Source: The Dry
This was a very quick read. In fact, it took me two days only, reading into the early hours of the morning. I could not put it down. It was engrossing and a compelling whodunit crime mystery / thriller and it drew me in right from the very first chapter. Was is a literary masterpiece? No. Did it create a lot of discussion at Book Club? Not really as there is no real depth and substance to the novel apart from it being a great mystery/ whodunit but it was enjoyed by everyone as it was a bit of light relief! Is it unforgettable? Probably not!
The Dry is a story of 2 mysteries. The first set in the present where we meet Aaron Falk returning to his hometown to attend his friend Luke’s funeral—his friend who apparently has committed suicide after murdering his wife and their young son, Billy, but leaving his young daughter alive. The second mystery is set in the past and deals with the killing of Luke and Aaron’s friend Elle, 17 years before, or was her death suicide too?
You sense Falk’s longing to leave his home town after the funeral and get back to his city life and leave behind this village that has haunting memories for him. He is not well received back home and from the outset you know that he is an outcast who has run away from a deep dark past secret. But Luke’s curiosity and suspicions of the brutal murder of his friend’s family and Luke’s own suicide does not lie true with him. He is unable to leave and feels compelled to stay and investigate the mystery that enshrouds the drought stricken village of Kiewarra. What is this 20 year secret that Aaron is hiding?
‘You lied. Luke lied.’
Luke knows that by trying to resolve the current mystery alongside the only person willing to listen to him, Detective Raco, he is going to resurrect unpleasant memories of his past, re-opening revelations that threaten to tear apart this small little town, once again. Tensions and emotions are high and the heat even higher!
Most of her main characters, Aaron Falk in particular, are well-developed despite their clichéd dialogue, and her description of the barren landscape, the dry river bed and the heat in particular, bring the book to life and tie up well with the end!
The last third of the novel was a bit of a letdown as is begins to slow down and becomes a little dry – pardon the pun! Personally I was expecting a hugely exciting denouement but it was a bit of a disppointment and resolved very quickly, as if Ms Harper was unsure how to bring the novel to a satisfactory conclusion. It was rather anti-climatic! I have to admit that I guessed the culprit a few chapters before the end but we were not unanimously in agreement with the demise of Elle! Could soemthing else have happend to her?? I can’t say too much or it will spoil the story for you!
We didn’t love it – it didn’t change our lives – but this was a fun read and gave us more time in Book club to eat drink and talk about other issues!!
I am being very generous by giving the book but I’m not sure that everyone feels the same! Please leave a comments with your thoughts on this novel. Thank you!
I am playing a game of catch up for the next few pages and to make life easier I am going to paste Kate and Adam’s comments on the book we read back in November 2016 – The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay – as I haven’t written a review for this book! In fact there are a number of books I have been rather neglectful of so be prepared for the onslaught of neglected books!
If my memory serves me well, this book was not well received at Book Club, maybe because of it being Christmas and everyone being so busy, this book was not an easy read! On the contrary, it is hard work and very easy to give up on which a number of us did but when you finally get into it – oh what a joy! I loved it! Here is a talented writer and researcher. Chabon did an excellent job integrating his vast knowledge of comic book history into The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and I thoroughly enjoyed the escapism! On the surface, we are at the brink of WW2 when we meet two young men at the beginning of the golden age of comic books, who come together to create their own caped heroes, most notably ‘The Escapist’. But then it hits you that the entire novel is about escape. Joe Kavalier a young Jewish artist escapes from Prague to the US just before the Nazi occupation where he teams up with his cousin Sam Clay. Sam is not as colourful a character as his European cousin but he also has his own life experiences from which he wants to escape. The novel tackles some serious social issues including the prejudice against the Jews as well as against homosexuals in those years. The characters are wonderfully brought to life throughout this book and are interwoven with many historical people such as Harry Houdini, Orson Welles, Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Stan Lee, and others. It is an extraordinary book. Beautiful characters, swashbuckling adventures, wonderful imagination and a roller coaster of emotions. It unfolded like a flower!
I have been very neglectful with my Book Club Blog and for that I apologise, but I am back and will do my up most to keep this blog updated from now on!! Sitting here with my new hip and limited movement, I thought that I would have hours to spare to update the pages and blog to my heart’s content but it is surprising how busy one can be with limited movement!! (Prison Break Season 1 2 3 and 4 come to mind , but, there, I digress!!)
Last Tuesday at Book Club The Underground Railway was the chosen read for the month of April and therefore the topic of discussion. Naturally, cheese, bread, crackers, savouries, cake, flapjacks and wine were an added bonus!
