melancholy mood, and Nick Cave’s wrenching score reinforces it. But it is the performances that ultimately hold the film together. We expect this kind of selfless professionalism from Mortensen, and McPhee is appropriately sad-eyed as his long-suffering son, but it’s the incidental characters who steal the show, notably Robert Duvall in a startling cameo which not only distils the film’s key themes into a single three-minute scene, but singlehandedly lifts a potentially drab affair into something quietly impressive. Just don’t expect to walk out smiling…”

Does this make you want to read the book or see the film?  Sounds like a fascinating read to me!  When you have read or seen  it, please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments here…

Just in:  a new review of the book by Ms Asfar:

“If, like me, you are struggling with SAD(seasonally adjusted disorder), and yearning to be in warmer and sunnier climates, you may feel a tad apprehensive about reading The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.  This is a tale set in post-apocalyptic America.  A catastrophic event has all but decimated life on earth.  What remains is a ravaged, desolate landscape.    You can picture the unnamed man leading his innocent son through the burnt remains, searching for morsels of food whilst being stalked by cannibals.  The weary man must lead his son to the coast where they may be safe.  However, the journey exposes the brutish and anomic world that they exist in.  Bordering on starvation and exposed to the punishing elements, all they have is a pistol with two bullets for protection.  Now this may seem like a grim and relentless tale and McCarthy skillfully creates these powerful and haunting images, he is also able to draw out emotions of warmth, love and hope out of the despair.  The road is a beautifully written story about a father’s love and adoration for his son.  It gives hope when there may be none and inspires us to have faith, where giving up would be both rational and understandable.  It is a heart warming tale of humanity rising from the ashes of despair.  In a cold and desolate world, where inhumanity and barbarism prevail, a father’s love for his son gives him the strength to go on.  A gripping read.”

Berkhamsted School Library Blog


We hope that you will visit us regularly and keep up with the discussions being posted. We also hope that you will assist us with sending your comments and views on: books ( fiction and non-fiction), films, plays and anything else that inspires you to open up discussion and thought. Send all your reviews on the blogsheet( available  from the libraries and linked on here)

The first book up for discussion and comments is My Sister’s Keeper by Jodie Picoult

Review from Mrs Rose and her book club girls  

My sister’s keeper by Jodi Picoult had left a big impression on some of us and after a quick outline of the story we all joined in on a lively discussion.

Synopsis from the book jacket
“Sara Fitzgerald’s daughter Kate is just two years old when she is diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia.  Reeling with the helpless shock of it, Sara knows she will do anything – whatever it takes – to save her child.

Then the test results come back time and again to show that no one in their family is a match for Kate.  If they are to find a donor for the crucial bone marrow transplant she needs, there is only one option:
creating another baby, specifically designed to save her sister.  For Sara, it seems the ideal solution.  Not only does Kate live, but she gets a beautiful new daughter, Anna too.

Until the moment Anna hands Sara the papers that will rock her whole world.  Because, aged thirteen, Anna has decided that she doesn’t want to help Kate live any more.  She is suing her parents for the rights to her own body”.  Hodder & Stoughton, 2004

Impressions and divided opinions

The book had left a deep impression on those of us that had read the book and we were divided in opinion.  Here are some of our thoughts and questions.

“If I was a parent I would want to do anything to save my child”

“But what about the rights of the child, is it right for them to be forced to endure surgical/medical procedures”

“Should a child be old enough to give their consent to help another person in this way?”

“Should we be intervening in life and death?”

“Should there be laws in place to protect children being used this way?”

Comments please.Do you agree or disagree?

Further information on Jodie Picoult and her other novels can be found on her website at :