Friday, 3 December 2010

List of upcoming book-film adaptations

In this post at Ripple Effects blogger Arti lists books that are currently in the process of being made into films. They might provide some ideas for future schedules.

Of course, we don't know from this list how imminent they are but it's a start. There are some interesting ones here including:

  • 1984
  • On Chesil Beach;
  • The book thief
  • The great Gatsby (again!); and
  • several other classics, again
If there are any books in Arti's list that we haven't read and you'd like us to consider, let me know and I'll add it to the schedule suggestions list in the sidebar.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

More reading suggestions

Hi, Some ideas for future discussions:

It's probably worth putting down the PM's Prize Winner: Eva Hornung for her novel Dog Boy on our list of suggested reads for next year.

Also Booker Prize winner: Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question 'a novel about love, loss and male friendship, and explores what it means to be Jewish today. Said to have ‘some of the wittiest, most poignant and sharply intelligent comic prose in the English language', The Finkler Question has been described as ‘wonderful' and ‘richly satisfying' and as a novel of ‘full of wit, warmth, intelligence, human feeling and understanding'.'

The Thousand autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Having rashly offered to write up our very enjoyable October discussion, I'm now attempting to come up with the goods. Eight (or nine?) of us gathered and enjoyed a literary evening followed by yummy chocolate cake. Kate was so anxious not to miss anything that she even rushed back from Cairo in time. Is that a record?
As you'd expect, our responses to the book varied. At least three of those who finished it had found it really enjoyable. This conclusion was tempered by the confession that the previously studied David Mitchell novel, Cloud atlas had been enjoyed at the time too, except no-one seemed to remember what it had been about. This fate couldn't befall Thousand autumns though! We mostly agreed that it had been a vivid, gripping experience being taken back to Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate and stranded with the Dutch East India Company representatives on Dejima in Nagasaki Harbour, then taken up to a mysterious and sinister mountain shrine before finding ourselves on the deck of an English Man-of-War, creating havoc for all concerned.
Some of us found the cast of thousands hard to follow (and one of us was even driven to spreadsheet them all in her eagerness to keep up with the plot), but we agreed that the diverse characters were cleverly and engagingly created, so that we found ourselves in their heads and caring about them, and a couple of us had been moved to tears at different moments of the book.
There was the impression that a great deal of research and experience of Japanese culture was behind the well sustained authenticity of the world created, the invisible line between history and fiction, and we thought the novel was well paced and structured, with a satisfying, rather than anti-climactic ending.
We were impressed with the beauty of the language used and examples of the telling use of symbolism were discussed. The epic scope of the book was compared with Shogun, and the gradually revealed secrets of the shrine recalled The Name of the rose. Timeless themes were identified and discussed.
The comment was made that parts of the book were quite distressing and confronting. A more petty criticism raised was the misuse of the word "shall" by every character of every culture in the book, but nobody else agreed with me about that!
We thought the book would make a good movie, and speculated that the author had probably thought of that. However, on the basis of our discussion, a couple of us who hadn't finished the book decided not to wait for the movie but to get back into it forthwith.
Finally, I don't think even the fastidious Japanese could have queried the elegance of the tea sets that came with our yummy supper. Thanks Janet!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

So much for that, by Lionel Shriver

Courtesy: HarperCollins Australia
Nine Minervans, including new member Sue (welcome, Sue), met a few Tuesdays ago to discuss Lionel Shriver's latest novel, So much for that. The book was not universally loved by all members which resulted in a lively - though always respectful of course - discussion.

But first, the plot. The book starts with 48-year-old nice-guy Shep Knacker planning to escape the American rat-race to his dreamed of, and as it turns out ironically named, AfterLife in Pemba off Zanzibar. However, his plans are overturned by his wife’s announcement that she has a rare aggressive cancer called peritoneal mesothelioma and will need him to continue working, for his health insurance. Alongside Shep and Glynis’ experience of health service and insurance – and told in roughly alternating chapters – is that of their good friends Jackson and Carol whose 16-year-old daughter, Flicka, was born with the degenerative disease, familial dysautonomia. Two more health issues are added later in the book: Shep's father has a fall and needs to enter a nursing home, and Jackson undergoes some, let's call it, male "cosmetic" surgery which doesn't quite go according to plan. The novel plays these situations, economically, socially and psychologically to their relatively inevitable conclusions.

All this does make it sound a little contrived, which was one of the criticisms of the novel. Another criticism, somewhat related to this, was that it's a little too polemical. Some felt Shep was too good to believe. And some thought the ending was a cop-out which undermined the polemics. Then, of course, there were those who disagreed with these criticisms and who thought that the polemical aspect was balanced by her addressing other concerns such as the psychology of terminal illness, the language of health, and the implications of the American dream (or rat-race) from which Shep, for one, wished to escape.

Oh, and there were some things we all liked - such as the scene in which Shep and his free-loading sister discuss their father's post-operative care, and the clever title.

Not surprisingly with a book like this, discussion roamed beyond the book into Australia's health system and fears that it is slowly declining into something more American-like, particularly regarding things like funding and equity of access. We also talked about such issues as over-servicing or unnecessary servicing. Who makes the decision when, for example, tests are really needed and should be done, when treatment is no longer worthwhile and how do we define worthwhile?

This is a pretty superficial report of our discussion, but my excuse is that it was a while ago now. Comments elaborating on these - or anything I've missed are most welcome from those who were there and those who weren't.

Quote of the night: Celeste told us that after having an MRI some years ago she thought "I was relieved to find I had a brain". What a shame she had to go through an MRI to discover that. We've known for a long time that she has one! She only had to ask.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010 Peter Temple

Courtesy: Text Publishing
We decided to tackle, in August, the controversial Miles Franklin award winner Truth by Peter Temple, although none of us I think are crime genre readers as a rule. I think it took us all outside our comfort zone, and most found it somewhat cryptic and confusing to read. The main hero, Villani is somewhat stereotypical of the crime fiction/film noir character: a flawed and brooding character: good at his job, but somewhat stunted in his emotions and ability to form personal relationships. His outlook on life is pessimistic, and his personal life is coming apart. He is apparently attractive to women, has loyal colleagues, but with little time for the games and politics of the organisation.

Villani’s relationship with his father was one of the more interesting aspects of the novel, and gave some insight into his emotional limitations, his sense of responsibility and his somewhat terse communication style. A very male oriented book, it was interesting to see Villani and his dad, both fiercely independent, but with a respect for each other, and a shared love of the forest they had planted and nurtured. Villani’s doomed marriage, and his questioning of his immersion in his work were part of the self-reflections in the book, which focussed pretty squarely on this central character.

Two themes in our discussion resonated with me:
  1. How authentic is the language he uses? The clipped, cryptic dialogue in particular
  2. The pessimism in the book and the world it represents

The language
The language is deliberately brief with little background to set the scene or help the reader follow the action clearly. It seems intended as a challenge, to see if the reader can follow the many plot lines and shorthand references to other characters or situations. The question for me was: what was the purpose of this style? My husband who also read the book, and who likes thrillers did not find this one easy to follow. Was it intended as authentic speech for police officers, and the other tough characters in the book? Was it a version of the stylised language of the genre?

I admit to challenging its authenticity: it read like a pared down film script, almost a caricature of the style, not really naturalistic, but also something of a barrier for the reader to engage in the plot twists and turns. It was a relief when the first person narration took over as Villani reflected on his family life, as these were the main areas I could follow what was going on. Admittedly the language helped build the tension, and sense of small pieces of jigsaw being pieced together or sometimes not. However I question the effectiveness of this style of language in communicating with the readers..or with me at least.

The pessimism
The world of the book is quite dark, and his view on human nature quite pessimistic. From a police officer’s point of view this could be quite valid, as their focus is certainly on the darker side of human nature. Temple himself, South African born, comes across with a certain tough pessimism, and a sense of futility about society and those in power. The politicians, chief police officers, businessmen all exhibited a threatening air, and Villani was wary and sceptical of their motives.

Our discussion moved on to whether the group felt a deepening pessimism about the nature of society, the sense of personal safety and cynicism we have. This on the eve of a fascinating election, where the Australian voters have expressed a sense of cynicism in the major political parties, and a search for some more authenticity, or ‘truthfulness’ in their communication with the electorate.

I feel there is a developing ‘old fogeyism’ among my peers, which assumes society is becoming more violent, dangerous, and insecure. In this post 9/11 world my understanding is that the rate of murders is relatively stable per head of population. I made a case for an evidence based attitude, rather than hearsay and fear. In researching the crime rate in Australia, I noted that rates for many crimes have actually increased over the last 10 years for instance, but that our fear of crime has increased disproportionally, and not necessarily in line with our risk (eg those over 65 are most fearful of crime, but are least likely to be a victim of crime).

I did also notice that our murder rate which was reported as 321 deaths in 1995, is still around the same as the rate of 20 per million which was the case in 1916. Ah statistics....

Anyhow an interesting discussion, and Peter Temple’s Truth certainly took us to some new territory, and gave us fruit for discussion. Some group members felt that Truth was not as good as The Broken Shore, so I have put in a request to borrow Temple’s earlier work from the library to read next, and give him another go...

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Solar, by Ian McEwan

Five Minervans met this week to discuss Ian McEwan's Solar. We missed those tripping in other parts of Australia (singing in the Red Centre for one, and sunseeking in Queensland for another) and those in their sickbeds. We wish you - you know who you are - a speedy recovery!
Used by permission of the Random House Group

A quick plot summary: Solar tells the story of aging Nobel Laureate physicist, Michael Beard, who at the beginning of the novel is overweight, at the end of his fifth marriage, and resting on his laurels rather than doing any useful science. As usually happens in McEwan, an event occurs which serves to alter the course of people's lives - in this case, Michael Beard's in particular. As it happens, he's not above a bit of dishonesty here and there to ensure things work out to his advantage. How that happens and how it falls out makes up the rest of the book. All this occurs within the world of climate change, hence the title.

The general consensus was that we all enjoyed the book, but some enjoyed it more than others! The two who loved it greatly enjoyed the humour and felt that McEwan's ability to write about anything shone through. The others of us agreed more with Kate's blog post on the book. We felt it was readable but that it missed the mark in one way or another. The member who phoned in a late apology was in this camp too - she felt that it was a good story but that it got lost in the technical details.

We all though did enjoy some of the humour, particularly the episode where Beard goes to the arctic with a bunch of artists (he is the only scientist) to see climate change first hand. Chaos and disorganisation, not to mention a little hypocrisy (as they rush about the ice in their gas-fired skidoos), abound and we are left wondering whether the climate change community is capable of coordinating anything that would be positive for the environment.

Some of us found the constant description of Beard's eating, drinking and womanising a little repetitive and tedious though agreed that he represents a good example of "the unexamined life". That said,  we also felt that Beard had his better moments, such as his ability to tell a story against himself (eg the stolen potato chips story).

We talked a little about the book's exploration of issues like logic and reason versus imagination, and also about McEwan's focus on middle-aged men. One of the members who really liked the book said this aspect of his recent books have put her off, and that it was the humour in this one which got her attention. Usually, she said, she prefers to read about middle-aged women. I suspect that's true for a lot of us.

Finally, we briefly discussed the last line and what it meant - but to discuss that here would be a bit of a spoiler if you haven't read it. We were in general agreement though that it was effectively open-ended: a couple of interpretations are possible but all point to roughly the same thing.

I don't think I've fully captured the discussion, so please add a comment if you'd like to flesh it out a little more OR if you weren't at the meeting and would like to add your 2 cents' worth.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Thoughts on Solar from the northern sun-seeker

