Tag Archives: Neath

The Underground Railroad

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.

Article 1

Article 2


Fishbowl and The Truth and Other Lies

the-truth-and-other-lies-blue                                    fishbowl

I have been very slow posting this and I do apologise! We had such a long Summer break that I fell out of the habit of Book Club blogging but we are back! The dark winter nights will soon be upon us so we can cwtsh under our blankets and duvets and not feel too guilty about indulging ourselves into hours of pleasure with our next choices of great reads!! Having said that, our first choice after our break is proving rather difficult! A big book with small print!


But first things first. It was lovely to get together again in September at the Celtic Lodge even though we weren’t many. It was a lovely evening so we sat out on the patio and had some fine food and drink.

celtic-food-2 the decker burger

celtic-foodor maybe a ham and cheese panini!!

And then to discussing the books!! It was quite clear that of the two Summer Reads – Fish Bowl and The Truth and Other Lies, that Fishbowl won hands down!!

fishbowl-titleWhat a great little book!! We would all recommend this to readers out there as it was quirky, sweet, well written with some gloriously unusual characters hiding such startling secrets whilst living virtually in each other’s pockets in a block of flats so regally named, The Seville on Roxy. I found this review on the Waterstone’s site which I thought I’d share with you!! It mirrors my thoughts exactly.

“It is a book to enjoy; I implore you to do just that.”

This book exudes joy, life, resilience and hope

Everything, from the gorgeous cover, bright orange and with terrific typography and evocative artwork, to the wonderful fish cartoon that tumbles down the pages as they are flicked, is beautifully presented. And the important thing, the story on the pages contained within, is just as wonderfully fabulous.

I’m a little unsure how to categorize this book or how best to concisely describe the plot. The subtitle of “Fishbowl” is “what the goldfish saw as he fell from the 27th floor” and that, pretty much, is it in a nutshell. Or, in this case, that should be “in a bowl”. Oh, and what a brilliant bowl Somer has created.

The goldfish, Ian, glimpses brief snatches and moments in the lives of the occupants of the Seville on Roxy as he undertakes his terrifying fall from the 27th floor of the building. The residents, each living separate lives removed from that of their immediate neighbours and often in complete isolation, are drawn together as the novel progresses. Bradley Somer, has created a memorable cast of characters in this whimsical, warm and funny, moving and beautifully crafted book that delights and charms in abundance.

The chapter titles are magnificent in their own little way, each one a tantalizing and charming prelude to the joys that lie ahead. The writing is crisp and sharp, eloquent and provocative, funny and sad. This book is a delight to read.

It is a book to enjoy; I implore you to do just that.

And it was!

truthI enjoyed the Truth and Other Lies but it had paled into insignificance by September!! It was the first of the 2 books I read therefore the freshness and hilarity of Fishbowl was still vivid in my mind and everyone present found the same. They had read the book at the beginning of the summer, then slept, then read another, and slept, went on holiday and slept until this poor book became a distant memory! However, I must add that I enjoyed it and would recommend it. The novel was dark and twisty but we all agreed that the characters were not likeable and it then becomes difficult to enjoy a book if you cannot relate to the people painting the canvas! Henry Hayden, the central character, has a happy fulfilling life. He is a successful author with a number of best sellers to his name; one of his titles had been made into a film; and his marriage to Martha was a happy one. But soon Henry’s life begins to unravel in an alarming fashion when we find out that it has been built entirely on a lie, one he shared with his wife Martha, who is a very insignificant character in book! But like all lies, one leads to another and another until the string becomes so tightly woven, you begin to suffocate and flounder in your web. It’s an Ok book. It reminded me a lot of the Talented Mr. Ripley books. It’s cleverly written and will keep you in suspense but it is very easily forgotten!

