Recently, I went away for a weeks holiday. For the first time in years, I didn’t bring anything to read with me.
I’ve been in the midst of a reading funk for such a long time now, I’m starting to disbelieve that I ever read for pleasure! In the last few months, I’ve seen it as a victory if I manage to complete my book club choices (there are been some really gripping ones recently, which has made it much easier!) in time for the discussion. The thought of pulling out one of my vast collection of as yet un-read novels has made me feel vaguely anxious – a far cry from a few years ago when choosing the next read produced a sweet thrill of delight with equivalent side effects of a large lump of chocolate.
So going away without bringing a book was probably for the best, at least that was my reasoning. I’d be under no pressure, if I didn’t have one on me. (The counter side was that I also felt faintly like I was giving up; losing a hobby…nay a trait that I really liked about myself. Yes, my brain is enjoying the gymnastics currently.)
Thankfully, my mother keeps a varied and busy book shelf and within half an hour of arriving, I found – to my immense relief – that the siren song of the printed word still enticed me!!Before long, I had selected a slim (not intimidating) book by Jennifer Johnston – an Irish author I have long been aware of but never read.
She is noted for writing with a particular awareness of the Church of Ireland community within modern day Ireland (her own faith) – a perspective that isn’t often found in contemporary Irish fiction. Also, she’s been nominated for (and won loads) tons of literary prizes, so I was curious to see how I’d get on.
The Invisible Worm (BLURB from Amazon)
It starts with a funeral. The great and the good have assembled: the President has sent a representative, and dignitaries are there in force. And Laura remembers those two terrible events. But was the tragedy out at sea an accident? Was the experience in the summerhouse cause rather than effect?
With wonderful delicacy and economy, Jennifer Johnston has stripped bare the lives of a family overwhelmed by more than one of the deadly sins. The Invisible Worm contains greater power and passion than most novels three times its length.
The way the Ms Johnston writes is as once minimalist yet descriptive. There isn’t a single wasted word or redundant sentence throughout the book. With a deft hand, she can at once be whimsical and funny, while tackling some very dark themes.
This book focused on a very small group of characters and only one is ever explored in a detailed way; yet all felt fully rounded and realistic. I loved Laura. I’d never act the way that she did, but I felt like I understood her and respected her. There is a beautifully non-judgemental tone to this book that allowed me to relax into it and accept the characters and plot without getting wound up or ‘having opinions’. Reading this was really rather a soothing experience.
I so enjoyed it that I committed that irritating cardinal sin; where I started reading – context free – random lines and passages to my mum (patience of a saint, that one!). It’s an incredibly easy read – not only because it’s a snapshot of an individual and pretty short, but mostly because the language used, the words, the landscape drawn are at once so familiar and yet so foreign that you can’t help but feel connected.
And it’s the first book I’ve read for pure pleasure in fricking ages! So much so, I’ve even blogged about it and it’s been ever longer for that!!!!
Go! Read! Then let me know so that we can just praise it over and over 🙂
One by one the boys begin to fall…
In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their schoolmaster to troop off to the ‘glorious war’. With the fire and patriotism of youth they sign up. What follows is the moving story of a young ‘unknown soldier’ experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (AMAZON)
Erich Maria Remarque was a German author and veteran of the First World War. He was born 1898 in Osnabrück, Germany. At the age of 18 he was conscripted into the German army. During his service he was wounded by shrapnel in the left leg, right arm and neck. Following the war he worked as a primary school teacher, and later as a librarian, a journalist and a technical writer.
Among Remarque’s published novels were All Quiet on the Western Front, The Road Back, Three Comrades and Arch of Triumph. His works were publicly burned by the Nazi German government, and in 1947 he and his first wife became naturalised citizens of the United States. Four years earlier, his sister had been executed at the behest of Hitler’s ‘People’s Court’.
Remarque adapted the book Ten Days to Die, about Hitler’s final days, as a screenplay, and he also wrote for the stage. His last novel was The Night in Lisbon, published in 1962. During his lifetime Remarque married twice and had love affairs with the actresses Hedy Lamarr, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.
Thanks very much to the wonderful Karoline for hosting and writing up this book club – find her here @KarolineAKemp!
It was good to welcome two new faces to our discussion, Jane and Katy who also come to White Swan.
We had a discussion about the translation, some of the group had a more recent translation from the mid 1990’s and it was generally felt to be much more accessible than the earlier one. We also discussed the translation of the title, the note on the new translation states that a direct translation from the German is ‘Nothing New on the Western Front’
The book was fairly easy to read in the modern translation and it was noted that that the tense changed from the singular to the plural during the scenes at the front. It was noted that nowadays we expect to have strong characterisation and narrative drive from contemporary fiction but that there is no narrative drive in War. As the book went on it became more and more detached as Paul became more detached from his own life.
AQOTWF is written from the point of view of a German private Paul. It was felt that the language used was chosen to emphasise the commonality and gruelling of experience of trench warfare regardless of side. Emphasised particularly in the scene in the shell hole with the solider that he killed. It is also something that has been brought out recently by historians of the First World War (see the History Hit podcast with @gerarmyresearch).
It was felt that the language used effectively conveyed vivid imagery of the experiences of being in the front line as well as the banality of being behind the lines when comic interludes such as Kat getting the food were used to good effect. The emphasis on the food (or lack) of it conveyed its importance to the troops, most effectively that when they suddenly get good food they realise that it means they are heading to the front line.
We felt that the characterisation was kept deliberately vague, the concentration was on passages dealing with Paul’s interior life such as when he was on leave and felt totally alienated from his previous life, We felt that Paul represented the everyman, he grew but never lost his humanity.
We felt that the strong bond between the school friends was shown well. We all felt the horror of the scenes with the rats and felt that the scenes in the mists where very lyrical which intensified the horror.
