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Decision Time on Jane Gardam, Elizabeth Gaskell and Amitav Ghosh

Sample Sunday is an opportunity to check all the books on my shelves and decide what to keep

In this episode of Sample Sunday I’m moving to the letter G on my bookshelves, picking out three book written by authors whose names all begin with that letter, and trying to decide which books to keep and which to let go.

Last Friends by Jane Gardam

I don’t understand how I came to have this book because it’s the final instalment in a trilogy and I haven’t read, nor do I own, parts one and two. Seems an odd purchase. Anyway, this is a sequence of novels about a marriage between Edward, a successful barrister who spent most of his career in South East Asia and Betty, the woman he married after she was released from an internment camp. Book one tells the story of their life together from his perspective, Betty gets her turn in book 2 and then Last Friends shows the marriage from a third person – Betty’s on-off lover and Edward’s nemsis.

The Verdict: Let go. It’s pointless holding on to this when the story line doesn’t sound that interesting, certainly not enough to want to read books 1 and 2 before I could even tackle this one.

Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell

This is much more to my taste. The main character is an orphaned young seamstress who catches the eye of a gentleman. He abandons her but not before getting her pregnant. She gets a chance to make a new life but when her former lover turns up again she has to choose whether to save her reputation or her pride..

The Verdict: Keep. The Gaskell novels I’ve enjoyed most are those that deal with gritty social issues so the theme of the fallen woman in this novel has a strong appeal.

The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

Ghosh’s sixth novel is set in mangrove-covered islands in the estuary of the Ganges River where settlers live in fear of drowning tides and man-eating tigers. A young American marine biologist of Indian descent, arrives in this lush, treacherous landscape in search of a rare species of river dolphin and enlists the aid of a local fisherman and a translator. Together the three of them launch into the elaborate backwaters, drawn unawares into the powerful political undercurrents of this part of the world.

The setting is appealing but I’ve seen a few comments along the lines that this is a rambling story that tries to cover too much ground – love, class-difference, political conflict, natural and man-made catastrophes.

The Verdict: I’m tempted to keep. I’ve read one other novel by Ghosh – The Glass Palace – and it was the setting and evocation of a culture that I enjoyed most. So if those two elements are evident in The Hungry Tide I think I’m on to a winner.

Sample Sunday is when I take a look at all the unread books on my shelves and decide which to keep and which to let free. The goal isn’t to shrink the TBR as such, but rather it’s about making sure my shelves have only books I do want to read. What do you think of the decisions I’ve reached? If you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear from you.

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