Kate’s thoughts on the book:-

  • The book has many merits in that it is a gripping story which holds your attention and I was eager to discover the outcome and consequently enjoyed reading it; however the style of writing is distinctly average although some of its literary merit may have been lost in the translation. Basically it’s a straightforward crime thriller with a few interesting twists, however after the initial surprise of the first murder scene, I thought the plot became somewhat predictable and lacked suspense, the writing was distinctly average and the characterization sketchy and sometimes far fetched; for example would Gisbert Fasch have given up his years of obsessive research in a lifelong quest for revenge just because Henry took him to hospital and bought him a private room? Henry of course was the master of cunning manipulation and this book too explores the concepts of good and evil although most of Henry’s kind acts were solely for the purpose of worming his way into the affections of his acquaintances so that they would fall prey to his scheming manipulation and unsuspectingly carry out his wishes to protect him in a smokescreen of the truth even if that meant killing on his behalf.
    Henry could be charming and displayed some acts of random kindness but that belied his chillingly ruthless streak which would stop at nothing to preserve his self interest; he showed very little if any emotion when those closest to him died and he was callously prepared to sacrifice his own unborn child in the interests of self preservation and seemingly experienced no feelings of guilt or loss whatsoever.
    I was disappointed with the weak ending and felt as though the author had lost interest in the book and just wanted to finish it all off as quickly as possible which led to a sudden and unsatisfactory ending to the plot, in my eyes anyway. However I think we have been spoilt recently by reading books which have appealed on so many different levels; if you’re looking for a straightforward crime thriller with a gripping story line which holds your attention and turns up a few unexpected dark twists and surprises, then this book will definitely fit the bill.

So our next book is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. 

We will be meeting once again at the Celtic Lodge on Wednesday, October 12th. Please come along if you would like to join us.


Happy Birthday Book Club / Ruby

happy BirthdayIt’s our birthday this month. A year since the first Neath Book Club meeting and still going strong. We have read a variety of books some good, some not so, some unreadable and some unputdownable!!  Trawl through and read about some the books we have read to date. Our current book is ‘Ruby’ and I’m finding it very difficult to read. There is a very tender love story underlying the gruesome, brutal violation of black women and children by vile, low-life southern scum! This kind of violation makes me so angry that I am unable to read the words on the pages. However, the book is well written and the characters are brought to life with every word. These words echo my thoughts exactly.

‘Exquisite, juxtaposing horrific imagery with dreamy evocative lyricism.’ (Lambda Literary)

So plenty to talk about on Wednesday night. We will be going to the Celtic Lodge (some great reviews on Trip Adviser. Well done Caren and Will!) for food, maybe few drinks and plenty of book discussion, I’m sure. Join our discussion by writing your comments of the book we are currently reading, any of our others or some highly recommended books you may have read at your Book Club.

rubyGreat night! Wonderful food, great venue and outstanding review by everyone!! I finally finished the book and now, looking back, all I can say is what a beautiful piece of literature! Cynthia Bond’s ability to create such profound emotions in the reader is astounding.The writing was magically poetic and lyrical. This is a many layered story which unfolds as the novel develops so that we discover more and more about each character, helping us to understand their being.  Ephram was my favourite. He is a loving and gentle soul with inner strength to love a woman that the community has turned its back on. His love for Ruby, which began at childhood,  is the hope that runs through the novel, turning it from a dark and dismal hopelessness to a hopeful redemption end.

However!!!!!The sheer volume of child-rapes, woman-killings and other truly awful events in this book turned my stomach and made reading the book extremely difficult. If it hadn’t been for Book Club I would not have finished it. The numerous spirits that filled Ruby’s body was incredulous, the times she was raped and abused form the age of 6 was nauseating and vile! But it continued and continued in graphic detail that was really far too much for me to endure and not needed, in my opinion. The continuous accounts of the rape of young children, Ruby herself and then Ephram’s mother,  only contributed to the disturbing discomfort I felt while reading. Did we really need to read this over and over?? Not me. However, the richness of the prose, the development of the characters, especially those of Ephram and Ruby fill us with hope and love in adversity – the worst you could ever imagine, and we end up filled with optimism for their future. I will not ever open this book again though!

Hopefully I will get reviews from the Book Club girls. We all contributed enthusiastically in our discussion before wolfing down some delicious main cuisine followed by decadent , totally not needed, desert!! Yum!!