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Updated 25th  April 2023

Book Club...

This month’s book was ‘The Island of Missing Trees’ by Elif Sharak

This month's book was 'The Island of Missing Trees' by Elif Sharak. Published in 2021 it tells the story of two teenagers, one a Greek Cypriot and one a Turkish Cypriot, meeting in secret in a Nicosia Taverna in 1974, and falling in love against a backdrop of civil war and violence. The book covers three separate times - Cyprus in 1974; London and Cyprus in the early 2000's; and London in the late 2010's.

The young couple reconnect 20 years after their initial forbidden romance, and relocate to London - bringing with them a cutting of a Fig Tree which is a key character in the story, playing the part of an additional narrator. Their daughter, born and educated in London, struggles with the challenges of being isolated from her wider family and her sense of displacement.

The book was generally well received. Most people found the descriptions of nature, the mysteries of inherited memory and the balance and relationships between species fascinating. In addition, the descriptions of the conflict within Cyprus and the continuing tensions were really interesting, with most people being unfamiliar with the level of violence and loss of life there in the 1970's.

Some people felt that the stories could have been explored in much more depth by the author, and felt that the plots were interesting but didn't really go anywhere. The use of the fig tree as an additional narrator also irritated some people, and it certainly was an easy means for the author to fill in narrative blanks!

Scores for the book ranged between 6 and 9 - with the average coming out at just over 8.

February Book

This month’s book was ‘Snap’ by Belinda Bauer

Published in 2018, it was longlisted for the Booker Prize in the same year - a very rare event for a thriller.

The book opens with three children sitting in a sweltering, broken down car by the side of the motorway waiting for their mother to come back with help. When she doesn't, 11-year-old Jack picks up his baby sister, and sets off with his other younger sister along the hard shoulder to try to find her. Nobody stops. When they finally reach the emergency phone their mother set out to reach, it is dangling off the hook.

The book is inspired by the true story of a pregnant woman, Marie Wilks, who was murdered on the M50 in 1988 (the real-life crime remains unsolved). As in this book, Marie's children also walked along the hard shoulder without anyone stopping to help.

The book then picks up three years later, with Jack and his sisters living alone, and Jack supporting them through criminal activities and doing his best to evade any scrutiny from the authorities. During the course of a burglary, Jack happens upon information that leads him to believe he has found his Mother's murderer and the story unfolds from there.

The book was generally pretty well received. Most people found it to be a 'page-turner' which held their attention. Some elements of it were felt to be quite unfeasible, especially the ability of a group of children to remain off the radar with social services, education etc. For a book with a dark subject matter, there were some surprisingly funny elements, and some people thought it would make a good TV series. The main disappointment was with the ending, which was felt to be a real let down and seemed to be a bit 'rushed'.

Scores for the book ranged from 4 and 9, with average coming out at 7.

January Book

Next Meeting Tuesday 15th June 2023

This month's book was 'The Beekeeper's Apprentice' by Laurie R King. Published in 1994, it's an updated version of the classic Sherlock Holmes style mystery. 

It features a long retired Sherlock Holmes pursuing his study of honeybee behavior on the Sussex Downs. On the downs one day he meets a fiercely intelligent young woman called Mary Russell. Her aptitude for lateral thinking and detection results in an unlikely friendship, and Mary quickly becomes the apprentice of the book's title. After working together to solve some minor mysteries, the two then encounter a formidable opponent who tests their collective skills and their partnership.

The book had mixed reviews - some people found it entertaining, and felt that it was a good updating of the classic Sherlock Holmes type of mystery. It was considered an easy read and kept most people engaged. The lack of consistency in the writing style was jarring for some people, with a 'mystical' interlude part way through that didn't seem to fit comfortably with the rest of the story. In addition the disguises and convoluted solutions seemed to work better for the readers who enjoy this type of deduction based mystery.

Scores for the book ranged from 4 to 7, with the average coming out at 5.5 - so a fairly low scoring book overall.

Next month's book is 'I'm Not Scared' by Niccolo Ammaniti, and the next meeting is Tuesday 9th May

March Book

This month's book was 'A Spy Among Friends' by Ben Macintyre. Published in 2015, it tells the story of Kim Philby, the famous 'Third Man' in the Cambridge spy ring

Philby is portrayed as a charismatic, engaging bon viveur. A complicated private life, an eccentric family background and a love of parties and drinking are all described in a way that gives a clear impression of a certain strata of British society in a certain time in its history.

But beneath the charming persona was a man who was leading an increasingly dangerous double life. As a long established Soviet agent, having been recruited as a young man at Cambridge, he ruthlessly betrayed secrets ranging from anti-communist activity during the Spanish Civil War to details of Allied Operations during WW2; and continued to act as a Soviet agent throughout the early stages of the Cold War. The book covers the whole period of his activity - from his recruitment to his eventual unmasking and defection to Moscow.

The book prompted a really interesting discussion. Some book club members were enraged by the world portrayed and the casual cruelty of the 'old boys network'. Everyone was horrified by the sheer incompetence of 1940's and 50's secret intelligence services and the way in which the whole area of espionage was treated as a game - despite tragic consequences for so many.

The scores for the book reflected the really different views - ranging from 4 to 10! The average came out at 8.

April Book

Judith Finney - 07969 633997

This month's book was 'I'm Not Scared' by Niccolo Ammaniti. Published in the UK in 2004, and translated from the Italian by Jonathan Hunt.

The book tells the story of 8 year old Michele Amitrano, and a discovery he makes in a dilapidated farmhouse in a baking hot and parched Southern Italy. The story is set around a tiny, impoverished rural village; where Michele and his friends explore the local countryside. Whilst carrying out a dare, Michele discovers a boy of his own age, held captive in a covered hole, with only tiny amounts of food and water. 

As the story unfolds we discover that the boy has been kidnapped and is being held hostage awaiting payment of a huge ransom. As Michele starts to understand the involvement of his parents, and the parents of his friends, his confusion and fear are palpable.

The story is told entirely from Michele's perspective - and as a consequence there are large gaps in the narrative which reflect his limited understanding of the situation.

The book generated a really interesting discussion, and once again we had really polarised views. Some found the subject matter to be so disturbing that they found the book very difficult and not at all enjoyable. Others found the gaps in the story created by the child's narrative to be frustrating, and would have liked some of these gaps to be filled; especially as the story is being told some years later by the adult Michele. The ending was felt to be unsatisfactory by a few people, leaving too many questions unanswered.

In contrast, some people really enjoyed the book and found the sparse narrative interesting and unusual. Everyone seemed to agree that the author captured the landscape very well; with the sense of isolation, oppressive heat and undercurrent of violence really well described.

Scores for the book ranged from 4 to 9; with the average coming out at 6.5.

Next month's book is 'A Man Called Ove' by Fredrik Backman, and the next meeting is Tuesday 13th June.

April Book