I always find it interesting when a few things happen that lead you to writing a post. That statement in itself sounds quite vague so I will explain as we go. The first was the title of today’s blog ‘Bookaholics Anonymous’ which was one of the options we could vote for as our book group name. Why did we need a name? Well we are being featured on the Faber website in the not to distant future and for that you need a name, I quite like it being named. After all the votes came in two names drew and now we are “The Riverside Readers (aka Bookaholics Anonymous)”, a title with alliteration and fun what more could a group ask for? Actually they could ask for a better founder as I havent told them the results… some of them will see on here, but as we arent all bloggers (which I really like) I might send an email shortly. Oops.
Now is a good time as any to give you an update on how the group is doing as we are almost at the six month mark, where has 2009 gone, could anyone please let me know. The book choices have been varied, the discussion has been great, the people are really nice and most importantly we have a really nice mixture of members (as you will see below bar Kimbofo as she took the picture and Claire was unable to attend for the last meeting) who all get on and yet have completely differing opinions and ways at looking at novels. In fact next month we are all having a meal out afterwards and doing a Secret Santa with, you guessed it, books! We are still in the honeymoon period so it could all change ha!
The Riverside Readers (aka Bookaholics Anonymous) L- R: Armen, Jackie, Dom, Polly, Annalisa, Harriet, Gemma, Me, Harriet
I then saw Novel Insights post on her top twelve (on for every month) book group choices, an idea as a post that I absolutely loved. I found it very interesting as we differ and yet have been in three book groups together, this one now, The Random Rogue Book Group (which is irregular and just us, the next reads are Peyton Place and Great Expectations over Christmas) and on we started at our old work about three years ago which still meets but rather like Geri with the Spice Girls or Robbie with Take That I quit rather sensationally. More on that next week when I discuss my top twelve books for a group (it’s a homage to Novel Insights not complete plagiarism) and also look at how a book group works and how it doesn’t, I hope that sort of post will appeal?
The subject of book group choices is one my Gran suddenly mentioned when we spoke on the phone the other day. She needs five titles to give to her group at their next meeting on which they will vote and one will be the next choice for discussion so she asked me. I feel I should mention my favourite quote of my Gran on the phone yesterday when discussing if I should read Madame Bovary was ‘I would describe her as a grade A b*tch… and one on heat’ oh how I love my Gran, she is down from the 5th of December so be warned she may take over or start a blog that week as she has asked me to show her the ropes.
Sorry I digressed there, I will blame my Gran. So she asked me what five books I would choose if I was her. I have them in my book notebook and will highlight them in my top twelve next week. For now though I will hand it over to you the great mass of Bookaholics Anonymous out there… What would be the five books you would currently choose for book group reads? I look forward to your thoughts and recommendations. Oh and to tug at the heart strings of those who dont normally comment… do it for my Gran, please, she would love it so.
What I genuinely love about book groups is that you end up reading fiction that you would possibly not normally read or even have ever heard of. One such book for me would be this month’s book group choice of Armen’s which was ‘Voice Over’ by Celine Curiol. I hadn’t heard of it or the author before, but then this is her debut novel and it has only recently be translated from French. Having now read it I am so unimpressed that I was not able to sit with the group last night and chat about it (well apart from the fact I am in Israel as you read this) because I would so love to hear other peoples opinions on this book and have a really good discussion about it because its one of those books you could discuss for quite some time.
Voice Over is told by a nameless female narrator, who also happens to be one of the most complex interesting and infuriating characters I have read in a very, very long time. She (its difficult to review a book where two of the main characters are nameless) works at the Gare Du Nord in Paris as the woman who announces the arrivals and departures of the trains. She is also an observer watching people as they go about their daily lives. She is also in love with a man, only the object of her affection is in love with another Ange. One night at a party the nameless pair kiss and from then on what was her love for this man becomes something along the lines of obsession.
However the man in question won’t be with her (though this slightly changes as the story progresses – will say no more), doesn’t call her very often and stays with Ange our narrator ends up in a depressive dangerous state, announcing she is ‘a prostitute’ at one of Ange’s parties, and then getting herself involved in some dangerous and dark situations because it seems she cant say no. A character that seems to draw drama to her and yet all at once a character who doesn’t value herself and so lets situations lead her rather than leading her own life.
Paris and its people are also big parts of the book. As I mentioned the main character is an observer and so you watch Parisian life, though admittedly through a slightly unpredictable and untrustworthy narrators eyes, and it bring up interesting subjects like the racial issues in Paris, the issues of jobs and the cost of life out there. However if you judged Paris on this book you would also think every man is a sex maniac as she appears to be propositioned at every turn endlessly just in the space of the few months we are in her life.
