insole court book club – january

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Another whopper of a book for this months book club. But generally well received, some found it gratuitous, some unputdownable. One book club member read us her favourite passage which can be found on Page 323, beginning with ‘Clara was still young…’

Really chuffed with how many people made it along considering the weather that was fore-casted and the bugs that have been going around. It was also lovely to welcome some new faces! As always, I have tried to capture some of the discussion points and suggested further reading, so feel free to join in the conversation in the Comments section below.

Secret, dark core of the Latin psyche.

So much in the book; politics, class, a family saga.

The political crescendo at the end.

Esteban Treubo: emotionally stunted.

Larger than life characters, not necessarily relate-able. Mythical.

Women’s roles in South America at the time (late 1890’s through to 1960’s).

Catholicism and the traditional society.

The fact that the country is never named.

The struggle for power. Venezuela today. Contemporary resonances.

Similar to Gothic novels and Victorian melodrama.

Men like Esteban can be found in Western literature. Very Dickensian.

Last line of the book being the same as the first. Symmetry and the cyclical nature of the story.

Strength of the women in the camp, a ray of light in the dark.

Clara, Blanca and Alba: all names suggest purity, clarity and innocence.

Nine years of muteness! Strength of character.

Suffragettes and corsets. Would like to have heard more of Nivea.

Symbolism and darkness reminded us to Kafka.

 

  • Love in the Time of Cholera, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor and 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Maria Marin the play
  • Midnights Children and Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Have any of our lovely followers read any other books by Isabel Allende of any other female Latin authors? Would appreciate any further recommendations!

Our next book club book is Becoming by Michelle Obama, meeting on Tuesday 26th February, 7 – 8.30pm in the Reading Room at Insole Court House.

Kelly

review-ish: A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

marvellous

“It was as if a blade had shucked his heart like an oyster and stolen the beauty within. He said his heart never started beating again, it just started working and I never understood the difference, not until I was much older anyway, when I learnt that coming back from the dead is not quite the same as coming back to life.”

I love Sarah Winman’s writing so much. I read When God Was A Rabbit, Winman’s debut novel, many, many moons ago and just couldn’t believe how much it stayed with me. Not specific plot points but the magic and the feelings that she evoked. I highly recommend it as a quick read with depth. So when I saw A Year of Marvellous Ways in a charity shop, without even knowing that she had published other books, I did a little squeal and took it home with me.

Maybe it’s that I work with older people in my day job. Maybe it’s the writing.  Either way, Marvellous is a corker of a woman that I wanted to know, live with and go on adventures with. She’s such an incredible character and presents an unusual and very positive view of ageing well and challenging stereotypes. She is written to have a different view of the world, and seeing things through her eyes, just for a little time, was deeply moving. The other characters are also well developed and  naturally contradictory, and didn’t suffer when compared to the marvellous Marvellous.

I don’t think you need to have lived in the West Country to see the Cornish landscape that Winman paints because her writing is so poetic. She could describe the centre of the Earth to you and you’d feel like you had grown up there. But I did have such vivid images in my head of the South Hams in Devon when reading this book, (limited imagination of mine…) but that was lovely as it reminded me of many a happy time. Particularly when reading it in the middle of that endless grey that we have lived through in Wales recently.

I’m currently reading The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende for the Insole Court Book Club, and when I mentioned this to a friend, she described Allende’s work as magical-realism and something clicked. So many books that I adore are like this. Sarah Winman’s work, The Buried Giant by Ishiguro and Murakami. Now I have discovered another vice of mine I will actively try to read outside of this genre, but it’s nice to know that its always within reach when I need to feeling something to the point of emotional exhaustion.

Love having a little cry.

Anyone wanna recommend some magical-realism? Not for me I’m trying to diversify, but for other followers.

