These are the books we read in 2018. If anybody has any more reviews, please send them in.
In a Good a Light – Clare Chambers
Eight of the Exeter Book Group met at the Lighter Inn to review In a Good a Light by Clare Chambers. The story line was based on the everyday lives of three impoverished families which were set in the 1970s. A kleptomaniac Grandpa addicted to TV shows, Dawn’s Mum who battered and deep fried any food, and the liberal and benign Fairchild’s. Those of the book group born in the early to mid 1960s found the cultural references reminiscent of their own childhoods. These references were touching and familiar, such as Dawn’s top 40 dance set sequences and the Fairchild’s provision of clothes for their family from the church jumble sales. The denial of personal comfort to enforce old fashioned values of moral certainty was demonstrated throughout the book through: the lack of TV in the Fairchild’s ramshackle home; the raising of Esther and Christian to be thoughtful by forcing them to give up their own presents to those less fortunate; and the eating of grew some nutritious meals; all whilst living in a falling down house. The group all considered that the satire of Dawn’s top 40 dance moves together with the jumble sale clothes and the high ideas provided an accurate period feel.
New characters were introduced to the story via guests visiting the Fairchild family home. Donovan regularly needed to stay due to his unreliable and shambolic Mother. Christian carved out a parallel existence through his scholarship to a “good” school and Penny his girlfriend then became part of the story line. Donavan’s teenage and sexual development, alongside an episode in the Father’s prison chaplaincy work, culminated in life changing events.
Christian’s loss of virility and eventual engagement; together with Esther’s initial choice to stay and live with her brother, alongside visits to her Father and married lover, a chance encounter with the daughter of Christian’s former girlfriend Penny; all lead Esther to consider her life and values. It was this encounter with Penny and the reflection of her life to date which formed the bulk of the plot.
The group enjoyed the bohemian and often funny scenarios. It was felt that there were some minor ‘life lessons’, such as Esther’s affair with the GP, showing potential emotional abuse by those in powerful positions. There were parallels with this and her choice to stay as her brother’s carer after his loss of strength and virility. Christian’s ‘new’ wealth, elevated employment status and his modern home created an interesting opposite to the clutter, decay and collapsing Fairchild family home.
Overall it was quirky, pleasant with some witty prose and a bohemian link to Exeter, but ultimately let down by the neatly tied up ending. The group gave a score of 4.5 out 10. The cute outcome was simply unlikely and the plot provided insufficient controversy or enlightenment to provoke discussion.
Exeter Branch CGSPA Book Club
Nutshell – Ian McEwan
Unsettling, disturbing, frustrating…it was certainly a book that generated strong opinions.
The concept of a baby in the womb hearing, thinking and commenting about what was going on in the world was both interesting and disconcerting – although most enjoyed the social commentary that was included as part of the dialogue.
It was felt that the language attributed to the baby was quite pretentious but darkly amusing e.g. his comments on the quality of the wine, complaints when Claude and his mother were sexually intimate.
Did the baby inherit this pretentious attitude from his mother / was this written tongue in cheek? Was the baby reflecting Trudy’s subconscious thoughts?
It wasn’t as funny /hilarious as the critics suggested….did they read the same book?
There were inconsistencies which were frustrating, sometimes the baby seemed to possess in depth knowledge e.g. wines and vineyards, other times he was debating simple concepts e.g. the difference between yellow and gold.
The characters were generally unpleasant and difficult to warm to; although everyone agreed that they’d hoped that the protagonists would not go through with the murder. Claude was manipulative – clearly only interested in acquiring the house. Trudy seemed shallow, not really interested in anything but herself.
To summarise, it was felt that the plot on its own was quite weak, it was the premise of the story being told from the baby’s perspective that set it apart. This is what formed the basis for most of the discussion and it is what the book will be remembered for rather than its stellar plot. The story started well, seemed to drift in the middle and then ended quite abruptly.
It is a book that readers will remember…but not necessarily in a positive way and most definitely one to miss if you are pregnant!
Colyford Thursday Branch CGSPA Book Club