The book also pointed out how much harder it was going to be for the younger men who had become soldiers straight from school to readjust and/or keep going as they didn’t have families/jobs to go back to. It was also very scathing about the generation who were too old to fight themselves but where very vocal at making the younger generations go.
We decided that we would have preferred the end to have been left more open than it was and felt that it packed a lot into quite a slim book.
Trailer for the 1979 film[youtube https://youtu.be/DX1PW2n8POg]
We have our next few months choices in!
LBC 3 Reads (#LBC3Reads)
- NOTE – moved to August – venue TBA
- High Rising – Angela Thirkell
LBC Horsforth (#LBCHorsforth)
- 9 August – The Good Immigrant – Nikesh Shukla
- 13 September – The Lemon Table – Julian Barnes
LBC White Swan (#LBCWSwan)
- 13 August – The last condo board of the Apocalypse – Nina Post
- 10 September – Pirate Cinema – Cory Doctorow
A quick update on what our next few reads shall be! As always, if you spot any corrections, don’t hesitate to let me know!
- 8th – Horsforth – God help the child – Toni Morrison
- 12th – White Swan – The Three Body Problem – Cixin Liu
- 12th – Horsforth – TBA
- 9th – White Swan – Hagseed by Margaret Atwood (if available) or The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula L Guin
- 22nd – LBC3 Reads – Whit by Iain Banks
Just wanted to let anyone heading down south know that the superb production of The Kite Runner is currently running in the West End!
Visit the Wyndham’s Theatre website HERE to get all the details on how to catch this very impressive production.
‘For you…a thousand times over…’
Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.
This should be an impossible book to adapt. Afghanistan is a changing place in 1975. Religion and politics are evolving the landscape further. It is in this background that two boys attempt to navigate their path, which happens to be an emerging family tragedy. The book covers a span of 30 years. That Matthew Spangler succeeds and succeeds beautifully in distilling the essence of this tale into a mere two acts – well it ought to be an impossible feat.
On a sparse stage, populated only by a musicians mat; a flowing backdrop and a carpet with a thousand interpretations; an intensely emotional story unfolds. The lack of clutter, heck, the near disdain of props merely served to emphasis the interpersonal focus of this play.
The hero of this production has to be Ben Turner. Aside from being the only constant presence on the stage; he manages to pull off a difficult task with aplomb. At no point is he ever in denial that he is portraying Amir as a deeply flawed person – indeed for much of the play the character appears to be cowardly, unlikeable with few redeeming features. He flies a kite, embodying enthusiastically a 12 year old and brings equal weight to his reflection as an older narrator. However, as time passes, Ben makes the audience aware of something that Amir never quite realises. He is as much a victim (albeit to a far lesser degree) of Assef’s violence as Hassan and certainly of his father’s coldness and – as becomes apparent – lies.
In a stellar cast of consummate professionals – it is impossible to understate the menace that Nicholas Karimi brings to the bully Assef. From the second he appears, spitting out insults and swaggering a la John Wayne; he dominates and intimidates. His interactions with Andrei Costin (in the dual role of Hassan and Sohrah) in particular are just harrowing.
One of the most lovely and touching aspects of a play that confirms, defies and compounds expectations (frequently in the same passage of dialogue!) is a character that emerges intact from the pages of the book. The sole (significant) speaking female role is that of Soraya, portrayed by Lisa Zahra. Though she only appears in the later sections of the play; she is the most honest and brave character – following her heart and owning her mistakes. On a male dominated stage; her every interaction with Amir is refreshing and cleansing – not necessarily what one is led to expect from a story set mostly in Taliban ruled Afghanistan.
The music throughout the play plays a powerful role and is primarily provided by Hanif Khan; an internationally renowned classically trained Indian musician and performer, who – like Ben Turner – remains on stage for the bulk of the performance. The melodies he provides both inform the story and provide emotional context. The music and sounds created by the cast provide an atmospheric backdrop; at once unobtrusive yet pervasive. A constant and haunting refrain throughout that serves as a reminder that while the story may be set in lands far away; the ultimate search for redemption is a universal one. That the sheer act of being human makes us strive to better ourselves, to make up for those things that we have done wrong, to seek to make amends…even when it is too late.
Adapted by Matthew Spangler from the novel by Khaled Hosseini
Music: Jonathan Girling
Director: Giles Croft
The Kite Runner at the West Yorkshire Playhouse
Buy tickets HERE
Visit the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre website HERE
Visit the Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse website HERE
Visit the Wyndham’s Theatre website HERE
As I’ve been a bit out of things, I’m only just getting around to finding out what books are when. Please do let me know if I get the books in the wrong order, the dates muddled and so on!
Shall be aiming to catch up with emails and admin over the next fortnight – apologies if you’ve been waiting ages!!
- 8th – Horsforth – The Tale of the Duelling Neurosurgeons – Sam Kean
- 12th – White Swan – The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers
- 8th – Horsforth – God help the child – Toni Morrison
- 12th – White Swan – TBA
- 12th – Horsforth – TBA
- 9th – White Swan – TBA
- 22nd – LBC3 Reads – Whit by Iain Banks
As you know we always have leftovers and it’s interesting to see what people put in.
Here’s the non-picks of November and January
The secret of not drowning-Colette Snowden
Anno Dracula -Kim Newman
The End of the world running club- Adrian j walker
Remainder – Tom McCarthy
White Teeth – Zadie Smith
The heart goes last – Magaret Atwood
Dark Matter – Michelle Paver
World War Z – Max Brooks
His Bloody Project –Graeme Macrae Burnet
The Gap of Time – Jeanette Winterson
Beloved (Toni Morrison Trilogy #1) – Toni Morrison
The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova
The left hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin