Book Club the Bigger! Meeting the first!

Date: 30th January 2011
Time: 5pm – 7pm
Agreed on: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Discussed: The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
 Right, despite this being the first time we had all met up, we wasted no time in getting started, barely waiting for the introductions to settle!
Thankfully, this book was one of those rare gems that inspired very different feelings – both positive and negative in its readers – and each of us had particular aspects that had caught our eye, so after some initial trepidation, we were able to discuss the book in detail.
There were certain points that more than one person agreed on:
  • The vast majority of us did not find the beginning of the book to be particularly engaging – the word boring was used by more than one. Although the story develops, and the latter stages in particular were very enjoyable, the weak start left some of us with that horrid sense of ‘have to finish’, rather than ‘WANT to finish’, which IMHO, is not a great way to read a book.
  • For the first half of the book, the character of George roused little sympathy, and was not someone that we readers particularly liked. The grotesque physical descriptions (ugh, with the prostitute for example) reinforce his extreme dislikability (is that a word? well, it is now!).
  • The author very effectively used the blimp, a prominent feature throughout the book, to build up a steady and pervasive attitude of fear and paranoia in those that lived below it, mirroring the long term implications of the colonial period.
  • Likewise the sporadic references to football, and the one crop dependent economy, were effective and subtle, building up the sense of place.
  • We were somewhat divided by the letters – some enjoyed them, others would have preferred to have seen those parts from Sabine viewpoint in a less diluted form.
  • We almost all of us preferred the second half of the story, finding the voice of Sabine to inspire far more empathy. Her motivations seemed far more open and honest, and the disintegration of her sense of self in a mutually destructive marriage was both raw and passionate.
  • Almost all of us thought the beautiful and evocative descriptions of the island were fantastic, and although not all of us agreed that the book was ‘a love letter to the country of Trinidad’, we would all be interested in visiting.
  • The structure of the book confounded some of us. The first half of the book tells you how the story ends, the second providing all the context. Some were suspicious that the author had written the book in a straightforward linear progression, and then ripped it in half and swapped the beginning for the end, and vice versa. This would explain why local dialect words were provided with translation in the second section and not the first. The vast majority found this device to be awkwardly applied and unnecessary.

While some of us had our quibbles, others loved the book, particularly the historical and political aspects. 

  • Although most of us were very ignorant about Eric Williams and the history of the island, we almost universally would like to find out more.  
  • The character of Sabine was also very favourably viewed, especially her interest in the world around her. It was posited that she understood the country that she and George were living in far better than he did; though he loved it, in his ignorance, in a way she never did.
  • The balance of power was also very beautifully described. The ex-colonials, like George, were able to enjoy wealth and power in a way they would never have ‘back home’ – classic Failed In London, Try Hong Kong. 
  • Similarly, Sabine lost her power to George, particularly after the birth of her children – a thing made more cruel by how she had predicted it, and had been so insistent that they wait until they returned to Europe to have children. 
  • The characters of Eric Williams, the polar opposite siblings, Lucy, the island woman herself, and the changing viewpoints of the Trinidad population relating to race are also particularly well realised.

Finally we concluded that it was a tricky book to get into, that may have been more enjoyable had it been told sequentially, but that the writing was eloquent and the writing about the unheard voice of the island herself damn near poetic. 

Rating average: 6/10

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