Heart-shaped Bruise (Tanya Byrne)

I know it’s a little while ago now but this is our book club report for 18th September!  It’s been such a busy start to our academic year, what with an inspection (very good) and lots of events going on in and around school such as Open Days, European Day of Languages, Bookbuzz and more…  So I am finally getting round to telling you about our meeting!

We met, as has become our habit, in a local hostelry, where the tea and coffee is very good!  We started by talking about our holiday reading, which, given that we’re avid readers, I felt that we could just share a few of them with you here.

  1. Wicked girls – Alex Marwood
  2. Dark matter – Michelle Paver
  3. Death comes to Pemberley – P D James
  4. The Thread – Victoria Hislop
  5. The weight of silence – Heather Gudenkauf
  6. A time to dance – Melvyn Bragg
  7. Lia’s guide to winning the lottery – Keren David
  8. Saturday supper club – Amy Bratley
  9. Reading in bed – Sue Gee
  10. Wonder – R J Palacio
  11. Shogun – James Clavell
  12. Life with the lid off – Nicola Hodgkinson*
  13. All passion spent – Vita Sackville-West*
  14. The shipping news – E. Annie Proulx**
  15. The sense of an ending – Julian Barnes*
  16. Summer of love – Katie Fforde*

* see more information about these books here

** see more information about this book here

A core novel which most of us read was Tanya Byrne‘s debut novel, Heart-shaped Bruise. There were mixed reactions to the book, but most readers enjoyed it and found it a very interesting story of a young woman who finds herself in the psychiatric wing of a Young Offenders’ Institute, and, to keep the story a page-turner, you don’t discover what she’s done until the very end. Having written it as a journal, Emily records the sessions she has with her psychiatrist, her memories of events leading up to her arrival at the YOI and thoughts she has about the other inmates she lives with.  One member said that she thought the story was good and told from a very interesting perspective.  She loved the characters but wasn’t sure that she could identify with all of them.  Another of our members enjoyed some of the descriptive passages highlighting page 102:

“… and the light from the only window was filtered through the tired leaves of a spider plant that hung over the edge of the windowsill as though it was trying to summon the energy to throw itself into the bin beneath it.”
I enjoyed reading this book  as I felt engaged with the story and found the narrative convincingly observed the way that teenagers speak and behave.  We are eagerly awaiting Ms Byrne’s second novel…

Graham Greene returns to Berkhamsted School Reading Group!

At the second meeting of our reading group, held on Wednesday 23rd November 2011, we discussed two of Graham Greene’s works: The Third Man and The End of the Affair.  We had a lively discussion with our male members of the group liking the writing, although one preferred the latter and the other enjoyed the former.  The female members in attendance felt that Greene seems not to sympathise with his women, and certainly does not seem to care much for Anna Schmidt in The Third Man; Sarah Miles seems very much a secondary character and not dealt with particularly fairly in The End of the Affair.   His male characters do not appear particularly likeable either but are well-drawn.  We talked of the fact that both books are very much of their time and it was suggested that the film version of The Third Man is indeed very much better than the book with the sense of gloom and moodiness of post-war Vienna with Orson Welles playing the part of Harry Lime, Joseph Cotton as Rollo Martins and Trevor Howard taking the part of Major Calloway.  As Greene himself says: “My story, The Third Man, was never written to be read but only to be seen.  The story, like many love affairs, started at a dinner table and continued with headaches in many places:  Vienna, Ravello, London, Santa Monica….   The film, in fact, is better than the story because it is, in this case, the finished state of the story.’  Graham Greene, from an article appearing in his collection of essays entitled Ways of Escape.

A must for all of us who haven’t yet seen it, it came out in 1949, a year before the novel was published.

Of the two film adaptations of The End of the Affair, only the second with Ralph Fiennes playing the role of Maurice Bendrix and Julianne Moore as Sarah Miles, had been seen by group members (we have a copy of the dvd in our libraries, available to borrow).  One of the group preferred the film ending to that in the book, I would disagree and say that I enjoyed the ending as Greene wrote it!  What do you think?

Four of us enjoyed the style and his use of language but the remaining four were less enthusiastic.  Sue and I found certain phrases and sentences which, on the face of it appear innocuous, but which struck a chord given certain experiences we’ve lived through.  Nevertheless, we all felt that it was good to read these titles and had a good chat about Greene’s life and how we could see influences of his beginnings, here at Berkhamsted, and life during the forties and fifties, with the long-lasting effects of World War II still hanging over the literary circles of the time.  We are fortunate here in Berkhamsted to be hosts to some of the events of the Graham Greene Festival which takes place at the end of September/beginning of October each year, if you are a fan of Graham Greene, why not come next year?

