The past year has seen our group add a new dimension to our reading experience. One of our members has an extensive collection of DVDs and has generously invited us to her home on a monthly basis to view films based on books. Among others, we have viewed “Memoirs of a Geisha” (Arthur Golden), “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” (John Fowles), “The Notebook” (Nicholas Sparks) and “A Room With a View” (E M Forster), all modern classics.
For this year we chose books from the Queen’s Jubilee list – only a few reading group sets from this are stocked by the library – including Iris Murdoch’s “The Bell”: we considered her prose style cumbersome, and did not warm to the characters.
Other reading has included Kate Adie’s hilarious account of her early days in journalism and as a BBC foreign correspondent “The Kindness of Strangers”, and two autobiographies: Captain Tom Moore’s “Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day” and Tim Peake’s “Limitless”. Both men had a very positive outlook on life, loved the outdoors and challenges, and were keen to learn and advance in their careers. Very different was Maggie O’Farrell’s account of 17 near death experiences in “I Am, I Am, I Am”, some of which were quite shocking and terrifying.
Fiction has covered a wide range of subjects, from the rollicking 18th century-set tale “The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock” by Imogen Hermes Gowar (involving a sea captain, his niece, a courtesan, historically accurate depictions of high class bawdy houses, their madams and frequenters – and of course the mermaid - or was it?) to two classic novels: “The Haunted Hotel” by Wilkie Collins, which we agreed was not one of his best, and “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Brontë. The latter has been belatedly recognised as an important early feminist work, covering addiction and domestic abuse, and Anne’s literary reputation has soared. Anne’s sister Charlotte suppressed the manuscript after Anne’s early death, judging these subjects unfit for a novel written by a young lady! We also read one of the year’s best-selling crime stories “The Appeal” by Janice Hallett. This proved a “marmite” book with some loving it and others hating it, mainly because of the format: the book is written entirely in emails and WhatsApp messages. This might, of course, be considered the modern equivalent of the format of Anne Brontë’s novel, which was written as a series of letters to a friend.