Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Long Earth

Most of the members of the book club had finished the book.

This book was based on a short story written by Terry Pratchett prior to writing The Colour of Magic which was then picked up again and made into this book and The Long War. We felt that this wasn't a particularly good example of what either of the individual writers could produce, in fact it was a bit of a let down.

We felt that although it was a large book there wasn't actually much of a story within the pages, it could easily have stayed as a short story, or maybe a series of short stories. It felt as though the writers were a little bit lost while writing the book, they stuffed in new elements throughout with little or no explanation. It almost felt that this was their original brainstorming session rather than a finished book. Each of the little stories in the book on their own were interesting but they weren't expanded enough to fully capture us as readers. Although having said that we did enjoy the way that some of the creatures found on the other earths were used to explain fairy tale characters, but again we wanted more information.

We could notice the two different writers voices, even though only a couple of members of the book club had previously read books by Terry Pratchett. There were often jarring elements where Terry Practchett came through with a ridiculous name, or piece of information. These were juxtaposed with the much more dry, hard science elements from Stephen Baxter.

The main issue we all had with the book is the lack of details in the different worlds, and a bit more explanation as to why things were the way they were on the different earths. Things just seemed to be seen and stated with little reason as to why and how they all linked. We understood that we were following a scientific experiment and that the scientists involved didn't have the answers but maybe some discussion would have helped us to understand the different earths a little better. The fact that these were all earths of exactly the same age, just one step sideways with regard to the things that had happened to them caused us a bit of confusion because normally in books of this nature they involve time slips rather than earth slips.

Overall we gave this book 3 out of 10. We found it to be ultimately disappointing.

The Long Earth - Questions

Just a quick email to make sure you're all enjoying this months book, here are some ideas and questions to think about while you're reading:
- why do you think people have to make or at least finish the stepping devices themselves? Do you think this links with the idea of natural steppers at all?
- when the great danger was revealed how did you feel about it, did you understand it or feel it was a bit of a let down?
- Did you find that Pratchett and Baxter worked as a writing team or could you see different writing styles as you were reading? Have you read anything by either writer before, and if so could you notice their style in this book?
- what would you do if faced with infinite pristine earths, would you step and if so, how far and with what purpose?
I hope you're all enjoying your books, and i'll see you on Thursday 29th August.

The Long Earth - videos and questions

I hope everyone is enjoying this months book. I found this online last week and thought i would share them with you.

The Bell Jar

We felt that this wasn't a book to be read and enjoyed with a strong story line, it was simply a book trying to make the reader understand what it is like to live through mental illness. This makes it uncomfortable to read at times especially given the author actually went through similar things to the protagonist in her own real life. For example, she was treated at one time using electro-shock treatment a particularly nasty experience. This gave the story a large dose of realism which probably added to the readers ability to empathise with the character. We then went on to discuss the use of electric shocks as a way of treating mental illness, and although we could see the logic to it, we couldn't understand how it could actually be used on fragile human beings. We talked about how we're still very much only just learning how the brain actually works, and what happens when it breaks a little.
We also discussed who the characters in the book might have been given that Sylvia Plath was obviously the lead character. Maybe her then husband Ted Hughes might have been one of the characters, possibly the professor?
With regards the lack of storyline, we felt that it was very much a stream of consciousness rather a story with a plan. This meant there was often not much explanation, it felt more like a person writing a diary who doesn't need to explain anything because it's something only the writer will ever read. The book didn't seem to have a beginning middle and end as most books tend to have, it was as if the reader had just picked up one diary from a series of diaries and read that with not much context. The ending showed this particularly well.
The book seemed to be easy to read with regard to the writing style, it flowed easily despite the uncomfortable subject matter. However, it wasn't a book that many of the members of the book club felt compelled to pick up, probably because of the lack of a strong story line. Once it was picked up though it was enjoyed.
An interesting point made by one member of the book club was the symbol of the bell jar itself seeming to represent the fact that the person within cannot hear those outside and vice versa, meaning that they cannot understand each other. It could also mean that the person inside the bell jar feels themselves to be some kind of science experiment with other people watching her but not interacting with her.
We found the descriptions of depression and mental illness to be very interesting, we felt that the person with mental illness may not even realise that this is waht they're suffering from. They may simply believe that they are having difficulty sleeping or concentrating when really they are severly depressed.

Overall we gave this book 5 out of 10.

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

Here are some questions for you to think about for this months book:

- Are Esther's attitudes toward men, sex, and marriage peculiar to herself? What role do her attitudes play in her breakdown? What are we told about her society's expectations regarding men and women, sexuality, and relationships? Have those expectations changed since that time?

- What terms does Esther use to describe herself? How does she compare or contrast herself with Doreen and others in New York City, or with Joan and other patients in the hospital?

- What instances and images of distortion occur in the novel? What are their contexts and significance? Does Esther achieve a clear, undistorted view of herself?

- With what specific setting, event, and person is Esther's first thought of suicide associated? Why? In what circumstances do subsequent thoughts and plans concerning suicide occur?


This months notes were written up by a kind volunteer and are as follows:

- easy book to read but everyone felt there was something lacking
- the main character, Mary made big transitions in her life but ultimately ended up where she started. Although this did seem to be not so much from choice but making the best of a bad situation after she was found out by the innkeeper. Had this not happened, it may have been a different story
- Mary was driven by a want for the finer things in life
- Mary didn't want to be subservient or answer to anyone.  She was self-reliant and wanted control. She even tried to control the manner in which she died even though she had no choice
- the last chapter was poor and felt it was more about wrapping the book up swiftly
- disappointing that there was no reflection or remorse from Mary in the last chapters
- the book lacked depth and there was little evidence of emotions therefore it was difficult to engage with the main character
- despite Mary being a victim of a number of unfortunate events, it was difficult to feel sorry for her
- Doll was more likeable character
- Daffy came over as a bit of a hopeless dreamer and romantic.  It was strange he had access to so many books as they were expensive during this era
- Mary came under influence of a number of maternal influences, her own mother, Doll, the matron, Mrs Jones.  Mary had a better relationship with Doll than her own mother Mary had a difficult relationship with her mother and seemed determined that would not be like her.  Mary seemed to be a constant reminder of her father and she resented the promise made to Mary's father of ensuring Mary had an education
- although Mary was fortunate to have an education, it gave her ideas above her station and made it difficult for her to fit in
- the book showed how powerless women were during this time.  All the women in the story had had some misfortune or been let down by men.  The men in story had all the control
- overall the book should have been more interesting. It was a good story but this did not come through enough.  Not enough invested in the characters

Average score - 5.5