Book Club the Third – the meet up!

Date: 17th April 2011
Time: 5pm – 7pm
Agreed on: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Discussed: Touching the Void by Joe Simpson


Back in business, the Travelling Suitcase Library  was once again offering fabulous books at fabulous prices – by which I mean free! 

The Book Club
The Cons

 I’ve decided to start with the cons this month you know me and the Topsy turviness  – primarily as there were only a few. Also, this book is a survival story – no one wants to end on a negative!

  • A book of two distinct sections, the latter looks at the aftermath of the accident – the path down the mountain, the processes of the two men, the mental journey each made culminating in their experiences since the climb. The former, some 70 odd pages, covered the three day climb before it all went horribly wrong. And every item of equipment, handhold, step and rationale behind each is covered. In detail.
  • While this no doubt fascinated some, the detail and jargon alienated others. One book clubber read up to this point and gave the book up in disgust. He couldn’t face any more, even though he actually thought that he probably would have enjoyed it. Another reader found the book to be totally inaccessible to anyone without an interest in climbing.
  • A third clubber thought that the fundamental problem was that the author didn’t recognise his audience. He might not have known that his story would attract such interest and did not set out to write for the layperson.
  • When a reader who had really enjoyed the book suggested that the author was perhaps a better climber than writer, our deeply cynical crew were heard to mutter ‘he’s not that much better a climber…he did fall off…’.No one disagreed that he might not be the most natural author.
  • The most common complaint was the lack of a glossary. Every single page would have benefited. Instead, the first section read like a long monotone.
  • Oh, and one of us took the opportunity to bemoan the English language for only having one word for snow…though he cheered up quite a bit when he reflected on how many words his mother tongue had for rain…
  • As the conversation progressed, a few confessed that while they had enjoyed the book overall, they read the first section mentally chanting ‘fall…fall…oh for Pete’s sake just fall already…’. Which makes them bad people. Obviously.

The Pros

Bear in mind, these complaints are directed at the first section of the book. With such a rocky opening – naturally – we for the most part really enjoyed the rest of the book!
  • From the moment that Joe Simpson fell, the book changed dramatically. While all the climbing details were included, there was a far more human voice narrating throughout.
  • The fundamental struggle for survival was all the more poignant for how simply and stoically it was described.
  • The interactions between the two climber became far more nuanced as the balance dependency balance shifted so drastically.
  • Of particular delight were the passages describing the Voice that motivated our intrepid climber to keep going after he had been left for dead.
  • The book was also unexpectedly humorous  in places, to the delight of all!
  • Also worthy of note was the respect for both climbers grew throughout the book, especially in relation to the description of the rope being cut. This obviously had the potential to be described in bitter, or blame placing language. Instead, it is explained logically – each step in the thought processed analysed, so by the end, the reader is aware that for those two men at that time, there was no other option available.
  • The mist of despair and using recitation of Shakespeare to stay sane were also beautifully depicted, perhaps all the more so as the technical stuff was sooooo technical.
  • At least three clubbers were convinced that he was going to lose his leg, and nearly cheered aloud when the conclusion proved otherwise!
  • The photographs – far more than the opening chapters – instantly set the scene, and broke up the book into friendly bite sized portions.
  • We all of us universally agreed that not one among us would EVER find ourselves in the same situation! Huge physical exertion? What!
  • Our librarian members were also impressed by its popularity at their respective centres. Repeat loans clearly meet some sort of secret approval criteria!
  • Now I made some note about this maybe being a GCSE book, or suggested as a GCSE book. Apologies, I just can’t figure out what I was writing…so we’ll have to sacrifice that one to the gods of book clubs.
  • Recommend reading on a bright sunny day. Reading this book in the rain was miserable!

The Verdict

We would recommend it, but not too everyone. And only after disowning the first few dozen pages.
  • This is one of the only books that the person who chose this book has ever completed!
  • We were wonderfully catered too by generous book club members who brought us deliciously marvellous cake! A lemon sponge with lemon curd (mmmmmm) on the one hand, and chocolate brownies on the other!
Next Month’s Book

Nope, not that David Mitchell. Next meeting is going to be on Sunday, 15th May 2011! Looking forward to seeing you there!

Suggestions for Next Book Club!
Soundtrack (as provided by BOOKELF!)
  • Doctor Horrible Sing Along Blog



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