Kelly

insole court book club – december

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
We had been a bit ambitious with only 3 weeks between meetings to try and get through this book, so understandably, there were a few members who hadn’t managed to finish it. With that in mind, the rest of us really tested ourselves by discussing themes AND avoiding spoilers. We agreed that the twists in this novel need to be experienced, so despite how very laid-back everyone was about it all, we committed to a spoiler-free meeting.
Again, it was lovely to have a cup of luke-warm mulled wine (my fault) in the beautiful Reading Room of the Insole Court House. As always, see below for some discussion points and thoughts on Fingersmith and some suggested further reading/watching.
Some of the Victorian language a bit irritating as its unexplained.
Story is good.
Discussed the theme of human trafficking, comparing it to today.
The idea of being out of your depth and totally isolated.
Who do you trust?
How innocent are people really?
Initial thoughts of Gentleman, a love-able rogue.
Loved the book jacket review ‘pea souper Gothic’.
Men play pivotal roles but plot devices only.
Liked the descriptions of the paths that people taken around the Briar.
Lant Street offers a weird stability.
The Uncle compared to Poirot but more of a bully.
Sue’s brother and sister in the Borough provide a contrast, they represent Borough-life.
Mrs Sucksby is considered a benign motherly figure. She has a lot of power as a working
class woman.
We compared her to the little power that Maud had as a more privileged woman.
  • Sarah Waters on Radio 4, chatting about Fingersmith, through BBC iplayer
  • Tipping the Velvet and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

 

Have you got any <spoiler-free> thoughts on Fingersmith? Feel free to share below.

Our next book club book is The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, meeting on Tuesday 29th January, 7 – 8.30/9pm, in the Reading Room of Insole Court House.

Kelly

 

 

insole court book club – november

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Pretty excited to be in the beautiful Reading Room of Insole Court House for Novembers book club meeting. The room really lends itself perfectly to a group discussion over a cuppa on a dark night. This month, we were discussing Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, so keep scrolling for thoughts, discussion points and suggested further reading from the group.

Great title.

Recognised ourselves in it.

Recognised the dominant people in our families.

Everyone in the novel is carrying baggage and secrets.

Very compelling to some members of the group, left others a bit cold.

We discussed ‘The American Dream’ and what life was like in America at that time from lived experience.

We talked about the lack of trickle down of the civil rights movement at that time. Progression not reaching the small towns.

We talked about WASPS (white, anglo-saxon and protestant) and about the fact that former President JFK was Catholic and therefore an outsider to some.

 

  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  • The Women’s Room by Marilyn French
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama

 

Please feel free to share your own thoughts and comments below, we’d love to continue the chats.

Our next book club book is Fingersmith by Sarah Waters , meeting on Tuesday 18th December,  7 – 9pm, in the Reading Room at Insole Court House.

 

review-ish: The Tiger’s wife by Tea obreht

tiger

“When the fight is about unraveling – when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event – there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them.”

If you read Zebra and didn’t get the hype, then this probably isn’t for you. It has a really similar feel to me. Conflict, displacement, ancestry and family connections are all explored. But The Tiger’s Wife has a fantastical/folk-loreish element that I really loved.

The various stories and the jumping between time-periods, as well as the fact that it is set in a fictional village, Gallina, in an unnamed Balkan land, does make for a complex narrative. In fact, some reviewers suggested that it’s the back stories that make up the content of this novel, rather than the actual main plot.

I LOVED the back stories. They were evocative of a holiday to Croatia a few years ago, in terms of the vineyards and coastal regions. Gallina reminded me of the forests around Plitivice lakes. I loved the way the superstitions of the people created these wonderful but sometimes damaging myths around their neighbours lives. I loved that we approach them all through Natalia’s grandfather at different stages in his life.

Side note, I LOVE the typography of the Balkan language (even though WordPress doesn’t have the characters).

Many better reviewers than me have talked about the themes of death and peoples relationship with it, and their reactions to it. I think I very much glossed over this part of the narrative, focusing more on the mythical tales. But upon reflection, I can totally see this point. And it is perhaps these themes that stay with you beyond the end of the book.

This really is an accomplished debut novel and one that I am so glad I discovered in a charity shop in Cardiff. If you’re happy to feel history, rather than learn it, and are willing to let go of reality slightly, then I highly recommend this book. It’s just really beautiful in parts. But I also get why readers might not be able to persist with it.

Further side note, this was one of about 10 books that were bought on the same day, from many international authors. Many of which I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up if it wasn’t for this blog. So I’m grateful to be discovering not just new stories, but new authors as well.

Anyone else got a decent amount of time off for Christmas? I’ve lined up The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende as my Christmas read (Insole Court Book Clubs book for January) and am also dipping into Not All Feminists Wear Pink.

This has to be my favourite time of year for reading!

Kelly

Other things: Christmas Gift Guide

Thought I’d use a bit of my free time to pull together a gift guide for Christmas. These are books that I’d like to receive, or books that I have bought as gifts before, for a variety of friends or family members. All available at Wordery, or I’m sure you could order in any of these in an independent book shop.

  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, for the fantasy fan. Soon to be a TV show.
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, for someone who loves an epic ride. I haven’t read this yet, but its been highly recommended to me.
  • Power by Naomi Alderman, for the young people. Review here.
  • Also for the young people, Animal by Sara Pascoe. Or anyone actually. Very informative but also funny.
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama, for literally anyone. We all need more Michelle in our lives.
  • I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, realistically, for the parents of toddlers. Dark and hilarious.
  • Sabriel series by Garth Nix. Fab for tweens and young adults. Strong female protagonists in a really unique fantasy world.
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbera Kingsolver, for the avid reader in your life. Treat them to this beauty.

Let me know if this was in anyway useful. Or comment if you need a specific recommendation, happy to help!

Kelly

other things: cardiff book talk – 19 Nov 2018

ursula

Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea.

This Cardiff Book Talk event, marking Ursula Le Guins death earlier this year, and 50 years since The Wizard of Earthsea was published, felt like a direct result of Facebooks insidious targeted marketing, but I’m ok with it. You can find out about Cardiff Book Talk here in a much more direct and concise way than me rambling on about it, so check them out. Especially if you’re local to Cardiff.

I’m not going to go through everything that was discussed in too much depth, or ‘review’ the event in any way so I’m not sure what this is really. But I will share some comments from the speakers and myself, as well as some suggested further reading (in bold) if you’re also a Le Guin fan or think you might be interested in her work. That ok? Yep? Great.

So for starters if you haven’t read the Earthsea Cycle, a set of four absolutely wonderful books, then go forth and do that. The four books include; The Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore and Tehanu. As you will read below, the Earthsea world is often compared to Tolkein’s Middle-earth, but differs in some really interesting ways, which were discussed in the talk.

There were three speakers at the event, each looking at the book, and the author from slightly different angles.

Dr Dimitra Fimi, from the University of Glasgow, really delved into the differences between Le Guin and Tolkein as writers and the differences in the world that they create. The difference that is striking once you consider it, but I genuinely hadn’t considered it before, was that there is no villain. The quest of the book is an inner journey, and the main character, Ged, is striving to find balance in himself and in the world.

Ishi in Two Worlds by Theodora Kroeber

The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction by Ursula Le Guin

Dr Liesl King, from the University of York St John, explored Taoism and Lao Tzu on Le Guins writings. She suggested that the Taoist principles of equilibrium and yin and yang can be seen in many of Le Guin’s writings. It was really nice to feel vindicated with the principles of minimalism; do less, use less, move more slowly <pointed look from the adult-boyfriend life-partner at this point> and interesting that I was introduced to this early in life through Le Guins writing, without really realising it.

A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way by Ursula Le Guin

Dr Catherine Butler, from Cardiff University, looked at the final book in the quartet, Tehanu, and its feminist leanings. This, I found particularly interesting, as the final book had always felt different to me, with a very different tone, but I could never pinpoint why. It was great to learn more at this event about Le Guins history and her own thoughts on her work. She wanted to use Tehanu to show audiences that she had grown as a writer and as a feminist.

The Female Hero in American and British Literature by Carol Pearson and Katherine Pope

The Other Wind by Ursula Le Guin

I’m not gonna lie, I felt a little out of place, being in a University building, with three academic speakers, feedback that I did share with the organisers. But I also appreciate that it is a Cardiff University initiative so is bound to have an academic slant and it was the depth of understanding that the speakers had that made it so compelling for me. I will definitely go along to another event, and whole-heartedly support these events happening in Cardiff. A great way to start the week, and a legitimate excuse to pop into Noodlebox.

Kelly