Ivanhoe

IVANHOE BY Sir Walter Scott (first published 1819) read in July 2010

 

The reaction from our group to this book showed no sitting on the fence – members either loved it or loathed it.


Set in the reign of Richard 1 Ivanhoe has an event on every page. There are sieges, ambushes, combats, romances, fire raisers, chivalry and history aplenty. The characters are memorable. Cedric the die-hard Saxon, the Jew, Knight Templar the spirited Rebecca, beautiful Lady Rowena, the jester the swineherd and of course who is the Disinherited Knight? What a wealth and we haven’t even mentioned Robin Hood, Friar Tuck and his band of men!! This book is a yarn of imagination set against a background of researched history.


The characters are well portrayed, the politics is lively, it is often funny and always beautifully written. To a large extent it was the verbose style of writing and the detailed description that prevented some members reading this with enjoyment. However we did remind ourselves just when this book was published. For nearly 200 years it has been available to read and has been made into numerous films and T.V. programmes – that must be seen as some feat.

House of Orphans

THE HOUSE OF ORPHANS by Helen Dunmore (2006 ) read in June 2010

 

We looked forward to this book as we had previously highly rated this author. However we felt that although The House of Ophans was worth reading it was disappointing.


The book is set in Finland in 1901 when the Russians have appointed a governor general and secret police, the Okharana, in order to dominate Finland. Eevie is the central character. She has been orphaned and at sixteen leaves the orphanage to become a servant to a country doctor. He is attracted to her but his neighbour and daughter soon make sure they put a stop to any love match. During her time in service we learn that Eevie is the daughter of an intellectual and politically motivated father. She is educated and is aware of possible revolution and war against the Russians. She returns to her home in Helsinki where she finds her dear friend Laurie involved with Sasha in planning revolutionary action.The story reveals love,loyalty, double agents, beliefs and disenchantment.


This book is in two sections – firstly Eevies life with the country doctor and then life in Helsinki with the potential revolutionaries. This makes for a very disjointed story. Characters and incidents are introduced and lost without obvious purpose.We found a published interview with Helen Dunmore about this book and she stated that the House of Orphans is meant to depict not simply Eevie being an orphan but is about whole societies “cut off from the parenting ideologies, culture and tradition”. This was missed by our group who either enjoyed it as a read or found it confusing and wondered if Dunmore had achieved her objective.

The House at Riverton

THE HOUSE AT RIVERTON by Kate Morton read in April 2010

 

This story is told by 90 year old Grace when she looks back on her early years as a house maid to an aristocratic family living at Riverton. A film is to be made about the family and Grace is asked for her first hand knowledge . However there is a secret known to Grace about a killing which must remain untold for ever. In fact there are many secrets - who is Grace in relation to the family, what is the Father really up to, why do the sisters no longer speak to one another, what is the meaning of the children’s game, who is Robbie in love with ?There are many clues easily deciphered but the biggest secret revealed to the reader at the end of the book will never publicly revealed.


This book is an easy read, rather too long and somewhat contrived. The time changes and use of Grace as the narrator are handled well The group thought it a good light read but were intrigued to know how Grace had developed from the housemaid of her youth to become an academic archeologist in later life. We wanted to know more about Grace and wonder if the author is planning to reveal all in another book. This is the first novel by Kate Morton, a young Australian . She has researched the time and class of the characters well.

The Welsh Girl

THE WELSH GIRL by Peter Ho Davies (2007) read in May 2010

 

This book is set in a quiet country town in Snowdonia in 1944. The local community is revealed as being insular,wrapped up in tradition and prejudiced against outsiders.
They do not know the war is about to end.

The story explores the relationships between three main characters who all have a problem in accepting what they are or what they have done. Firstly there is Rotherham. Part German and part Jewish he was brought to England by his mother as a refugee. He works loyally for the British Intelligence as an interrogator but finds it difficult to cope with his identity.

Secondly there is Karsden, a German soldier, who having surrendered to save the lives of his fellows is interned in the P.O.W. camp close by. He is haunted that his surrender may be seen as cowardice and not being loyal to his own country. Thirdly there is Esther , the Welsh Girl. She is a young women caring for her widowed father, keeping the sheep farm going and working in the local pub. She is a romantic and longs for a different life similar to that she sees in films.However finding herself pregnant she uses deceipt to ease the situation and finds herself living with a secret.


This book is partly based on fact and is well researched. It is complicated and has depth. However there was a mixed response from the group - some saw it as an enjoyable read, some thought it dipped so much in the middle that they tired of it whilst others thought it a convincing novel showing the tough realities of life in harsh circumstances. So we can only suggest you read this for yourself!!
This is the first novel written by Peter Ho Davies though he has a fine reputation as a short story writer. The group felt they would read future work by him.

Brick Lane

BRICK LANE by Monica Ali ( 2003) read in April 2010-05-07

 

This is a book which we all enjoyed.

 

Nazreen , an intelligent , uneducated girl from Bangladesh is sent to England at the age of eighteen to marry Chanu and to live in Brick Lane. Chanu , who works for the local council, treats her with civility but no depth of feeling . He is ambitious taking courses with the O.U. and reading classic English literature. He looks to better himself but does not get the promotion he craves. He becomes a disappointed man.


Nazreen struggles to make a life for herself within this new community. She is morally a good person and a dutiful wife and mother to two daughters. She lives as best she can joining a local group, getting employment in a factory and finding friends amongst the local women.She maintains contact with her sister, Hasina, via letters and Hasina’s life is also a main thread in the book. However Nazreen is not a happy person and shocks herself when she becomes involved in an affair with a young radical Muslim, Kamin.
Eventually the affair ends. Chanu wishes to take the family back to Bangadesh but by this time Nazreen sees that the future for herself and her daughters is in England and Chanu departs alone.


This brief overview does not show how well written and detailed this book is. The characters are believable.The relationships between the family is sad, often painful and based on unattainable wishes and nostalgia for the past. The book presents facts such as the Oldam riots , September 11th and issues of race truthfully an sensitively. There are also light and comic touches.However the book does dip in parts, probably due to it being overlong. Another point that raised discussion in our group was the way Ali uses letters from Hasina to keep the reader informed of changes. These are written in broken English and although we could give some rationale for this we found it an unnecessary distraction.


This book is full of characters and events. Primarily it shows the development of Nazreen from a young niaive girl who survives loneliness with courage and becomes a strong women.It is a book that takes the reader on a journey, sometimes painful, into a different culture. It is a good read and we would recommend it.