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BOOK CLUB

We meet monthly to discuss our wide choice of books. 

If you would like to take part in discussions please let us know by emailing

whiteleywags@gmail.com

Third Monday of every month 7.30pm

Upstairs room, Titchfield Mill

Mill Lane, Titchfield, Fareham PO15 5RF

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January 2024 - The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

A sequel that did not disappoint.

With his characters established, Richard Osman sets his geriatric quartet on another trail of murder mystery. Using their individual skills to solve crime they have an almost invisible presence to the perpetrators - after all nobody sees the elderly! There is a cleaver thread of plot line throughout and the real criminals will get their, often inventive, just deserts. There is a fine line between right and wrong as this team and their friendly local police detectives barely stay on the right side of the law themselves. The culmination of this story is a moral victory that has the feel of a modern day Robin Hood and kept us guessing.

However, much of the pleasure of reading this novel comes from the detail given to the believably quirky characters and, often poignant, observations of everyday life, loneliness and community. With many laugh out loud moments it was a great book to cheer up a chilly January.

Book club score: 8.5/10

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February - Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

This novel exposes the seedy underbelly and sinister gang culture behind the pleasure façade of Brighton's seafront in the 1930's. With roots in poverty and razors as the weapons of choice it often, sadly, feels that not a great deal has changed.

There are common threads of Catholic morality that run through other novels by Graham Green. In this case they serve to expose the true evil in The Boy, Pinkie, as his hideous, and increasingly desperate, misdeeds spiral. At just seventeen Pinkie is remarkably young and inexperienced to be the leader of a gang of older criminals, especially in the face of a far more successful gang, led by the seemingly untouchable Colleoni. Pinkie is the anti hero and at no point does Greene attempt to engender empathy for this character although we are a given glimpses into the dispiriting world he was born into. 

By contrast Ida Arnold, a loud, blousy goodtime woman, is the only one (police included) that suspects there is more behind the sudden death of journalist Fred, who she only knew briefly while they each visited Brighton. To the reader the culprits are never in doubt and Pinkie will resort to anything to try and escape jail; there is certainly no honour among thieves. While Ida's personal morality would be seen as dubious by many, she is the only one who resolutely pursues the quest for truth and understands the danger to young waitress Rose, an inadvertent witness to crime who naively becomes Pinkie's accessory to the fact.

There were many points of discussion for this novel, including how women were perceived and treated at the time. Not an easy book to read but a story that has stood the test of time.

 

Book club score: 6.5/10

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March - The Secret Life of Sunflowers by Marta Molnar

Marta Molnar usually writes fantasy, romance and suspense novels under the pen name of Dana Marton. This is her first attempt at a historical novel and it stems from her interest in Johanna Bonger who was Vincent Van Goghs sister in law. The two main characters are strong women, one living in Holland and France in the 19th century and the other in modern day New York.

Johanna is a woman who history seems to have forgotten. She was married to Theo who was Vincent’s younger brother, moving from Holland to France when she married. Her strength carried her through when she was left for long periods of time, looking after a baby in a country where she didn’t speak the language, when Theo was away looking after Vincent who was a struggling artist. A strong character who never gave up even though, as a woman, she wasn’t recognised as an agent for Van Gogh’s art work. This is the part of the novel we discussed the most, and we felt that her character could have been developed further.

The modern part of the story was set in New York with Emsley and her grandmother as the strong female characters. The group felt that this was superfluous and predictable and didn’t really add anything to Johanna’s story.

An easy read, interesting historical information that some of us were not aware of, but possibly not a book we would return to.

Score 6.2

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April - I Let You Go by Clare Macintosh

Clare Macintosh's first novel led to much interesting discussion at our book club meeting and everyone agreed it had been cleverly written to surprise us all with an unexpected twist. Even the title of this novel has several connotations that we discover as the characters stories and relationships are developed throughout the book. 

The characters are believable, although it was somewhat predictable that there was a handy man for the main character to fall in love with. It was unusual, and scarily effective, to have some of the story, written in first person, by a perpetrator. The violence is disturbing all they way from being passive aggressive and controlling to physical acts that led to a tense and frightening finale. An ambiguous ending, again cleverly written, was not noticed by everybody...

Book club score: 8/10

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May - The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs

In 1835 Eliza, a middle aged spinster, is feeling down on her luck. Her anthology of poems has been rejected for publication and her father declared bankrupt. While her father escapes from his creditors to France, Eliza and her mother move to another town to set up a boarding house, for distinguished guests, in an attempt to escape social judgement and shame. Eliza learns to cook.

 

Ann has grown up in poverty. Her father is an amputee, essentially left to rot after his service in the Napoleonic wars. Her mother has all the symptoms of dementia and is becoming increasingly difficult to manage. The local vicar suggests a plan which enables Ann to work for Eliza and find new opportunities as well as ways to help her family.

 

The chapters alternate between the two. Eliza does not want to conform to society's expectations of the time i.e. get married, have children and run the house, and has a difficult relationship with her mother. Ann finds ways to give some support to her family while concealing the extreme poverty of her background and fate of her mother. Secrets are slowly revealed on both sides.

 

While the story was captivating, we didn't particularly warm to Eliza and some felt aspects of the novel could have been explored in greater depth. The descriptions of food and recipes were vivid and interesting but none of us were inspired to try the likes of boiled swan's egg (illegal now!) or Tonbridge Brawn (pig's head). Eliza's work developing the recipes and having her book published took ten years. The book was an immediate success. Many of her recipes were later plagiarised by Mrs Beeton.

 

Book club score: 7/10

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June - The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

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July - As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee

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August - The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

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September - Shame by Jasvinder Sanghera

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October - The First Casualty by Ben Elton

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November - The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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