I’d mixed up the order of the books on the blog and as a result; we had a member who had read Cloud Atlas (our next read) and was halfway through this one. My fault entirely and we managed to avoid all spoilers for about 30 minutes before…the inevitable occurred. Someone spilled the ending and from then on we totally, completed and utterly went through every last detail killing all suspense for this poor member.
So…sorry about that!
When the book was initially picked, I announced that the author was a woman. Actually, it turns out not so much.
However, with so many people not realising the true gender of the author after finishing the book, this raised a very interesting conversation point.
We were fairly evenly divided into those that felt the author expressed himself well as a female protagonist and those that didn’t. The emotions, confusion and shock seemed authentic to many of us, particularly in relation to the knowledge of having had a child but no memory of it but instinctively knowing that it was true. The other half felt that Christine focused too much on the physical aspects of her condition – her visibly aged hands and saggy breasts. In the main, these astute readers were less surprised or had suspected that the author was male.
We wandered off course for a bit discussing those authors who did actually use initials, pseudonyms or gender-neutral names to disguise themselves. We briefly touched on George Elliot, the Bronte’s and PD James. It’s hard to believe that as recently as the 90’s, a certain Joanne Rowling was advised to write using a name that wouldn’t put off young boys – thereby inventing an initial for herself! Though we were amused, we were none of us unaware of how ridiculous this reality within the publishing world remains. After all, the writers mentioned above retained their successful careers even after their gender was revealed. It’s infuriating that this sort of thinking still exists in the publishing world – even worse is the realisation that this may well be based on a gender bias actually true in our society at large.
It’s become apparent to me that there is a strange sort of pattern emerging throughout our meetings. Where we have disliked a book – we have a tendency to discuss the aspects we had responded to well resulting in a discussion that seems to have a positive tone; then reveal in the last few minutes that it hadn’t been an enjoyable reading experience. When we like a book, we say so and then instantly move onto the small niggles, plot holes and characters that drove us mad. Sometimes it feels like we have nothing but criticism for a book then we almost all allocate high scores. This discussion *defines* the latter route.
Structurally, the book was interesting in a number of ways. On the one hand the experience of Christine waking up every day and recording her life and reading and re-reading it over and again was one being shared by the reader. This led to a kinship between the two in some cases. Additionally, with a fresh start every morning, the book couldn’t help but be repetitive yet the majority of us felt that it avoided becoming stale for the most of the book. However the use of the present tense during the narrative really bugged at least one of us.
In the main, the book seemed to start to slow down about two thirds of the way through. When the journal was introduced, the narration became a little less interesting to some of us.
The concept itself felt very experimental to us, with many accurately guessing that this was a debut novel. One of the book club members explained the writing process that the author had undertaken and we discussed the twitter write-a-book-in-a-month group (the improbably entitled NaNoWriMo). As a final note on the structural aspects, most of us had responded with an eye roll to the ‘Not The End’ notice on the final page.
A few of us* found certain practical considerations rendered the plot a bit feeble in places. Christine is terrified daily and has to go through a huge rigmarole each day to find her journal. She spends her days waiting for her husband to go out, finding her diary, reading it then writing it. And at no point does he ever seem to notice? She also never seems to leave the house. Then suddenly starts wandering off into parks. This inconsistency was barely touched upon. Why did she never use a map? Grr.
Here – I can’t remember why – we went on off on a tangent about fan fiction and Fifty Shades of Grey and the fact that our mothers were probably reading it. Hilarity ensued.
Additionally – I know there are spoilers, but I’m trying to be spoiler lite here – the whole premise of the story was orientated around One Giant Coincidence. This really grated upon me in particular.
We also debated on whether this was a crime mystery – as it was sold to one person, or a psychological thriller. While we all agreed that it felt like the second, we couldn’t deny the classic crime mystery elements – there are multiple potential perpetrators, a red herring and a twist ending. In the end we agreed that it mattered only in how the book was sold. Many people had felt very put off by the blurb; which hyped up the paranoia and tension while giving away too many key plot points.
We agreed that it certainly wasn’t written from a medical perspective. Having said that, apparently the author wrote the book then found out that the actual condition exists – though I image there are stark differences between the realities and the fiction.
We also compared this with our previous read – Sense of an Ending. Book books featured an unreliable primary narrator. Here we commented that we responded well to Christine’s mundane rituals. In the previous book there was a similar theme but in the end the protagonist doesn’t actually do anything. Here Christine is an active participant of her life – the bits that she remembers. She constantly tries. Even when we didn’t like her, we respected that about her.
At this point, we started focusing in more on the characters throughout the book. By now the cat was out of the bag, so we felt more comfortable exploring the secondary characters.
We were very ambivalent towards the doctor. He was very vague on the topic of his study and his repeating a major story telling device to Christine believing it to be true because she had told him it in the first place seemed very out of place. In the end, we none of us ever really trusted him and believed him to be a potential ‘bad guy’ throughout the bulk of the book.
Clare we all responded to very positively. She brought a sense of humour that was often sorely lacking across the book and their interactions felt realistic. However, most of us found it hard to believe that she would have just stopped visiting her friend after her [redacted for spoilers]. It seemed to us that she would have continued visiting her best buddy out of a sense of obligation if nothing else.
We didn’t like the way the bad guy had been introduced. It places us in the uncomfortable position of judging the main character during a terribly traumatic time. Enforced victim blaming is not a pleasant feeling.
This is getting a bit long so I’ll skip the more spoiler-y parts of our chat. For many of us the ending was a let down. It felt rushed and the last two pages especially seemed taken from the Wayne’s World souper-douper happy ending. Yet there were at least two people who loved the ending and thought that it made the journey worthwhile.
*Point of Note: Those of us who noticed the plot holes and practical considerations most tended to be reading the book for a second time. We all of us admitted that when we initially read it; it was at breakneck speed, utterly engrossed and desperate to figure out the (so stupidly pointed out in the blurb) twist. The inconsistencies only became obvious after a second, slower, more considered read.
- Jane Eyre Laid Bare
- Blog – 50 things that annoy me about 50 Shades of Grey
- Death Becomes Her
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
- Sliding Doors