After in length discussions on hip replacements and Brazil (me deliberating the former and Kate the latter after her awesome and recent trip to South America) we finally got round to the book. Personally, I found The Underground Railroad a difficult read and the subject of much debate. It was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone, and I use ‘enjoyed’ lightly due to the subject matter, but there were lots of conflicting and difference of opinions thrown around during the evening. The book is a very cleverly written saga about slavery in all its brutal forms, its extreme brutality and its survival and consequences. Lots of issues were discussed including the following among many others: –
Would it have been better written in the 1st person rather than the 3rd?
How enjoyable was Whitehead’s style of writing?
How exactly did we interpreted the underground railroad?
How well-developed were his characters?
What was Mabel’s role in the story?
Is there a correlation between this story and society today?
The book cleverly crosses the genres of historic and literary fiction, and there is plenty of social justice narration. It is a book with big ideas and daring commentary which keeps you questioning your beliefs about race, freedom and, as a Brit, what you really know of ‘The American Dream’ and American history, in fact, it can be linked to any exploitation, any time, anywhere. Having lived in the South of the US for a number of years I felt that I could relate some parts of the writing to the life I experienced back in the 80s in the seep south. And a part that hit home were these words from the book – “And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes – believes with all its heart – that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn’t exist, if there is any justice in the world, or its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are.” Food for thought there!
Personally, I struggled to finish the book, but you must persevere to the penultimate chapter, ‘Mabel’, to finally feel some emotion that I believed the book lacked ( and by the way, on the subject of lack of emotion, I believe out of our group, I was a lone voice!) I am not saying that it was devoid of emotion of any kind, as Cora, the protagonist of this story faces more tragedy than any human being should ever have to experience in a lifetime, but I did not bond with her. I did not feel for her or Caesar, come to that. I would have liked to have read and experienced her story as seen through her eyes and therefore written in the 1st person rather than the 3rd would have been my preference. Yes Cora suffers. She is a teenage slave who runs away from the plantation in Georgia she’s been sold to and embarks on this journey of terror to find freedom and when she finds it, like any other, she will do anything so that she will never have to go back. But I felt no form of empathy or concern for her and Ceasar, unfortunately and when Caesar disappeared half way through with no clear explanation for his disappearance, it didn’t seem to matter. Also, if you are expecting to know more about the Underground Railroad itself then be prepared to be disappointed as it is not incorporate into the story as one would have maybe hoped. The title is rather deceptive there.
For the most part the story is written chronologically but Colson does tend to jump back to the past on occasions which made the narrative rather disjointed, in my opinion. The bumpy ride is a bit of a roller coaster and, like the railway, takes us into unexpected directions. We meet many strong, brave, hunted, hounded, evil, despicable characters on the journey but also a number of ancillary characters, who seem out of place at the time of meeting and easily forgotten until we revisit them as we progress through the story. It is a powerful and at times brutal story depicting the harsh treatment of slaves and a culmination of history from the sterilization of women to the development of the Klan. It is devastating and it is provocative. It leaves you feeling uncomfortable. It is thought-provoking and a great book choice for a book club as it certainly sparks off some great discussions. I always wonder at the ways individuals can interpret a common read in so many different ways. That is the beauty of Book Club!
‘The Underground Railroad’ is a recommended read by us all ( me too, believe it or not!) but it has so much to unpack that this one-sided review by me alone can’t do it justice. Hopefully, some of the club members will write their side of the discussion in the comment below and I would love to hear from you too, so please leave your comments below for discussion. Thank you.
Before leaving I have included some articles for you to read and a video of Colson Whithead himself talking about his little gem of a book.
Source: Ups and Downs
Oh!!!! What a book!! Full marks from us all around the Christmas table back in December. I am a month late blogging so HUGE apologies!! Here is what I started writing the night of our last 2016 Book Club meeting and that is followed with an update!!
Oh! Such a lovely evening!! We had a great Christmas Book Club Christmas night tonight! Great food at The Brit in Cwmavon but better company and a wonderful discussion about a brilliantly , beautifully written book ‘All at the Light We Cannot See’! Unfortunately 50% of us hadn’t finished the book for ashamedly, no real reason, but we can all agree that this is a brilliant book and I would say, one of the best we have chosen to read in Book Club history! Please treat yourself and read it!
The evening flew by with great food from the evening menu, plenty of delicious wine, and a fun Book Club quiz (which I am so pleased to say ended in a draw) . We also had a bit of fun exchanging Christmas book-wrapped pressies. Great choices of books, by the way! Not forgetting Cor Afan singing in the background. We enjoyed so much that we forgot to choose a book for January so our New Year meeting will be a social get together where we will choose our next book!