Sex is also high on the agenda and looks at people’s sexual habits and other peoples reactions to sex, it’s a very interesting look at humans and I personally like books like that, so if you do it will be the book for you. Though be forewarned there were moments on occasion where it made me want to throw it down in anger/frustration. How could the narrator be so naïve, I am not sure she really was, or stupid or feel so worthless to be in the positions she was? I found it ironic, and maybe this was the point, that a woman who did the voice over’s for the people in a station seemed very unable to find a voice herself. Finding a voice is not something the author Celine Curiol needs to worry about, her writing is taught, provocative, emotional, evocative and thought provoking all in a debut. I look forward to more of her works.
All these things made it such a great book to discuss, so as I said I am slightly miffed I haven’t been able to. Hopefully though some of you will have read it and will be able to let me know your thoughts! I would also love to know of any other great French fiction out there that I might have missed out on? What book group books have you read that you wouldn’t normally have done?
I have just managed to find an internet cafe in Tel Aviv so sent a few emails to tell everyone am ok and thought I would do a quick blog post on here to let you all know I am well and absolutely loving Israel even if it is slightly too hot for a northern british boy like myself. The people are lovely and the scenery is stunning, its a real mix of modern and old. If you love the 1930’s you must visit as walking through ‘the heart of Tel Aviv’ is like being in a film it unreal. Complete Art Deco heaven. Anyway I have had lots of questions from friends with book themes such as ‘have you read a lot’, ‘what are the book shops like if there are any’ and ‘have you managed to by more books than you can bring back’? All will be revealed when I get back.
One email I saw was the next book group choice email, sounds like an interesting book group was had discussing Armen’s choice ‘Voice Over’ by Celine Curiol. I was sadly not there as am here but my thoughts should be on the blog any minute now so you keep your eyes peeled. Claire was next to choose and she has chosen ‘I Served The King of England’ by Bohumil Hrabal which I have never heard of but sounds very interesting. “Sparkling with comic genius and narrative exuberance, “I Served the King of England” is a story of how the unbelievable came true. Its remarkable hero, Ditie, is a hotel waiter who rises to become a millionaire and then loses it all again against the backdrop of events in Prague from the German invasion to the victory of Communism. Ditie’s fantastic journey intertwines the political and the personal in a narrative that both enlightens and entertains.” Sounds like an unusual read which I am very much looking forward to. If you want to join the face to face group do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Right best be off back to the beach! Hope you are all well? Have I missed anything majorly bookish so far? Having no internet (it costs a fortune here) has been very strange as am missing catching up on your blogs and comments (which will do when back Sunday) and yet its nice because you forget how distracting, in the nicest ways, it can be and also feel out of the loop!
So last night was Book Group which I shall report back on in more detail in a blog below this one later. ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath was the book up for discussion, a book that I have always been intrigued in reading but haven’t ever picked up. Bizarrely I now have two copies as though I had a copy of Faber’s re-issue I then saw a fabulous psychedelic 60’s copy and grabbed it as it looked so special. Enough of the outside though, what did I think of what the delightful cover’s contained?
‘The Bell Jar’ was and is Sylvia Plath’s one and only novel. Published in 1963 a few months before she committed suicide though no one actually knows when she wrote it. This is the tale of Esther Greenwood, a young woman who seems to have it all, a debutant in New York taken on as an intern into the world of fashion media from the American country side and how this leads to some sort of breakdown.
The book is definitely one of two halves. The first in the busy and hectic setting of 1950’s New York where pretty much whatever Esther could want she is able to get. Her life evolves around freebies, lunches (one ending in a hilarious taxi ride and bathroom encounter of debutant food poisoning and its effects), parties and meeting strange and fascinating men. You would think this would be every young woman’s dream and indeed Esther once did though by the time we meet her it’s clear the shine has worn off. Everything is routine and alongside Doreen she starts to rebel, when this doesn’t work she simply counts down the days till she can be home writing and waiting for her scholarship to start.
The second part of the book is set ‘back home’ after the city life Esther finds herself more unhappy and once she is told (by her hopeless mother) that she no longer has a scholarship her dreams of writing are shattered and from this point on we watch as Esther methodically plans killing herself.
I had always thought that ‘The Bell Jar’ was an oppressive novel which may by the end leave you as depressed as the narrator. I didn’t find it so. Yes it’s incredibly dark, there is no mistaking that, but some of it is incredibly witty. I had no idea there would be so much humour in this book. Though I wouldn’t want her as a friend I loved Esther’s voice. Her opinions on everything, though she only ever has them internally, are incredibly observant and dry. I actually laughed out loud when she see’s her ‘forced’ beau naked and lets us know just what she thinks of that sight. One minute she is magnificently manipulative and cunning, the next she is naïve hopeless and childlike and always strangely likeable and irritating in one.
Is it autobiographical? I don’t think we will ever know how can we? I do in a way wish there was more of Plath’s fiction as I would definitely be an avid reader. I must admit as I am not the biggest fan of poetry I have never read her poems but I am definitely going to give them a go.
I am really pleased to have read it finally, so pleased that both editions are now firmly ensconced on my bookshelves. I think its one of those books where if you haven’t read it then ‘you always mean to read it’, do you know what I mean? So what about all of you out there, what do you think of ‘The Bell Jar’?