“Secret Santa” 2014 – part two

On to part two of the report on our meeting to discuss “Secret Santa” books from December 2014. If you missed the first part, you can find it here.

SS2_GormenghastJohn received Mervyn Peake’s  Gormenghast Trilogy. This must have been the heftiest book pulled out of Santa’s Sack this year and John made a point of saying that in future, he would make sure that he went first, to make sure that he could pick out a slimmer offering! Unfortunately, this choice really wasn’t to John’s liking – he’s no fan of “fantasy” writing, so despite having three serious attempts, he couldn’t get beyond the first hundred pages. This book had been gifted by Barbara, who described it as “more of a picture than a story” and said that although she wouldn’t recommend reading beyond the first part of the trilogy, the central image of Gormenghast’s castle had never left her. Other readers seemed to agree with Barbara – Evan described the book as “gothic”.

John’s score: none given!

SS2_Any-Human-HeartBarbara’s book was Any Human Heart by William Boyd, who was a new author to her. This was a book that she had really enjoyed – it is a supposed autobiography about a man from a priveliged background who grows up through the two world wars and the Depression, is involved in espionage and clearly finds himself irresistible to the opposite sex. (On the misapprehension that this was a book of non-fiction, several of our female members gave close scrutiny to the author’s photograph at this point)! Barbara suggested that one of the main themes was about how privelige changed from the 1920’s on, and several of us recalled that the book had been dramatised on television over the last year or so.

Barbara’s score: 8/10

SS2_EnglebySS2_MysteryInWhiteBoyd had been provided by Eileen, who in turn received Engleby by Sebastian Faulks. Unfortunately this was a book that Eileen had read before so she instead chose to read a book that had been recommended by Jade, J Jefferson Farjeon’s  Mystery in White. This is a classic murder mystery, which Eileen found a nice read for Christmas. Engleby had been Maddie’s choice; she said this is is a great book which focuses on mental health.

Eileen’s score: none given!

SS2_100yomanMaddie received Jonas Jonasson’s, The Hundred-Year-Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared. She had also read this recently and described it as funny and quirky. Alan agreed, saying that the book had been both funny and absurd. But the book had been given by John, who described it as “the only book that I read last year that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Maddie’s score: 7/10

SS2_LetTheRightOneInSallie received Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist.This is about a 12-year old who is being bullied at school, then meets a very old person, who turns out to be a vampire. Unfortunately Sallie avoids reading such books as she has no wish to be frightened, so she couldn’t tell us any more. The novel had been chosen by Michele, who agreed that the book was “spooky” but said that the the story was more concerned with themes of loneliness than to cause fright.

Sallie’s score: none given!

SS2_The_Sealed_LetterMichele’s read was A Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue. This is based upon a court case from the 1800’s; the novel focuses on adultery and divorce. Michele had looked forward to reading this and felt it was an interesting story, but thought that it had not been written particularly well. The author attempts to write in a Victorian style, not always successfully, and character conversations are sometimes used in a rather clunky fashion, to explain the plot.

Michele’s score: 6/10

SS2_5StarBillionaireFinally, Jade (who had provided A Sealed Letter) couldn’t make the meeting but forwarded a comprehensive review of the book gifted by Sallie, Tash Aw’s Five Star Billionaire. Jade tells us that this recounts the stories of five different characters all trying to better themselves in Shanghai. They might all be described as entrepreneurs of sorts,  from the washed-up pop star trying to restart his career to the illegal immigrant and wealthy property developer. We get to see each of the characters from the point of view of the other characters – showing how there’s more than one side to every story. The thread running through the whole novel is the portrait of Shanghai as a restless animal of a city, covered with high rise developments with an ant-like population all striving to keep their heads above water.

Jade was less keen on the way the narrative jumped around, not only between different characters, but also back and forward in terms of time. She also found the the lack of a conclusive ending a bit disappointing. Overall however, recommended as an intelligent novel with an engaging writing style; a book which would merit a second reading.

Jade’s score: 7/10

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