Tag Archives: Elaine di Rollo

Can a Book Group Be Bad For a Book?

Both whilst recording the latest episode of The Readers Summer Book Club and then compiling my post on the book, ‘Bleakly Hall’ by Emlaine Di Rollo, itself afterwards has raised a question in my head… Can a book group be a bad thing for certain books and the reading experience around them?

One of the things I love most about a book group is the discussion, the gossip; chatting and wine afterwards is all a bonus. I have found with book groups in the past that discussing a book I didn’t like and hearing everyone else’s thoughts on it can sometimes make me d a complete 180 with my opinion. It can also be an utter joy, and rather bonding as I found with ‘Mary Barton’, if you all loathe a book and can sit and pick it apart. Yet what if you really enjoyed reading a book and others pick it apart, can it kill it for you?

This has very rarely happened to me before in any book groups that I can think of. Why is this so? Well I think it is because I tend to be more critical about books I am reading with my ‘book group’ brain on, yes even more so than when I am reading a book to review. With reviews I analyse the way a book made me feel and the questions it raises itself of makes me ask myself, yet with a book group book I tend to pick it apart all the more. Or maybe I do this all the time and yet am only aware of it when prepping for a book club – yes indeed, I prep.

It is this very reason why I have never suggested reading a Daphne Du Maurier book as a choice of my own to any group I have been part of, other members have and I have always been quite fearful that my favourite authors work will be picked to death and my love of Daphers altered. Fortunately Daphne tends to be so wonderful that this rarely happens.

Yet for the first time ever recently as I read a book I was thoroughly enjoying, the aforementioned ‘Bleakly Hall’, I found that as I knew I would be discussing it in detail I started to pick it apart as I read not afterwards. Normally I always do this afterwards, not during, and I am not sure why it changed with this book but I ended up almost sabotaging reading it because I was pre-empting the questions/reactions/subjects that the book would raise. It had a house of cards effect/loose thread effect and I started picking.

This then made me wonder if some books are just not book group books. For example, and I am not comparing ‘Bleakly Hall’ to this series it is just an example, I would never take an Agatha Raisin mystery to a book group. It and I would be annihilated and those, for me, are just books I read for pleasure, no more no less and there is nothing wrong with books that you simply read and are entertained by the whole way through. I think ‘Bleakly Hall’ would have been just such a book if I wasn’t reading it in the context I did.

So I wondered if any of you had found that there are some books that simply should be avoided as book group choices. Obviously with book group books the idea is no one has read them and so there is always the risk it won’t work I suppose but maybe some experiences/titles stick out in particular? Do you agree some books should simply be read and enjoyed, not picked apart or should all books be treated with the same analytical internal eye of a reader?

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Bleakly Hall – Elaine Di Rollo

I have often spouted about the fact that whether you enjoy a book can be down to everything being aligned right, your mood, the weather, the seasons and other such things. Some people doubt this; I however think it is the truth. One thing I do forget about is that why you are reading a book can sometimes affect your thoughts on it too. ‘Bleakly Hall’, by Elaine Di Rollo is one such book. It is one that as I read it, I was utterly under its spell and yet because I was reading it for The Readers Summer Book Group I knew I would have to talk about it and so think I might have over analysed it and overly questioned it meaning in hindsight I traipsed all over its sparkle. Let me explain further…

Vintage Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 360 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘Bleakly Hall’ is really a book of two halves (which sounds like I am starting with a cliché) one half of the story is that of the people working and staying at a hydropath after the First World War, Monty and Ada having been two female comrades on the frontlines, Monty having been a nurse and Ada an ambulance driver.

Monty also nursed with a woman called Sophia who died yet left an old score to settle with a Captain Foxley who Monty learns resides at ‘Bleakly Hall’ where Ada now works, the narrative switches between Monty coming to the hall to confront Foxley, but getting beguiled and sidetracked by staff and the likes while there, and the story of the war unfolding to reveal what happened to Sophia.