Here are some thoughts on Solar by Ian McEwan. Have a good discussion...wish I was there ...or better still you were ate Agnes Water listening to the waves with me...
McEwan has made a comical farce, supposedly resting on the most serious challenge of our generation: climate change. The two forces in the book sit uneasily with one another. His protagonist: Beard, a flabby middle aged (well late 50’s) scientist, seems to exhibit many sins of the generation: he is a glutton, selfish, a philanderer, a thief and a liar.... probably some others. He is completely unlikeable, although a source of some comedy, as for example he pretends to have a woman in his room to make his wife jealous. And he seems completely incapable of redemption, for example as offered by the ponytailed scientist tom Aldous. He simply steals his idea, and tries to profit from it.
His relationship with x, and his unwanted daughter may offer him redemption, as they seem to believe the best of him. However the farce comes tumbling to an end... I kept thinking heart attack, he must have a heart attack soon, as McEwan delights in describing one ghastly fast food overdose after another...
So it seems we are not to take it seriously, Beard is a caricature, hard to identify with (although he is shown as quite pitiful to us) and it surprised me to hear his public address which actually sounded quite reasonable....
So why did McEwan write the book? Why create such an unlikeable character, and such a farcical series of accidents, and human frailty...
I wondered if Beard was his attempt at Everyman....the 20th Century human representing our foibles and weaknesses...particularly in an era when we need to rise above our petty squabbles to do something about Climate Change... He is intelligent, has the knowledge to solve the problem, but gets immersed in his own petty problems, ego, and base drives, and if we did not laugh at him, we would certainly weep at such a wasted life....
I think McEwan must have decided that a serious tome on Climate Change would not be appealing, so he has gone to the other extreme and kept the tone very satiricial and farcical. The book was readable and amusing: the scenes of him freezing his penis off on the Snowmobile ride were funny in an excruciating Basil Fawlty like way - in his ineptitude and inability to admit to his problems, and to worry about having taken his penis off...probably would have been better for all concerned if he had! I found myself wondering aghast at what ridiculous mess he would get into next... and when he would get discovered.
I agree with the review in the Guardian by Christopher Taylor who says that some elements of the comedy do not come off as well as they might in McEwan’s hands:
Lightness, however, comes less easily to McEwan, whose style depends on deliberateness and a certain ponderousness. The ominous lining up of causes and effects and the patient tweaking of narrative tension don't always mesh well with the aimed-for quickness and brio. Some of the humour is quite broad: there's a rather clunking motif concerning polar bears, and Beard gets involved with a stereotypical Southern waitress who's called, in the way of trailer-trash types, Darlene. He emerges as a figure of some comic dynamism, but the pages on his childhood and youth, though brilliantly done, articulate poorly with the knockabout parts of the plot.(Christopher Taylor, The Guardian, 13 March 2010)
On most levels I found the book unsatisfying, compared to Enduring Love, Saturday or On Chesil Berach. The humour and unlikeable main character distanced me emotionally from the book. McEwan says it was about human nature, rather than climate change, and getting us to look at the barriers in our nature to living differently and thus reducing the impact of climate change. The plot felt contrived, and I thought he spent a lot of time with Beard dealing with his infidelities. It would have been good to develop the Aldous character a little more, as he was the alternative good scientist to Beard the cynical scientific figure.
In the finale, it looked as though he might finally get his just desserts... although I would have liked to see him working in a menial way on some alternative energy scheme that might have just had a glimmer of hope, but that’s me...

Monday, 5 July 2010

March, May and June 2010 meetings

Well Minervans, somehow we are not keeping this up to date, so I thought I'd try to do a quick run through from memory of the books we've not reported on - just for the record.

March : David Malouf's Ransom
All I can recollect of this one is that those present generally enjoyed it. We loved the language and we loved the more "lowly" human touches such as Priam's trip with Somax. A couple of us wondered a little what Malouf's point was in re-telling the story from this angle - was his retelling sufficiently "different" to add something to the myth? Some felt his humanising of the event - Priam's asking Achilles for the body of his son Hector - was, while others were not quite so sure. However, everyone (as I recollect) enjoyed the story and Malouf's lovely evocative writing.

May : Andrea Goldsmith's Reunion
There was perhaps a little more difference of opinion on this one, which is about the return to Melbourne some 20 years later of a group of old university friends. The novel describes the next few years of their lives - how the old friendships pan out, the various tensions and secrets that lie beneath the surface. Being friends ourselves, we discussed the drive to maintain friendships and enjoyed reading about people who were roughly our vintage! However, some thought that Goldsmith was just a little too simplistic about it all - and one member suggested  that Goldsmith did not follow as well as she might have that old dictum of "show, don't tell". Most, if not all of us, though enjoyed the read.

June : Louann Brizendine's The female brain
We were a small group for this one, with three away overseas or travelling up north and three deciding, for various reasons, they could not brave what was a pretty cold night. Our discussion consequently ended up being a little briefer and less focused than usual. We didn't really get our teeth into the book in an in-depth way but we did end up talking about some of the issues she raises for women of a certain age - not only understanding our own biology but that of our teenage girls/young adult daughters. It was an interesting discussion resulting in the sort of sharing that is an important part of reading groups.

This book was published in 2006 and describes the degree to which Brizendine believes women's brains are different to men's. In other words, she discusses the ways in which she sees gender differences as being biologically determined. We did discuss a little the fact that Brizendine's evidence for all her claims was not as clear/substantiated as we would like, that is, that hard scientific support was sometimes (often) missing. And there was some discussion about her language. Janet who phoned in her apology said she got rather tired of hearing about the brain being "marinated" (in hormones, etc). In fact the language over all tended to be a bit cutesy and sound-bitey at times. The jury, of course, is still out regarding how much we are biologically determined but - to put my own stamp on it - I am willing to believe that there could be differences in our behaviours that are biologically determined. However, I don't believe biology accounts for differences in skills and intellectual ability, and nor does it mean that women's opportunities and rights should be limited and less!

