Book Review June 2018

by Sue Davy

  • Posted on June 9, 2018

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Our BWG Bookclub ran a marathon event in June, with three books to cover. Our style is usually way more relaxed than this. As everyone knows, the main point of a bookclub is to meet some lovely people, have a fun morning, oh and by the way, to discuss a book which is either a thoroughly good read, and/or provokes some interesting discussion. Isn’t it?

There are a unique set of challenges to organising a Bangkok bookclub. This starts with finding a book that people can easily buy or download, and ends with having enough members in town on any given date to run the meeting!

It was with this in mind, that our choice of books over the past three months has included some golden oldies to either be fondly revisited, or to be discovered and hopefully delight, for the first time. We have been in Barcelona, Britain and Guernsey and have been discussing intellectual thriller, a historical fiction and a laugh out loud travel journal.

We went from light and fluffy, to deep and meaningful, only interspersed by ‘can I get anyone another coffee?’  Never a dull moment in our book group!

What I love about our BWG Bookclub members is the diversity of views. Isn’t it wonderfully fascinating how the same book can invoke utter dismay and have two member admit defeat, one member struggling through and feeling really proud of herself to have reached the end of a seemingly scholarly challenge, whilst another member gives it 10/10 and absolutely loved it!

Here’s what we have been reading recently:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society: Annie Barrows and Mary Anne Shaffer

This is a historical novel written in 1946, set against the German occupation of Guernsey during World War 11. The Channel Islands were abandoned by the British believing that they would be of no interest to the Germans. Unfortunately the Germans thought otherwise and easily landed and took over the islands.

The author Annie Barrows wrote the book 20 years after her interest in the subject was stimulated by a flight delay at Guernsey Airport. This book was completed after her death by her niece Mary Anne Shaffer.

The central character of the novel is an author, Juliet,who was contacted by a Guernsey resident Dawsey Adams enquiring about another of her books, from this a correspondence ensued. She learned of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Societywhich started as a cover for residents breaking the German curfew  and laws curiosity led her to lively correspondence with different members of the group and the exchanged letters help us get to know some of this disparate group of people and witness their personalities and development of their relationships.

We also learn in some depth the experiences and suffering of the Channel Island people during the occupation which are woven into the novel. Who knew  they survived when salt was unobtainable by boiling their vegetables in sea water. There was starvation and evacuation of the children which happened throughout the UK at that time. One of the founder members of the society was sent to a concentration camp where she died.

Some of readers didn’t enjoy the exchange of letters format of the novel during its first half and found it sometimes confusing. One reader described it as:

‘charming with witty observations’.  

Two of us thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Scores: 7/10  – 1, 8/10 – 1, 10/10 -1                                                         (Jane Upperton)

Shadow of the Wind: Carlos Ruiz Zacon

This is a novel which has been likened to The De Vinci Code. One review says ‘Ruiz Zafon gives us a panoply of alluring and savage personages and stories . His novel eddies in currents of passion, revenge and mysteries whose layers peel away onion like yet persist in growing back. The figures appear beleaguered by ghosts until they give way to something more frightening’

The story begins when a ten year old boy is taken by his father to the ‘cemetery of forgotten books’ and is allowed to choose one for himself. It’s this book ‘The shadow of the wind’,and Daniels ownership of it, which form the basis of the novel and which link all of the characters.

A central figure is Julian Carax – the author of the book. Julian fell in love with his best friends sister and disappeared. Most of Julian Carax novels were deliberately burnt and there are attempts to take Daniels copy and consign it to flames. It’s this and the disappearance of Julian, that is a mystery which Daniel spends many years trying to solve.

A couple of us abandoned this novel half way through and but members of the group who persisted loved the book

‘I could feel myself there in Barcelona  the way that everything was described’.

Language was described as silk and totally beautiful. Profound. Other descriptive comments were ‘thriller, historical fiction, existential mystery, passionate love story, detective story.

Scores: 7/10-2, 10/10 -1                                                                            (Jane Upperton)


Notes from a Small Island: Bill Bryson

This charmingly dated book of American Bryson’s one last trip around Britain, before returning to his native homeland, is written with wit and perception.

Although first published in 1993, this was also the time of my leaving Britain. It was a nostalgic return for me to the land of HP sauce, Sooty, Bill and Ben The Flower Pot Men, in an age when prawn cocktails were still just about ok to serve up, and Angela Ripen’s legs made news. Boom Boom! Actually I don’t remember a mention of Basil Brush, but let’s just say, the read is all comfort for a long time ex-pat!

It takes an American to observe and make you appreciate what is special in the land of Blighty, like our humour. Go reread the paragraph on how they erected Stonehenge again and you will see what I mean.

Bryson is blunt and sometimes quite shocking and some reviewers felt he was at time too full of his own self importance but for me it was thoroughly worth the reread.

Scores: Not taken

Our meeting ended with Catherine Scriven who was attending for the first and her last time, as sadly she leaves next week, thanking the group for giving her the warmest welcome of any Bookclub she has attended.

We would like to thank Jane Upperton for opening up her beautiful home, providing the refreshments and generally keeping our Bookclub well organised!

We always welcome new members, and if you are new to Bangkok and even if you have not had the chance to read the next book, come along anyway! We’d love to see you.

Jenny Littlewood

About the Author

Sue Davy

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