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…
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Holiday reading…

Just back from a family holiday and I’m pleased to say that I’ve managed to read five books so far this summer!  They were a varied group of books and I hope you like some, if not all, please let me know what you think!

It was lovely to begin the summer break, after the madness which always ends the school year, with Katie Fforde‘s Summer of Love. The paperback copy’s blurb has the following to say:

‘Sian Bishop has left the hustle and bustle of the city behind and has thrown herself into a new life in the country. With her young son, her picture-postcard garden and her small thriving business, she’s happy and very busy. She is not – repeat not – looking for love.  And then, one glorious summer evening, Gus Beresford arrives.  One-time explorer, full-time heart-breaker, Gus is ridiculously exciting, wonderfully glamorous – and, Sian tells herself, completely wrong for a romantically cautious single woman like her.  But she and Gus have met before. And, despite Sian’s best intentions, it isn’t long before she’s falling for him all over again …’

Katie Fforde leads us through Sian’s struggles with her emotions and her common sense, it’s a funny and lighthearted read and got me into my reading frame of mind.

Following on from this, came Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending. This proved such a contrast and reminded me of William Boyd’s style of writing.  I thoroughly enjoyed Barnes’s storytelling, his use of language skilfully portraying the dusty atmosphere of reminiscence over events from Tony Webster‘s past, and the realisation of how past events reveal the difference in their meaning to the individuals concerned.   Tony, the narrator, tells the history of his relationship with three of his classmates from school and how, after they finish school, they begin to drift apart, except that one of his friends appears to be seeing Tony’s ex-girlfriend.  The repercussions of this new relationship are far-reaching and their impact is not felt until the closing chapters of the book.  It’s well-written and truly deserving of it’s winning of the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

Vita Sackville-West‘s novel, All Passion Spent was my third book.  I cannot get over how much I enjoyed this missive, superbly written with careful choice of just the right words, Sackville-West’s delightful story of Lady Slane, her life, her love for her husband, her travels abroad with him (based, no doubt, on Sackville-West’s voyages with her husband, Harold Nicolson, when he was employed as an ambassador for the United Kingdom) opens new horizons and views on the lives of those who did travel like this during Britain’s Imperial days of the nineteenth century.  Sackville-West explores the position of the wife of an important statesman, appearing to assume a role in the background of her household, much loved by her husband however, but much misunderstood by her children as a result.  Her children are perplexed and confused as to why she chooses to live an independent life after the death of her husband when she is 88 years old, but she makes it clear that she wishes to live out the rest of her days as quietly as possible, to share them with her maid Genoux and a few select visitors who are entertaining.  It is a witty tale and I’ve been struck by one thing Lady Slane feels towards the end of her story:

“… [she felt herself] wondering why, at the end of one’s life, one should ever trouble to read anything but Shakespeare; or for the matter of that, at the beginning of one’s life either, since he seemed to have understood both exuberance and maturity.”

For my fourth choice of reading matter, I chose a non-fiction title: Life With The Lid Off by Nicola Hodgkinson.  The author tells of how her life was turned upside down when her husband left her and her young family to pursue a life with someone new but she tells it in such a way that shows no bitterness and often her sense of humour shone through, making me laugh out loud.  She shows how life in this new situation can be survived and only briefly touches on the pain she has suffered, and hardships and difficulties she  faced in coming to terms with her new situation.  Hodgkinson talks about her purchase of a gypsy caravan and how she bought a cottage on the Suffolk coast, gradually integrating herself and her family into the small local community.  I loved it!  Both this title and All Passion Spent will be forming part of our Mood Boosting Book Week in school in October.

My last completed book for the time being is Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress Another fabulous book!  I loved her easy style which relayed a fascinating take on World War II from the perspective of three women: a young American journalist as she reports from London to a broadcaster based in the States about the Blitz and its effects on London’s citizens, the new wife of a doctor who feels compelled to travel to London to assist with casualties of the Blitz and the postmistress, who runs the post office in the small town in Cape Cod, also home to the doctor and his wife.  Blake weaves her story around the lives of these three women and shows how they all come together in the end.  Her prose passionately reflects the feelings, fears and hopes of these women.

I’m currently reading and enjoying Annie Proulx’s novel The Shipping News.  Unfortunately I saw the film first but sufficiently long ago not to spoil the enjoyment of the book so far…

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…