All this said, I think we all found it an interesting read and something a little different from our usual fare.

If anyone would like to comment, particularly those who didn't make the meeting(s), please go ahead!

Image: Courtesy HarperCollins Australia

Friday, 2 July 2010

Another bookgroup

Today I "met" online the member of another bookgroup that's been going for 22 years too. And, they have a blog that's a few years older than ours. Have a look at it: Booksnthings.

Does that get your creative juices going?

Monday, 21 June 2010

Schedule Suggestions 2010

Two suggestions for our next schedule:

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoat
, by David Mitchell
Some varied reviews - including this one from New Statesman - but sounds a fascinating book for Japan-ophiles, and for those interested in different structures etc.

Another interesting book in the same review that got quite a good rap, and the author was on the Book Show 18 June 2010, is:
The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his friend Marilyn Monroe, by Andrew O'Hagan

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Voss by Patrick White

On Tuesday night 27 April, Gerda, Kate and I had a good discussion about this amazing book. It was a real pity more of you couldn't attend. We decided it was definitely one of the best books we have ever read for the story, the language, the characterisation, the cleverness and even the humour.

The story is loosely based on the 3 explorations of inland Australia by Ludwig Leichhardt. It was written in the mid 1950s and Australia was a very different country from today, culturally and in the way we think about ourselves as Australians. The Second World War effects were still an issue as well.

The main character is Voss, a German outsider and a man with a mission and a vision. He needs to do this trip across Australia not only for an intellectual exercise but he seems to have a physical need for it too. He meets Laura Trevelyan, also an outsider, and they fall in love with only moments of acquaintanceship -- literally a few hours of a picnic, a dance, a most difficult ride in a carriage and a farewell on the wharf. He writes to her at the first 'outstation' on their expedition and asks to marry her and from that moment they are linked/wedded telepathically.

There is a lot of racism in this book for example the 'German' is often pointed out or discussed by the Bonners and others. He is variously described as the Christ and as the devil. It is very much a love/hate relationship for Mr Bonner, the main supporter of the expedition. There is also a lot of love and hate about the country itself noted by the characters. This duality is found in the members of the expedition party too -- convict and squattocracy, young and fit and older and not so fit (Judd and Palfreyman), young and old Indigenous persons, rich and poor.

Laura and her cousin are also opposites in lots of ways and at times show an Australian version of Jane Austen's irony in mid 19th century Sydney.

It is a tragic tale but does not indulge in sentimental waffle.

There are also occasional funny moments --at the farewell on the wharf the "Colonel clasped the German's hand in a gloveful of bones'.

White was heavily critical of Australia in the mid 1950s and it does come out in this novel. Read David Marr* for more information about White's feelings about Voss. It has become a classic and Kate thought it would mke a great film although the tripping backwards and forward sequences are a little old fashioned these days.

It is highly recommended and easy to see why Patrick White won so many awards. It is well worth the effort.

* David Marr, Patrick White: A life

Saturday, 27 February 2010

The little stranger, by Sarah Waters

It has been a veritable Sarah Waters feast for Minerva this week, all because, coincidentally, The Canberra Times-ANU scheduled a literary event featuring Sarah Waters in conversation with Marion Halligan the day after we had scheduled Waters' The little stranger for discussion. Six of us turned up for the discussion, and four the next day for the conversation.

First, though, our discussion. It was a good one! All had read it - or made a good enough fist of it to join in the discussion. We all enjoyed it, though not without various reservations along the way. The things we liked were:
  • the social history: Waters has done a wonderful job of creating a "feel" for the time, and particularly of the class tensions that were rising in that post-war period
  • the "fabulous" descriptions, particularly of Hundreds Hall and its cold, damp feel
  • the characters: they were all convincing, even the minor ones
The plot was, though, frustrating for many of us. Many felt set up but were not quite sure for what. Some felt that at times Waters included information/details because she'd done the research and didn't want to leave it out. We puzzled quite a bit about the narrator, Dr Faraday. At times he felt unreliable, but we decided that in fact he was reliable. Some sympathised with him, while others felt he was manipulative. Did he love Caroline or the house? And we were not all convinced about who the little stranger was: the baby "Susan", or a poltergiest released by the Ayerses' inability to adapt to changing times, or perhaps, the doctor (though most of felt that he could not have consciously engineered the events that occurred)?