What is wonderful about this novel is also what in the end causes me to pick some faults in it. I loved the fact there was a mystery to the novel, what on earth had happened to Sophia, how was Foxley involved and why on earth did Monty have such a need to settle this old score? I loved the characters, Monty and Ada in particular but also Dr Slack (who had such an appropriate name I could almost feel Elaine Di Rollo joining me in a wry smile as I read on) and even the odd Blackwood brothers, the good one and the bad. I also really enjoyed the humour in the novel; it was thoroughly entertaining and occasionally laugh out loud funny.

‘Monty followed the doctor’s gaze. She did indeed look dreadful. Her cap was awry on her head, her hair limp and bedraggled. She had a surprised look on her face, as though still stunned by disembodied buttocks, shoving between anonymous thighs like a naked gardener wrestling with a reluctant wheelbarrow.’

It also provides a real lightness against the horrors of the war and the effects it leaves on people, which through the back story of Sophia and through some of the issues with the characters in the present, like Foxley who we learn is suffering post traumatic stress disorder, is incredibly moving and sometimes rather harrowing.

‘The first man they reached was dead. It was impossible to say why, as he seemed simply to be sleeping, his face peaceful beneath the smoky sky. The second and third were also dead, one having bled to death of a wound to the neck. He lay as though on a rust-covered carpet, a circle of his own blood sinking into the earth around him. The other had been shot through the head.’

So if I liked these two strands of the book, and the prose and style, where did it not work for me? Well firstly as I said I did really enjoy the book however, without giving any spoilers, there are some wonderful almost fairytale like set pieces in both the modern narrative and indeed some of the non WWI flashback sequences, such as one involving a hat being rescued from a bear compound, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading throughout. Yet because these have a sense of the surreal, slightly farcical and magic this feeling is at complete odds with the utter horror which we witness through all the characters memories of war, these in turn making the book seem a little disjointed. It’s enjoyable but becomes implausible.

Now I know not all books should be realistic, I don’t expect them to be and enjoy escapism of all types, but the world they create be it one we know or not should feel fully formed or cohesive and yet the sections of the book in the war don’t match the ones in ‘Bleakly Hall’, yet Bleakly Hall’s whole story wouldn’t exist without the war, Monty knowing Ada and wanting to confront Captain Foxley. I hope all this makes sense because in over analysing it for a book club I think I may have over thought about it.

I think had I not been reading ‘Bleakly Hall’ as a book to dissect and discuss I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It’s a funny, dark and moving story brimming with wonderful set pieces and larger than life characters. It’s a book that entertains you and while it has a few flaws here and there (and not many books are flaw free) takes you to a slightly bonkers and bizarre world. Some books should simply be read and enjoyed, not dissected, this is one of them.

Has anyone else read this or Elaine Di Rollo’s other novel? I would love to hear your thoughts on the book, I will certainly read more. If you would like to hear the author discussing the book you can on this week’s episode of The Readers Summer Book Club here.

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Filed under Elaine Di Rollo, Review, The Readers Summer Book Club, Vintage Books

(Some of My) Summer Reading…

As it is just two weeks away, I thought I would give you a reminder that The Readers Summer Book Club is just around the corner. I am not suggesting that you read every single one of the eight books on the list, though if you wanted to that would be lovely (and they are available in libraries here there and everywhere from what we gather, so we aren’t trying to flog books) as we would love to get as many of you, wherever in the world you are, taking part in what we hope is going to be a worldwide book club.

Here is a picture of all the books in the order we are reading them (I have read three now and liked every single one and I am not just saying that) with the dates below…

28th May – The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
4th June – Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
11th June – Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
18th June – Bleakley Hall by Elaine di Rollo
25th June – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
2nd July – Now You See Me by S.J Bolton
9th July – Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
16th July – Pure by Andrew Miller

We are still looking for victims volunteers to join us on ‘the discussion panel’ part of the show, so if you have read any of these already, or you want to (and there is a free copy of the book if you do) and would like to speak to us on Skype with some other readers about them, love them or loathe them, then we would love to hear from you via bookbasedbanter@gmail.com you can find more out about the summer shows here too.

What has been lovely to learn is that people are meeting up to discuss the books in the flesh too, and there is proof if you look at one of our goodreads forum threads. I will be talking about how books bring people together tomorrow. Interestingly, and on a similar theme, Gavin and I (with our OH’s) will be meeting in Cardiff next week and actually spending time with him face to face rather than on Skype. I am so excited about it I could burst, and meeting Gavin too. Ha! And seriously, please do let us know if you would like to join in and your thoughts on the books.

