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Top ten Tuesday: book club recommendations

The Broke and Brookish this week is looking for suggestions for book club reading.

This wouldn’t be an easy one for me since our book club has rather wide ranging tastes – each person chooses a book so it reflects their taste rather than necessarily what the club as a whole likes. We went down the path of chick lit for a while turned me off but I’ve been introduced to some new authors in other month so it’s almost balanced out. For me a good book club read is one that has plenty of issues and dimensions that can lead to a good discussion – I want more than someone saying “I picked this because I thought it would be fun” and that’s all they can say about the book (believe me it has happened). The book choice doesn’t have to be particularly weighty but something to at least get your teeth into.

If I had my wishlist it would include:


I’ve gone for a mixture of styles, subjects and country of origin of the author (too many book clubs seem to focus only on Western literature).

  1. The Many by Wyl Menmuir reviewed here. A Booker long listed title from 2016 that I thought superb. It keeps you guessing about what the main message is.
  2. Another Booker 2016 candidate – and one I would dearly have loved to see win – is Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing which traces the effect of Communist rule on three musicians. It’s an epic that stretches across centuries and countries. Not always easy to grasp it had tremendous emotional power. Reviewed here 
  3. The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw. Set in Japan, a wonderful elliptical story in which a professor of law tells a story about his father’s fascination with traditional Japanese jigsaw puzzles.It’s a metaphor for how our lives are constructed by fragments. Reviewed here 
  4. The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien. Set in a remote Irish village it examines what happens when a dictator on the run from atrocities he committed in his country attracts the attention of a lonely housewife. This book will have you thinking about actions and consequences and forgiveness.  Reviewed here 
  5. From Korea comes a book that was a knock out bestseller and not just in Korea. Please Look After Mom  by Shin Kyung-sook looks at the mother-child relationship which is thrown into question when an elderly mother goes missing in an underground station while on her way to visit her children. As they search for her they discover secrets about her life and uncomfortable truths about their own attitudes.Reviewed here 
  6. Possession by A. S Byatt was my choice when I joined the book club. I wasn’t sure I had make the right choice until the meeting but surprisingly we had a great discussion about the different forms possession can take -whether for artifacts f the past or for another individual. Reviewed here
  7. Holiday by Stanley Middleton.Who is he I can hear you asking. Not surprised really.Despite having written more than 40 novels he has more or less disappeared from our radar. A pity. This is a short novel from 1974 in which a middle aged man facing a crisis is his marriage takes a spur of the moment holiday at the seaside. It’s the same resort he visited year after year as a child when his parents took him for their annual holiday. Reflections of those times  days mingle with more recent and more bitter memories. Good for discussions around nostalgia and relationships. Reviewed here 
  8. L’Assommoir by Emile Zola. It’s not the first book in Zola’s Rougon-Marquet series of 20 titles but this doesn’t matter too much. Read it for its superb rendition of life on the breadline in nineteenth century Paris. You can, if your book club is of an academic mind, get into all kinds of discussion about Zola’s theory of naturalism and inherited conditions. Reviewed here
  9. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Chances are that your club has already read Half a Yellow Sun which is an earlier novel by Adichie. Americanah gives a view of life for a girl who leaves Nigeria – one of the people who achieves the dream – only to find its not what she expected. Can she make a new life or do the ties that bind back to the homeland prove stronger? It’s a novel about choices you make to fit in with a new way of life and how experience changes you. It might sound rather sombre but there are some outstandingly funny scenes in a hairdressing salon. Reviewed here
  10. Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan: We hope this never happens to anyone. But it does. What if you were one of the passengers in a ferry or cruise liner that is sinking. You’ve got yourself into a lifeboat and are now waiting for rescue. But days go by, water and food supplies dwindle. Who gets to live in those circumstances?  Who deserves to die?  And who has the right to make those decisions?  Those questions lie at the heart of Charlotte Rogan’s debut novel. This isn’t the best written novel I read in 2013 but it was one that stimulated a lot of discussion in our book club meeting. Reviewed here 

Those are just some of the books I’d suggest. What would your recommendations be?

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan: Review

lifeboatWhen an author squashes a  disparate group of passengers from a luxury ocean liner  into a small lifeboat and sets them adrift in a mid Atlantic, it’s likely a high quota of the narrative will feature tales of endurance against the elements and hostilities between the survivors.  As the castaways in The Lighthouse see hopes of an early rescue fade, their struggle for survival takes on a far more menacing aspect. For some of them to survive, some of them must die.

Who gets to live in those circumstances?  Who deserves to die?  And who has the right to make those decisions?  Those questions lie at the heart of Charlotte Rogan’s debut novel.

It’s an extraordinarily intense narrative told through the eyes of one passenger, twenty-two- year-old Grace Winter. Newly-married Grace is onboard the luxury liner  Empress Alexandra when it sinks after a mysterious explosion.  Her rich banker husband Henry dies but Grace manages to squeeze into an already-overloaded lifeboat minutes before it pushes away from the wreckage, ignoring the screams of other passengers fighting to stay afloat in the icy waters.

Against all the odds, some passengers from Lifeboat 14 do survive. I’m not giving away any spoilers here because the book actually opens with Grace on trial for murder. Her account of almost three weeks at sea is a retrospective journal written on the advice of her defence lawyer.

How much can we trust her version of events which culminates in the murder of Captain Hardie, the only trained sailor on Lifeboat 14?

We know she is a single-minded woman; one of life’s natural survivors (her surname may be a hint to her true character). Even her marriage was the result of a determined effort to track down and marry a wealthy young man so she wouldn’t face a life of poverty after  her father’s bankruptcy and suicide. In the lifeboat she is similarly astute; carefully navigating the politics over who sits where, finely judging the nature of each passenger and questioning the Captain’s account of what happened on the Empress Alexandra.

Now she faces another fight for her life:

 “You survived out there in the boat, now you have to survive in here,” says her lawyer. “And don’t make the mistake of thinking the situation is any different now.”

Whether she convinces the jury of her innocence is something you’ll have to read the book to discover. But she doesn’t convince her fellow passengers  “You’re not as weak as you pretend to be,” hisses her co-defendent Hannah at one point during the trial.

Innocent or guilty,  in Grace Winter, Charlotte Rogan has created a character of tremendous psychological power; a character whose true nature remains a mystery to the end.

It’s a tremendous read. One definitely not to be missed.

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