Small Island

Okay.  This is my second stab at writing the minutes.  The first was creative.  Even by my standards.  It was also entertainingly abusive.  But you won’t be reading any of it because a) I absent mindedly threw it away.  Irrevocably. Or b) I only dreamed I wrote them  – in which case I need to get myself some better dreams.  I’m going with the a) theory, but I must admit that the b) theory isn’t entirely out of the question.  Whatever.  Either way I can’t be arsed to be creative again, so what you get is what you get.  Provided I don’t absent mindedly trash these minutes as well.

Sangeeta, unfortunately, couldn’t come.  A double pity since she chose a very nice pub – with no smoking. Always a bonus.  James thinks that she might have been sick with desire for him, but I think that she was just feeling a bit ill – as, indeed, I would be if I fancied James.  Get well soon, Sangeeta.  Sarah couldn’t come either.  That, incidentally, isn’t my fault.  I hope.  Paul was also absent.  Absent and suspected of having been kidnapped by the moonies.  Jon pointed out that he seemed a bit distracted last time we saw him, and James suspects Paul has relocated to Waco.  I hope not.  Finally, Claire couldn’t come either because she’s still trying on new shoes.

The book we read was Small Island by Andrea Levy.  It was Sangeeta’s choice.  Jon enjoyed it.  It was, he said, very well done.  The characters were convincing.  he was surprised when Bernard started narrating his own story – Jon had assumed that he’d be the villain character, and that he’d never introduce himself.  He liked the way that the different points of view contradicted each other.  It was sometimes heavy handed, and Jon wasn’t particularly keen on the fly-and-dog-shit brooch.  Dog shit.  It’s quite a pleasant phrase isn’t it?  It trips off the tongue in such a way as bring a smile to even the glummest face.  Jon didn’t think the book was profound, but it was easy to read – although the opening chapter, Queenie in Africa, was rubbish.  He read somewhere that Small Island is the most popular book for reading groups at the moment, and that just about says it all.  He reiterated that Time’s Arrow was awful.

Ilona enjoyed the book.  She read it very quickly over a week – she thought that she’d missed bookclub and thereby cunningly escaped the tedium of having to read a book.  On discovering that she hadn’t missed anything after all, she panicked and read it in a rush – discovering that reading isn’t so bad after all.  She liked the different perspectives on the same incidents, and she found Small Island to be a real page turner, an easy read.  It was interesting to see the way the characters developed.  I may have gotten some of that wrong.  Whilst writing the minutes I also seemed to be busy inventing new letters – the result being that I can’t actually read my notes.  Ilona also liked the way that the characters spoke in dialect.  She could ‘hear’ them speak.  John concurred.  Ilona thought that the story was quite upbeat, and she couldn’t take it entirely seriously.

James thought that the book was very realistic – he could visualise the period.  He had mixed feelings about it, also the balance was in favour of his positive thoughts.  He was particularly concerned by the opening chapters – he thought that the book would be in-your-face and worthy.  Most of his fears were allayed until the coincidence, the reappearance of Michael Roberts, which James didn’t think quite rang true (i.e. he thought it was bollocks).  On the upside, he liked the title.  And he liked the way that nothing sensational happened.  He felt that it was steeped in realism, with credible characters.  So, overall, okay.  With a few niggles.

I agreed that the coincidence was a load of bollocks.  I found Small Island to be quite slow to get into, and it certainly wasn’t a page turner.  I didn’t dislike it, but I wasn’t gripped either – and so it took me longer than usual to read.  I liked the way the characters evolved as the story progressed – there was no black and white, just shades of grey.  Bernard turned out to have a redeeming feature, and Queenie displayed the capacity to be callous.  The only character that I felt was good through-and-through was Gilbert.  I certainly wasn’t gripped enough to want to read anything else by that author.

Sangeeta found Small Island to be a well written and touching novel that explored the theme of post war racism in a moving and sometimes humorous manner. She liked the way the characters were developed throughout the book and thought that the topic was handled sensitively. She thought that Queenie was probably the best character in terms of her naïvety at what to expect from the English way of life and her sad disillusionment at the reality. I guess that since Queenie was English, Sangeeta actually meant Hortense. She liked Gilbert the least, finding him a bit boring, and she thought that some of the war dialogue was a bit long. Overall though she really enjoyed the book – very insightful and a good story.

Sarah didn’t really believe in the characters in Small Island and she didn’t really like them either.  She enjoyed the picture painted of Jamaica in terms of the carnival, the dress, the culture and the food. She was interested in they viewed England as a mother nation even though England couldn’t care less and, as they discovered, treated them very badly when they made it ‘home’.  Gilbert was okay and Sarah wanted something good to happen regarding Michael and Ms. Trouble but it never did.  Maybe it’s because nothing really ‘good’ happens in Small Island that Sarah lost interest.  Everything was tough for everyone and no-one was particularly happy. It gets to be depressing after a while!

Jon also read art books.  He’s halfway through his course, and he’s enjoying it.  He finds medieval perspective boring though.  He’s also been reading Chronicles by Bob ‘short for Kate’ Dylan.  It’s terrific.  There’s no ghost writer, and there’s a great sense of atmosphere.  He could smell the clubs that Bob played it.  It’s a pity that Bob forgot so much because he was drugged up – but he liked the sense of bewilderment in waking up in a new place with no idea how he got there.  It was a bit like On The Road.  Only good. Fantastic.  He’s gearing up for Chronicles II.