P.S if you are a Readers listener the podcast will be up later today, there was a technical fault, oops (just as there was with a post saying The Green Carnation Prize would be relaunching today when it is in fact next Monday the 21st, dear oh dear).

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The Readers Summer Book Club 2012

One of the projects I have been working on while away from the blogosphere for some time is The Readers Summer Book Club. I am really rather excited about this particular book based project because it is one that myself and the lovely Gavin have designed to be able to include all of you, no matter where in the world you are.

I try not to mention The Readers too much on here. I worry you will either think it’s using the blog for self promotion or come across as being a bit smug. My intention is never to be either of those things, if I bang on and on about something it is no doubt simply because I am bloody excited about it… so there! Anyway, as I say only too often on the show, ‘moving swiftly on…’

Recording the readers over the last six months has become one of my favourite parts of every week. Whilst I have only met Gavin in the flesh once, briefly, through endless hours of recording he has become a true friend. Recording a show takes roughly 2 – 3 hours and lots of editing afterwards (though if you are a subscriber and got an early version of Mondays episode you will notice there was an editing slip up and me saying ‘I couldn’t be a****d to say goodbye’ – how rude, many apologies). I can guarantee in that two hours of recording I will laugh the most I do at any point during the week, with the exception of Sarah Millican’s TV show maybe, for as well as the bookish banter that makes the show there is at least one hour of gossip and general madness that we cut but which adds to my week. So a little bit of thanks and a shout out to Gavin there, he’s ace, erm shall I get back on track and stop with the schmaltz?

Back to The Readers Summer Book Club 2012 though. A few episodes ago we were waffling on about Richard and Judy’s Book Club and the TV Book Club. We like both, don’t get us wrong, but when we were talking about it I was thinking ‘why don’t we do a book club?’ After all we have listeners all over the world, thanks to the joy of the internet, and what an interesting way of bringing a real mix of people together as we could have some of them on Skype with us to discuss the books and send in mp3 reviews etc. So the idea was born, the publishers contacted for submissions, and blow me down we got 146 suggested titles! Now, a good few weeks later, we have the final eight…

I am a little in love with this selection of books, if I say so myself. I think they show exactly where myself and Gavin’s taste for books merge and also reflects the fact that not everyone wants a throwaway read on their holiday. Reactions have been interesting both on GoodReads and on blogs like Curiosity Killed The Bookworm, Dog Ear Discs and Alex in Leeds, and part of what we wanted was to get people talking about the list, we are all about book based banter after all, but we didn’t make them calculatedly or to particularly surprise anyone (apparently I said this, but don’t remember doing so) because we haven’t read any of them. In fact scrap that, we have now both read ‘Pure’ as we are interviewing Andrew Miller tonight as he is a very busy man, but we hadn’t read any books on the list before we announced it, we may have dipped in but it was all done on what we fancied reading and might test us both a little (the fact I chose Ernest Cline, for example), I would say, and not as a plug, that if you want to hear why we chose them have a listen to the latest episode and you will see.

So how can you get involved (and I really would love you all to)? Well, the way the show will work is that Gavin and I will interview the author for the first part of the show, asking any questions you have sent in (thanks for those of you who have sent in some for Andrew Miller later, keep them coming) the second part requires three guests who will join Gavin and I on Skype to talk about the book like a real book group, only recorded for 30 minutes. We need volunteers for this bit!!! We would also love mp3 reviews, or written ones we can pop on The Readers website which you can email to me savidgereads@gmail.com or bookbasedbanter@gmail.com  and discussion points too. So get involved!!!

For more info you can visit The Readers website, where you can listen to the special Readers Summer Book Club show (dates for each shows ‘airing’ will be up next week, we may swap some around due to international release dates). But while you are here, before you whizz over there, what do you think of the list? Have you read any? Keen to? Oh, and please spread the word, lets get lots of people joining in!!

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Filed under Book Group, Book Podcasts, The Readers Podcast