... and so it was with some enthusiasm that we went to the Sarah Waters' event the next day. We had our question ready! But, Sarah, it was clear, did not want to engage in discussions about the ending, fearing spoilers for those who had not yet read it. All she said formally was that she left it deliberately open but that she tried to lead the reader to a certain conclusion. She’s been fascinated by the discussions that have ensued about the ending. Don’t we know it! I'd love to know how many of those discussions have been off the mark (from her perspective anyhow).

However, she did say some things that might help our deliberations. Her original plan was for Dr Faraday to be a straightforward, transparent narrator, who was firmly in the middle class and a friend of the family, and who would chronicle their decline. This changed as she started writing: she decided to make him more uncomfortable class-wise with some latent class resentments. And, she talked about poltergeists and how they represent the release of unresolved tensions, conflicts and frustrations. Well, there were a lot of those at Hundreds Hall and so I think that if we accept poltergeists, then we might decide that more than one “person” is implicated in what happened at Hundreds Hall. There is, after all, the following statement in the book made to Dr Faraday by Dr Seeley:

The subliminal mind has many dark, unhappy corners, after all. Imagine something loosening itself from one of those corners. Let’s call it a – a germ. And let’s say conditions prove right for that germ to develop – to grow … What would this little stranger grow into? A sort of shadow-self, perhaps a Caliban, a Mr Hyde. A creature motivated by all the nasty impulses and hungers the conscious mind had hoped to keep hidden away: things like envy, and malice and frustration…
This is just the tip of the iceberg of a lively reading group discussion and an engaging literary event (as Waters and Halligan were really rather delightful). It would be great if others who attended the meeting and/or talk, or who didn't attend these but have read the book, shared their ideas here. Go for it ...

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Ten of our current active members attended our first meeting of the year at which we were to discuss Hilary Mantel's whopping Wolf Hall. Not only did ten turn up but a goodly number managed to finish it - or make a good fist of it. Most liked it, some really loved it...and that set us up for a good discussion.

It turned out that our hostess, also our newest member, loves historical fiction - and is pretty interested in this era in particular. She started us off by saying how much she liked the book. She enjoys, she said, what she calls "historical fiction lite" such as the works of Philippa Gregory - but this, she suggested, is a cut way above. When we asked her to define the difference, she said there were two main differences: in historical fiction lite
  • every character has one strong trait that tends to deny complexity of motivation; and
  • the story's the thing.
Well, Wolf Hall is somewhat different from that. Its story is strong of course - dealing as it does with the machinations involved in getting an annulment for Henry VIII from his marriage to Katherine (Catherine) of Aragon so he can marry Anne Boleyn. But alongside this story is a lot of detail about the issues surrounding this: the freeing up of access to the Bible, the separation from the Church in Rome, the Act of Supremacy, the rise of the trading class ... to name a few. And the characters - particularly Thomas Cromwell through whose eyes the story is told (albeit in 3rd person) - are complex. In fact, the story is really the story of Cromwell told through the Henry-Katherine-Anne plot.

We compared a little Mantel's interpretation of Cromwell and Sir Thomas More with other interpretations more favourable to More, such as A man for all seasons. Many of us would like to see that play/film again in the light of this book. Mantel clearly has some sympathy for Cromwell and has presented him more favourably - though not denying the fact that he was an ambitious, clear-eyed political-player willing to make hard decisions - than many before her have. One member questioned the interpretation of Henry VIII as a fairly "soft" man, though another wondered whether this was because the story is told through Cromwell's eyes. Is this how Cromwell saw Henry?

We talked a little about the style - particularly its third person point-of-view and the sometimes confusing way Mantel uses the pronoun "he". We liked its humour, particularly shown through Cromwell's interactions with such characters as "Call-me Risely" and next-door neighbour Chapuys. One member referred to Mantel's conversation with Ramona Koval (of ABC Radio National fame) about how she develops rhythm in her writing.

It was suggested that there was a point to writing this book now, since a major thread running through it is religious fanaticism: people are burnt - and are often prepared to be burnt rather than recant - for their religious beliefs, which is not far removed, she thought, from some of the fanatical religious behaviour evident in our era.

...and so we continued to toss ideas around. There were no gaps in our discussion about this book ...

We would highly recommend it to other groups, but with one proviso: people need to have the time to commit to it. It is not necessarily a hard book to read, but it is one that you need to get momentum going in order to follow its flow.

Cover image: Used courtesy HarperCollins Publishers