Insole Court Book Club Notes – March

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Way, way back, one week into the UK lockdown, almost 3 decades ago now, Insole Court Book Club attempted its first digital meeting. In advance, we agreed to have a crack at using Zoom for our discussion, and met at our normal time, but in our own houses, rather than the beautiful Reading Room at Insole Court.

One of our lovely regular attendees recommended Cutting For Stone, as she had previously read it and thought it would be a good book club pick. And I think it was a great suggestion, as we were definitely divided over it and had a good old chat about it. A couple of us loved it, a couple struggled/didn’t love it, and one or two weren’t able to finish it. It’s a big read, and we chatted about how this particularly time in history isn’t always conducive to getting stuck into anything too big.

Initially, we chatted about the pacing of the book, and how for some of us, it got harder to read the further along it went. We also discussed how some of the coincidences that occur during the book could make the reader feel a bit emotionally manipulated.

Interestingly, nearly all of us enjoyed reading about the setting, the hospital and Ethiopia, and most of us found most of the characters unlikeable. My caveat to that is that I loved Hema. I mentioned that I thought that Verghese was inspired by John Irving, and in this, I could see similarities to the way that the narrator is a fairly dull character, but is surrounded by very colourful characters, that drive the narrative. Many of us thought that there were other stories to tell, from the other characters perspectives.

Prompted by a question online, we discussed how the book represents the emotional lives of Drs. Some book clubbers felt that it was an accurate reflection of the emotional detachment that Drs have to develop to do their jobs. It’s a matter of survival. We also chatted about how single-faceted Marions life becomes, and whether this was informed by his childhood that was all-consumed by hospital life.

We talked at length about how Verghese doesn’t give a particularly clear answer the the big mystery that threads through the novel, that of the twins conception. And in turn, we talked about whether someones childhood/life experiences can excuse later betrayals. This led to whether we felt that Marion had been able to forgive some of the characters by the end of the book. We felt that it wasn’t necessarily given voice to but was implied. Some of enjoyed Marions rather teenage-angsty actions when he broke into Stone’s apartment.

According to Verghese, he wanted to ‘tell a great story, an old-fashioned truth telling story’. One of the suggested book club questions asked what human truths does the story tell. We felt that the story was centred around family, and that family doesn’t have to be blood-relations, and can be chosen.

Overall, the book covered a wide range of topics, and we found them to be interesting, particularly the medical aspects. The difficulty for some came in the pacing and size of the book. Some parts of the book were completely forgotten by us, like the section about Stones childhood, which is pretty long. And we were in agreement that parts of it were beautifully written. As I have said before, I often think its as much about ‘when’ you read a book, as to what its about. And the uncertainty of a looming global pandemic is not always the best time to take on a mammoth book.

Further reading :

  • My Own Country by Abraham Verghese
  • The Cider House Rules by John Irving
  • The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuscinski

As a group, we were also reading:

  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
  • Wolf Hall and The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Please comment below if you’ve read Cutting for Stone and want to have a chat about it! Or if you have any recommended further reading, we’re always up for recommendations.

In April, we met to discuss The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, notes coming soon!

Kelly

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