The Way

Miss Burt and Mrs Maxted went to see Emilio Estevez’s film  The Way yesterday evening at The Rex cinema in Berkhamsted.  They enjoyed the film immensely, finding that it inspired them to consider making the pilgrimage (walking along a route through the Pyrenees from a starting point in France to Santiago in Spain where the remains of St James the Apostle are said to rest) at some time in the future…  The Way tells the story of a widowed father, who is contacted by French police.  They inform him that his son has been killed during a storm, just after he began his walk along the Camino de Santiago and he arranges to fly over from California to bring his son’s body home to America.  Once there, as he starts to sift through his son’s belongings, he makes the decision to make the pilgrimage himself, taking his son’s cremated remains with him.  Setting off alone, he encounters three individuals, each with their own reasons for following the Camino, who irritate him intensely at first, only to become friends as their journey continues.  This film is beautifully shot and crafted and the acting, for the most part, superb.  Worth taking time out to view…

Le premier jour du reste de ta vie (Film: The first day of the rest of your life)

This is a wonderful French film shown yesterday evening (Wednesday 17th March) at the equally wonderful Rex Cinema.  It tells the story of a family growing up where each family member has his or her own day defining the beginning of the rest of their lives.  It covers a time span of twelve years and begins with eldest son, Albert, taking the decision to move out of the family home and have his dog put down, and that same day, finds the girl whom he is to marry.  For each family member, the story continues to take them through each day which is important to them, whether it be their 16th birthday (Fleur), the day grandfather offers to teach younger son, Raphael, about wine, the car accident which almost kills mother Marie-Jeanne or the day when father Robert learns of his life-threatening illness.

‘Le premier jour…’  is beautifully and tenderly filmed, showing plenty of humour and typical French wit.  I’m about to buy a copy of the DVD…!

Mr Grant’s books for World Book Day 2010

On Thursday 4th March, 2010, World Book Day, we asked teachers to talk to their classes about their favourite books or books they are currently enjoying.  Mr Grant spoke with his classes about a number of books.

The first is Gunter Grass’s ‘The Tin Drum’.   Nielsen Bookdata Online says of the book:

‘The publication of The Tin Drum in 1959 launched Gunter Grass as an author of international repute. Bitter and impassioned, it delivers a scathing dissection of the years from 1925 to 1955 through the eyes of Oskar Matzerath, the dwarf whose manic beating on the toy of his retarded childhood fantastically counterpoints the accumulating horrors of Germany and Poland under the Nazis.’

This was followed by ‘The Wild Things’ by Dave Eggers:

‘Seven-year-old Max likes to make noise, get dirty, ride his bike without a helmet, and howl like a wolf. In any other era, he would be considered a boy. In 2007, he is considered willful and deranged. His home life is problematic. His parents are divorced; his father, immature and romantic, lives in the city. His mother has taken up with a younger man who steals quarters from the change bowl in the foyer. Driven by a series of pressures internal and external, Max leaves home, jumps in a boat and sails across the ocean to a strange island where giant beasts reign – “The Wild Things” from Maurice Sendak’s visionary classic. This is an all-ages adventure, full of wit and soul, that explores the chaos of youth while Max explores the chaos of the world around him.’

Thirdly, Mr Grant talked about Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All The Pretty Horses’:

‘This is Volume One of the “Border Trilogy”.  ‘A uniquely brilliant book …told in language as subtly beautiful as its desert setting. One of the most important pieces of American writing of our time’ – Stephen Amidon, “Sunday Times”. John Grady Cole is the last bewildered survivor of long generations of Texas ranchers. Finding himself cut off from the only life he has ever wanted, he sets out for Mexico with his friend Lacey Rawlins. Befriending a third boy on the way, they find a country beyond their imagining: barren and beautiful, rugged yet cruelly civilized; a place where dreams are paid for in blood. “All the Pretty Horses” is an acknowledged masterpiece and a grand love story: a novel about childhood passing, along with innocence and a vanished American age. Steeped in the wisdom that comes only from loss, it is a magnificent parable of responsibility, revenge and survival.’  Now this is a book that did translate beautifully to the big screen, very atmospheric. Matt Damon, as usual, was amazing in the role of John Grady Cole…  Must read and see…

All quotes are from Nielsen Bookdata Online.

Invictus (a film by Clint Eastwood)

‘From director Clint Eastwood, “Invictus” tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to help unite their country. 

 Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match. ‘  Invictusmovie, WarnerBros website

This film is amazing.  Matt Damon, whilst a lot shorter than Francois Pienaar, whom he portrays,  seems to have really got into his character and has taken to the game of rugby in a way hard to imagine that Americans could.  The film shows how Mandela inspired Pienaar to take rugby to all South Africans, not just the white South Africans who had hitherto dominated the game and ultimately bring the country closer together.  It also shows the journey the South African team make as they progress from poor performers to  successful winners.  As a non-rugby player myself, it did help going to see the Saracens play Worcester Warriors at Wembley just before going to watch the film!

Have you seen it?  What do you think? Please leave your comments here…