Calypso, Sedaris’s 10th collection of diary essays, is a family affair. The action revolves around the Sea Section, an oceanfront cottage on the North Carolina coast that Sedaris and his husband, Hugh, purchased in order to realise his childhood dream that “one day I would buy a beach house and it would be everyone’s, as long as they followed my draconian rules and never stopped thanking me for it”. The Sedaris’s gather and regather there for Thanksgivings and summer vacations. Between confidences shared, board games played and sunscreen slathered, the anecdotes pile up.
Through disarmingly frank descriptions of their idiosyncrasies, vulgarities and charms, he conjures the sort of warts-and-all closeness that family alone can offer. But the shadows also swarm addressing questions of ageing and mortality and as life moves forward and the tragedies pile up, it turns out there are some things it’s impossible to play for laughs. For all its warmth and wit, Calypso is also raw, jagged and sad.
Humour is a funny thing – or is it? It is certainly individual. Although highly regarded, Sedaris’s humour did not appeal to our group of readers – apart from me – I loved it.
Naples 1931, and the beautiful Duchess of Camparino has been found dead of a gunshot wound…or was she smothered? It is up to the solitary Commissario Riccardi and his partner Brigadier Maione, to solve the crime while dealing with their own personal issues.
First Sentence – ‘The angel of death made its way through the fiesta, and nobody noticed’. There is nothing better than an opening which is both compelling and evocative. What is particularly clever is that throughout the story, we have the diary entries of a nameless character. Just when we think we’ve identified the writer; another hint is dropped and we are sent off in a different direction.
The cast of characters is extensive, yet each character is fully developed and distinct. None are perfect. The most intriguing is Riccardi, who has the gift, or curse, of “the Deed”; the ability to see those who have died by violence—accidents, murder, or suicide—in the last few second of their lives and to hear their final words or thoughts. This ability isolates him from all but a few people. At his side, and ever loyal, is Maione who is married with 5
children, Doctor Modo the medical examiner and Rosa, Riccardi’s childhood nanny who still looks after him.
While the story structure is typical police procedural, it is so much more than that. It is a character-driven novel which is very much about relationships; love, insecurities, passions, and the acts to which one can be driven by love and desperation. The author meshes the characters with the story so skilfully; we feel part of the community.
Yes, the translation can feel awkward at times, particularly the dialogue, but that is easily
forgiven. The quality and complexity of the story overcome any other shortcomings.
“Everyone In Their Place” is a story of passion and human weakness which was highly recommended by our group of readers, many having gone on to read other titles in the series.
This historical novel is the story of Katherine of Aragon from her childhood in Spain to her death in England. She was brought up a Catholic and was very devout all through her life. It was surprising to find that she had been married to Henry VIII for 24 years before being put aside for not producing a son and heir. She would then have had an easier life had she not maintained, against the wishes of the King, that she was still his wife and therefore the true queen of England. Of the three children she bore only her daughter, Mary Tudor, survived.
Most of the readers’ group enjoyed the book and found it was well written and very well researched. The general consensus was that it was very interesting and informative.
Although this fitted the brief of a Fantasy very well and had an intriguing story, some of the group felt that interspersing the storyline with Myths and Legends led to confusion. The consensus of opinion was that it was an interesting story but the book was made over long by the extra additions.
Our book for August was ‘Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine’ by Gail Honeyman, her first novel. At thirty year old Eleanor Oliphant is completely alone in the world, bought p in foster care she has never been touched or loved, she has no friends, is awkward and lacks social skills.
Eleanor has worked in the same office for nine years, she is fin, she knows no different until she meets Raymond. Raymond is a co-worker, he and Eleanor become friendly after rescuing an elderly gentleman, This event is significant in Eleanor’s life and she slowly experiences a metamorphosis, one that make you smile, laugh and cry.
There’s a bot of a twist at the end. A thought provoking and moving story enjoyed by all the members of the book club particularly me who read it twice!!
Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon is a delightful 1930s country house murder mystery with a “closedcircle” of murder suspects. As with others of this style of writing Farjeons plot is convoluted but nevertheless intriguing and led to an extremely lively sand enjoyable discussion by the group.
Thirteen Guests earns its place in The British Library’s Crime Classics series and if you enjoy Agatha Christie, P.D. James etc., you will enjoy one or more of this authors works.
1984 is a dystopian novella by George Orwell which follows the life of Winston Smith, a low ranking member of ‘The Party’ who is frustrated by the ever present surveillance of every aspect of his life and the threat of its ominous ruler, Big Brother.
In this book, Orwell effectively and frightening notion of 1984 is that the complete control of an entire nation under a totalitarian state is perfectly possible. Sadly, our group was able to find comparisons with present day regimes and to a lesser degree recognise the role of mass media in the manipulation of news and information on our own society
Take care BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING!
This romantic novel is the story of Tess, who is in Florence for a final idyllic holiday before university and whose life it about to change for ever, and Gus who is also on holiday in Florence with his parents. Their lives have already changed suddenly and dramatically. Gus tries to dutiful son but longs to escape and discover what sort of person he is going to be. Tess and Gus meet and part as complete strangers during the holiday.
The book follows the separate lives of Tess and Gus in alternate chapters, in each of which their lives criss-cross over the course of the next sixteen years when live and love offer them very different challenges. Separated by distance and chance the two of them finally end up together, again in Florence.
Although one or two readers did not like the book, the general consensus was that it was well written and enjoyable, a good, light holiday read.
The Hobbit or “There and Back Again” was written by JRR Tolkien in 1937 as a children’s fantasy. As Many of you may have read this book as a youngster or in later years, you realise you are reading a classic in our time. You may also have been following the visual production of The Hobbit on the TV recently. It is interesting to see if the visual sometimes when reading a book enhances or confirms our imagination? A tale of dwarfs on a continued adventure seeking gold. Our main character, Bilbo Baggins, someone we all know in real life enjoys comfort to the extreme, but is also an accomplished burglar and full of good fellowship!
Tolkien’s life was most interesting. He had a rocky childhood, living in Switzerland, Oxford and Birmingham. His marriage eventually to Edith Bratt in 1916 brought forth 4 children. Also in 1916 he was sent to the Somme and out in the trenches he suffered trench fever which recurred over the next two years. He was a lieutenant until the Armistice. He then worked on the New English Dictionary at Oxford, worked at Leeds University and back to Oxford. His works were well known as The Hobbit in 1937, Lord of the Rings in 1955. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Beowulf.
His inspiration for The Hobbit cam particularly when as a child he lived in Birmingham – Moseley Bog, Sarehole Mill, Lickey Hill and Bilberry Hill.
The book for November was “The Collected Short Stories of Somerset Maughan” volume 2.
Somerset Maughan was born in 1974 in Paris, he died in 1965. He studied medicine before turning to writing. Besides being a novelist he was a playwright, an essayist, travel writer and a short story writer for which he is probably most remembered.
Maughan was widely travelled and based many of his stories on life in the British colonies. His writing is descriptive, colourful and exotic. It was agreed the stories were ‘of their time’ however they did not lose their appeal. all ending with a twist and enjoyed by everyone.