Emphyrio by Jack Vance is good fun.  It’s about a kid growing up on a planet dedicated to making arts & crafts, which are then sold across the galaxy.  The heroes father is executed for using a photocopier.  Jon bought the book because he liked the look of the cover. And that’s true. I didn’t make it up.

Jon will be enjoying The Smoking Diaries next month.

Ilona half read The Dice Man by Luke Rheinhart. It’s about a man who makes all his daily decisions by rolling dice and, Jon says, is inspired by a song by The Fall. It’s readable, but not recommendable.  Not exciting at all, and so she got distracted by another book…

…Which was also rubbish. The blurb for Nobody Loves a Ginger Baby by Laura Marnie suggested that it was comical.  It wasn’t. The best bit was the ending – but only because Ilona could get on with reading something better.

The Journal of Mortifying Moments by Robin Hardy is an easy read about a woman with relationship problems, it’s written like a diary.  James commented that it sounds like a hell-fest, but apparently it’s very funny.

Dot Homme by Jane Moore is about a woman who was bought an ad on a dating site by a friend.  With friends like that eh? Apparently it’s very good.

Ilona did read one good, non trashy book.  The Pact by Jodi Picault is about a murder investigation into a suicide pact.  It’s well written, and told from many different points of view. She has nothing else do say – but she said it with enthusiasm.

James read my minutes. They were great.  The best work of fiction that he read that week.  He also wrote a speech – and, apparently, that was great too.

He also read La Pest by Albert Camus.  He read it in French, in case you didn’t guess from the title.  It’s an allegory for the invasion of France by the Germans.  It’s steeped in realism and very good.

To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee is terrific.  Actually,  James hasn’t finished reading it yet so he shouldn’t really be talking about it here.  He hasn’t even got to the trial yet.  He’s loving it, and knows that he won’t be disappointed.

The Empire position of the month is standing at the bar.  Getting drunk.

I read The Riddle of the Titanic by Robin Gardiner.  It was a big load of conspiratorial clap-trap.  Utter shite.  I didn’t finish it.  Apparently the Titanic didn’t sink.  It was another ship.  For the record, I think it was the Titanic that sank – but even if it didn’t, it was still a bloody big disaster.  End of story.  And no, I don’t think that the White Star Line deliberately sank her.  Piffle.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling was crap.  Harry Potter is an annoying little shit.  And I was still conned into reading the damn book.  And you know what?  When the next book comes out I just know that I’ll end up reading that too.

Fortunately, The Rotters Club by Jonathan Coe was great.  Unputdownable.  I was only a toddler at the time the book was set, but I still remember the sights and smells clearly.  Besides, the knackered old busses and unionism persisted into the eighties.  It describes the town where I grew up.  I will be buying the sequel.  Pure nostalgic delight.

The Model by Anaïs Nin is great.  Get it now in Penguin 70’s.  She is the mistress of erotic story telling.  Can’t be beaten.  Hmm.  Actually, beatings have been known to take place in her stories!

Sangeeta also read Morality for Beautiful Girls, The Kalahari Typing School for Men, The Cupboard Full of Life and In the Company of Cheerful Ladies. These are the remaining books in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith and, as you can see, she is addicted! The books are highly entertaining, very light reading but full of wry humour.

The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is a very good book about a man who time travels through life and about his relationship with his eventual wife. It has a slightly confusing style as it moves between years and places but it is worth persevering. The description of how their relationship progresses is, at times, very moving – the girls will probably need their hankies at the end.

The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman is an excellent book. It is Szpilman’s personal account of his life in German occupied Warsaw during the second world war and his extraordinary struggle to survive the torture and horror of this time. It’s really well written and manages to avoid being over sentimental despite the emotional torment and heartbreak he suffered. It was made into a harrowing film.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith is an interesting book which covers the interlinking lives of three different cultures and their family backgrounds. Sangeeta really enjoyed it and found it quite humourous.

Brother and Sister by Joanna Trollope explores an adopted brother and sister’s struggle to find their biological parents and the effect it has on their lives. It’s entertaining but nothing special.

The Mango Season by Amulya Malludi is about an Indian girl who gets sent to America to study and work. She gets engaged to an American, but when she returns to India (during the mango season) she finds that her family are trying to arrange her marriage. The book explores her changed attitudes to the traditional views of her family, and her eventual revelation about her true life. The book is also interspersed with delicious mango recipes.

The Best a Man Can Get by John O’Farrell is a light and entertaining read about a man who leads a double life, unable to deal with true domesticity. Eventually his wife finds out he has been spending half his time living in a bachelor flat and she is not amused. It’s a entertaining look at how the male mind works.

Shopaholic Abroad by Sophie Kinsella is the second book in the shopaholic series and it is just as hilarious as the first. It’s nothing intellectual, but it is a laugh out loud read.

Sarah did read some other books.  I know.  I saw her reading them.  She can’t remember what they were though.  Actually, neither can I.  So perhaps I only imagined seeing her read them.  It’s possible.

I feel I should also point out the I saw The Pixies live.  Again.  They were great.  They always are.  Kim Deal is a Goddess.  Sarah saw them too, and was most taken with Joey Santiago’s superb axemanship. David Lovering is the human incarnation of Animal – no-one bangs the drums like he bangs the drums.  And as for Frank Black.  I wish I could howl like he can howl.  Tame?  Not even slightly. Jon also saw The Pixies, and he loved them too.  He saw them at Reading.  James an Ilona didn’t see them.  They are the weakest link.  But I’ll forgive them.

This month we will mostly be reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  I’ve only read the blurb so far, but it looks like it’ll be a good ‘un.