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!