Back to the present. I have to admit that I was one of the 50% who hadn’t finished reading the book but now, a month later I am happy to say that I have sadly come to thinned of the book. Sadly because I didn’t want it out of my life. I prolonged the reading of this elegant and provocative prose for as long as I could but now it’s over and I have moved on! What kept me hooked to the book more than anything was the portrayal of the lives of Marie Laure and Werner. Getting to know them in their very different worlds is a treat to savour as we wait for the crossing of their lives with each other, which, when they finally do, is not what you will be expecting. It is much better, much more bittersweet and unexpected.
You are drawn into this book by the beautifully written pages. You are in an orphanage listening to the radio. You are walking the streets of St. Malo with heightened senses of all that surrounds you. You feel enriched by the imagery Doerr creates, with the heightened meaning and with the depth of feeling that oozes out of the very short chapters.
Take a look at this video where the author Anthony Doerr, explains to us where the three pieces of inspiration that provided the superstructure for the novel came from. The first being on NYC subway with a fellow passenger moaning about the loss of his mobile phone signal.
‘At the start of the book I wanted to try to capture the magic of hearing the voice of a stranger in a little device in your home because for the history of humanity, that was a strange thing. I started with a boy trapped somewhere and a girl reading a story.’
A year later he was on a book tour in France and saw Saint Malo for the first time.
‘Walking around this beautiful seaside town, a walled fortress, the beautiful channel, the green water of the channel breaking against the walls and I told my editor, “look how old this is. This medieval town’s so pretty.” He said, “actually, this town was almost entirely destroyed in 1944, by your country, by American bombs.” So I started researching a lot about the city of Saint Malo immediately and knew that was the setting. That was where the boy would be trapped, listening to the radio.’
The third piece Doerr explains is when he learned that when the Germans invaded, the French hid not only their artistic treasures but their important natural history and gemological holdings, too.
Read the book. It’s wonderful.
This was my suggestion for November’s book club. I read ‘The Lady of Hay‘ some 20 years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it was new, fresh, different and an exciting linking of past and present, fiction and non-fiction and was a brilliant, mystical and spine-tingling read. I enjoyed it so much that I couldn’t wait to read more books by Barbara Erskine and there then followed a stream of books of hers which I devoured with a passion. And then I stopped reading her. No reason, just that I moved away from Erskine to read other authors!! So when I saw this book while searching for suggestions for Book Club I jumped at the opportunity to put it forward as our next book, relishing the thought of revisiting the brilliance of Barbara Erskine.
So, what did I make of it?
It was a very good read. However, having read so many of Barbara Erskine books and thoroughly enjoying them all I have to say that I felt that I had ‘outgrown’ her. I once found the mystery, ghostly quality and supernatural theme running though her books thrilling and intoxicating, they kept making me look over my shoulder while reading and listening for noises late into the night, but alas, that enthusiasm wasn’t reignited this time round. I felt that this book did not quite have that magic that the others once held for me. The historical side of Catrin and Dafydd and their involvement with Owain Glyndwr was true to history and very interesting, but their continuous journey around Wales, in and out of castles, singing and entertaining went on 200 miles too far for me!! The modern day story was also a little contrived and predictable and why oh why write a spin off story involving the incredible character of Rhona? I felt she was superfluous to needs.
The story line, plot and character relationships have not changed over 30 years. Miserable/angry handsome male meets unhappy, lost female who instantly dislike each other. The villain / evil lurks in the background and hated male becomes the hero and misunderstood hate becomes passionate love!! The ending of this novel was very predictable and a bit too neat and tidy for me. Andy, the main character was not very likeable either!!
Now, that all sounds very negative, but I would certainly and wholeheartedly recommend Barbara Erskine to you. If you haven’t read her before you may thoroughly enjoy this book but I would suggest you choose an earlier book, preferably They Lady of Hay if you want to read Barbara Erskine at her very best.
Take a look at what Goodreads has to say about Barbara Erskine. I urge you to choose one of her earlier books to read and enjoy!
At Book Club, the book was a relative success. We all enjoyed it but for those reading the work of Barbara Erskine for the first time, one or two will not be reading her again. Others, I am happy to say, will!
We had a lovely evening this month. Hot soup and fresh crusty bread were on the menu followed by – dare I say it – the first taste of Christmas in the form of mince pies, with plenty of wine, as usual or, for the drivers, tea and coffee and lots of discussion both about the book and the choosing of the next one!!
Our next meeting is our Christmas night out and the book we are reading is ‘All the Light We cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr. Look out for the next blog and please leave a message if you have read either books discussed here. It would be lovely to hear from you.