Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Innocents - Questions

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re enjoying the beautiful weather while reading this months book club pick. Don’t forget that the next meeting is on Thursday 31st July. Please could you let me know if you are or aren’t able to make it?

Here are some questions for you to think about as you’re reading:

-    Compare Ellie’s character with that of Rachel’s, and discuss Adam’s inability to commit wholly to just one of them for most of the novel. Between the two women, whom did you prefer? With whom did you sympathize the most? Do you think Adam made the right choice, in the end?
-    How well does Segal portray the social, psychological, religious, and emotional lives of the Jewish community in North London? Do you feel that she conveys a reasonable and realistic portrait of this large and diverse group of people? What were her greatest strengths in her depiction, as well as her weaknesses?
-    Similarly, how did characters like Ziva Schneider help you to understand the Israeli immigrant experience? In particular, what did the novel help to show about the Jewish survivors of World War II, and their difficulties with nationality and assimilation into post-World War II European society?

Orange Is The New Black

Orange is the New Black – Bookclub meeting write-up

All but one of the group had finished the book and we all felt the same about it – it was good but not outstanding.  We all felt that it was, in general, very well written and in an engaging style, but we also felt that there were areas which left us scratching our heads, wondering what was going on.  Partly this was due to the fact that the author has a habit of jumping around in time without always making it clear that she is doing so, and partly it was due to the fact that we felt the characters were not very well drawn.

We all said that we found it difficult to remember who was who.  Apart from Piper and Larry the only other person we could remember was Pop, because she was a central character.  All the other prisoners were interchangeable in our minds.  We had none of us seen the TV show based on the book and we thought that maybe it would be easier to identify with the characters if we had, as we would then have a picture in our minds of what they looked like.  We did feel that there wasn’t enough in the book to make a TV series but somebody said that the TV series was a lot more about relationships, so it would appear that it doesn’t stick religiously to the original text but is more of a development of the characters in the book.

We liked Larry very much and his love and support for Piper came through strongly.  We also liked the fact that Piper, her family and her friends were non-judgemental.  We felt that we learnt something from the book, which is that there is more to every situation than first meets the eye.  The women in the prison were mostly locked up for crimes which their background made it very hard to avoid, and they were mostly not bad people but victims of their environment.  Piper obviously felt very strongly the injustice of locking up vulnerable people, teaching them nothing, and then turning them back out into society with very little in the way of advice to help them not return to prison in the future.  Her anger at this shone through and we felt that her punishment was to see the effect her unthinking actions could have had on these people.  By participating in the drug trade she, who had everything on the outside and didn’t appreciate it, had made life more difficult for these people who had very little but valued what they did have. 

We liked the way the prisoners interacted and worked together to make prison life a bit more bearable by sharing what they had, whether that be possessions or skills like knitting or writing.  However, we did feel that the overall impression given was that Danbury prison was quite a cosy place to be and, although the loss of liberty and control of your own life was a hardship, because of the way the book was written we didn’t see as much of that as we did of the women being kind to each other and the little pleasures they gleaned from every day.  We felt the parts that best reflected the awfulness of what was happening to Piper were the first few chapters, where she has to fact up to her crime and wait to begin her prison sentence, and the final few chapters, where she is locked up in a much tougher prison and cut off from her support group.  Although we did feel that, on balance, prison should be more about redemption than punishment we also felt that, the way it was reported in this book, Danbury didn’t really do well on either count and seemed like a bit of a waste of time from the point of view of being an effective deterrent. 

Overall this was an easy read but disappointing in parts.  We gave it an overall mark of 6.5

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

Everyone in the book group found this book hard to read, we felt that this was because we had all gone into it thinking it would be a ripping good mystery story. However, in actual fact it was more like a history book that just happened to be about a historical murder mystery. If we had read it thinking of it more as a history book we might have enjoyed it a little more.

Most of the people in the group enjoyed reading about the well known historical characters mentioned in the book such as Charles Dickens. We also enjoyed finding out just how different the class system was in Whichers day rather than today. We felt that he didn't manage to get on with this particular mystery very well because he wasn't of the correct class to talk to people or get information from people. However, we also felt that given that detectives were such a new thing Whicher seemed supremely well suited to being one, he certainly had the ability to notice things which the other police officers seemed to either ignore or not notice at all.

We were a little disappointed at the end of the book given that there was no real conclusion in our eyes, but then again this is the way in real life things aren't always tidy. As readers we weren't able to seen the evidence as clearly as either Whicher or the author, we were in fact seeing things through at least two different pairs of eyes before we got anywhere near the information. Either of these pairs of eyes could have massively distorted the information. Not to mention no-one can know the real truth of the matter unless you're able to get into the brain of the killer.

Most of the characters in this book we felt were very dry and one dimensional, we didn't really get to know anyone as they were just mentioned as pieces of evidence. This meant that we didn't come to like any of the characters, who were in fact real people although it is hard to keep remembering this fact. We weren't sure whether someone like Philippa Gregory might have gone about writing this story in a completely different way, however she does tend to take liberties with some historical people which may have had a detrimental effect on this murder mystery.

Overall we gave this book 3.5 out of 10. We felt that it needed to be made clearer that this is much more like a historical document than a murder mystery.