Reading Group News

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

Sarah Dunant is an author whose novels will be familiar to many of you I am sure. The most popular of which is The Birth of Venus.

This story is “In the Name of the Family” is about a family with whom you will be aware ,even if by name only…the Borgia family of Italy! Unless you have studied their lives you will probably be in the same position as all of us in book group…knowing very little apart from the supposed wickedness of Lucretia!

Dunant has researched in detail the information for this book and the bibliography confirms that. The book is well written and interesting, but given this, most of us found it a difficult and weary read which was only to a degree, enjoyable. Not one which most would choose themselves.

However, as always, a minority of us felt completely differently. Yes the main characters were powerful and corrupt using their authority and greed to pillage and kill in order to fill their coffers and increase their land ownership. The one who surprised us was Lucretia, portrayed as a chattel and as having had a tragic life rather than the wicked woman we have maybe believed. However blood thirsty, licentious and revengeful most of the her family were, they nevertheless showed a certain humanity too in familial love, loyalty and grief. There were several instances of cruelty and the similarity with ISIS was remarked upon. Some felt that the few descriptions of torture and killing given, were off putting but others thought that they could have been portrayed more vividly, had the author wished to do this.

In spite of the fact that few enjoyed the book, it nevertheless scored 7 /10.

Submitted by Corinne Gregory

The Empty Cradle by Rosie Goodwin

You will most probably have come across this author’s name before and may even have read some of her novels. She may even be a favourite of yours. You would be forgiven for thinking that this story was going to be the tale of a childless woman, an abduction or even warfare. However you would be wrong!

Rosie Goodwin was at one time a social worker and a foster carer in Nuneaton where she now may think that now you can guess the subject matter ..wrong again!

It is in fact a story about one catastrophe after another, in the life of a young teenager through to her death, as an old lady .There are several thousands of empty cradles in fact, but this is about one.

It is a simple story yet full of dreadful situations. It is simply told so you can skip through it quickly. For the most part it held our interest to begin with ..unanimously..but then we found that it was difficult to really engage with the main character. As one group member said,”It goes from sad to worse”.We agreed that it was predictable, the facts were not properly researched and the author tried to tackle too many issues at once.

One or two of us enjoyed some aspects of it, one hated it. It was also felt by some that whilst the films The Magdalene sisters” and “Philomena” were based on real life accounts, this story had gathered snippets from those and other publications and therefore was not authentic. It felt that the author had not earned the right to tell this story .

By way of conclusion, I did not read one bad review of this book online, so read it yourself and see if you agree with us or with others!

Scored 51/2

Submitted by Corinne Gregory

The Submission by Amy Waldman

WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THE TWIN TOWERS WERE BLOWN UP ? I can guarantee that you remember exactly where you were when you first heard the news!

If you have travelled to New York, the chances are that you have visited Ground Zero and would be able to describe, in part, what you have seen and the feelings invoked. You have maybe made your own interpretation of the memorial site. If like me, you have not had the chance to do that, you will possibly have some idea of the layout, however sketchy. What you maybe don’t know is that an international competition was launched in 2003 to design a fitting memorial garden and that architects from 63 nations entered over 5000 designs anonymously. The winner chosen was an Israeli architect. The garden was called Reflecting Absence at the centre of which is a huge void as it has been described. You will find more information online if you are interested.

I mention the above because the book we have just read bears certain traits in common with reality. The Submission is aptly named as we discovered. Mo, the architect whose design was chosen turned out to be a Muslim, an American non practising Muslim, beating the runner up whose garden was called The Void. From the majority of the selection committee this created anger, prejudice, rejection and worse. Mo declared that he had no faith and that he was as American as the committee members but refused to explain his reasons for designing such a garden, based on the garden of the first Mogul Emperor in Kabul. This led to further recrimination and suspicion from the majority of those whose job it was to choose. They wondered what his motives were. He did have his supporters but refused to comply with their request for clarity too. He had won on merit and felt it unjust that he alone should have to justify his deign because of the suspicions aroused.

The author for whom this was a debut novel, cleverly looked at the various groups involved in the losses and presented their points of view including that of a Muslim widow whose husband, an illegal alien had been killed. Most of us considered that this was a worthwhile read and an enlightening and gripping story. It was thought to reflect present day politics in UK in the disagreements between interested parties and also in the growing scapegoating of “foreigners”

Not everyone completed the book for various reasons and one member patently disagreed with the majority. She felt it was slow and boring, did not like the way it was written or the characterisation. The vocabulary was obscure and verbose in parts. We felt that a lot of research had been done and it is worth noting that in the real life scenario there were disagreements about the amount of money to be spent and the Arabic fraternity objected because the information was translated into various languages apart from Arabic.

As a conclusion it is worth noting that the word Muslim means the one who submits …so maybe a play on words?

The overall score was 8.

Submitted by Corinne Gregory

The Beauty of Murder by A.K. Benedict

Take one lecturer in philosophy add one long dead beauty queen recently murdered!! Add to the mix a stone mask or two, Schroeder’s cat and flying visits to time past, plus other rather strange ingredients and you have a novel covering many genres.

You will travel through the worlds of the metaphysics, murder and mystery and if that combination is one you would embrace then this book may be for you.

Sadly the book group members were far from enthralled by this novel, having anticipated an exciting and different experience from any of the many books we have read. So were disappointed. We were unanimous in thinking that it was confusing and hard work and not a particularly enjoyable read. The plot was convoluted and therefore not engaging.

However the characters were fairly well drawn and there was some good descriptive writing.

It would be for you to come to your own conclusions about this….there were several 4* reviews online so maybe you would share those remarks too. We gave it a score of 41/2.

Submitted by Corinne Gregory

The Siege by Helen Dunmore

As regular readers of this monthly review will have come to expect ,our book group had polarised opinions of this book. I guess that is also true of most book groups most of the time!

This was a story recounting the lives of Citizens of Leningrad during the first winter of the siege at the start of WW2. I imagine that  we all know something of the horrors of this time, so you would be forgiven for thinking that this novel would be too grim to read. Some of our members would agree with you of course, finding it disturbing, dark and hard to get through. Others felt that the pace was too slow and that nothing happened, and along with that neither informative nor interesting.

We were unanimous in our view that it was not a book to be “enjoyed” in the accepted sense of the word.

It was certainly well researched, well written and the characterisation was excellent .One could “inhabit” the lives of the main personalities involved, such was the excellence of their portrayal.

Most of us admired the stoicism ,the ingenuity and resourcefulness described as being the stuff of life at the time .The hardships and suffering inflicted upon everyone were beyond the experience of us all. The determination to survive against the odds no matter the means to bring about that end changed people in ways which no doubt they could never have imagined in  less difficult times. There were odd moments of sacrifice and untold  kindness extended to others, also in great need, which gave the lie to their humanity having deserted them.

So for others we found the story compelling and absorbing bring a small portion of history alive in an authentic and challenging way. For those group members I believe that the story will never truly “leave” us. Thank you Ms.Dunmore! The score was 8/10

Submitted by Corinne Gregory