04.09 Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers by Susan Fletcher
April 2009 Meeting

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  1. malcolmbbc

     /  June 8, 2009

    This took me a long time to read, but only due to my being distracted by other things. In fact, I loved the book and am amazed by the more negative comments above.

    I think Michelle has it right, that your response will doubtless depend upon the extent to which you can relate to the central character of Moira. The whole plot depends upon your acceptance that having felt “rejected” in early childhood due to the birth of her younger sister, Moira will cut herself away from her family and subsequently reinforce her status of a loner at boarding school. It doesn’t reflect well on me, but I can relate to Moira – she wants to be accepted, but she will make no compromises and indeed no apparent effort to make friends. So it makes perfect sense to me that she should hate being left behind whilst the other girls in her dormitory sneak out at night, yet can’t do anything about it.

    I suppose the other characters are more lightly drawn and arguably less believable. Aunt Til is a bit of a “hippy chick” cliche whilst Ray is the self-absorbed artist. But perhaps the point is that neither of them can really understand Moira, yet both of them can see elements of her that she cannot see herself.

    As to Moira’s need for a man. Yes, it may seem strange given how she was at school, the obsession with learning and the clear skills in science that are so easily dropped when Ray comes along. But my reading is that because Moira feels rejected/ has rejected her parents and isn’t socially succesful at school, she is simply unprepared for Ray’s interest in her. It fascinates her yet she can still not accept that he can find her beautiful and indeed love her. So it is easy for her to believe that he might be unfaithful and this pushes her into other – unsatisfactory – relationships as a way of trying to substitute or to block out.

  2. moirabbc

     /  May 10, 2009

    Michele, I can think of Jonathan Coe’s, The Rain Before it Falls but it may not count as the central character is lesbian.
    It would have been refreshing if the intelligent and apparently self-contained Moira did not have such a desperate need to be loved. I did not find the writing style poetic as it relied too much on repetition and sentences of 2 words or lists of sea-birds.I did tire of Ray’s blond hair and his reddish stubble. Like Sarah, I was irritated by Til – as incredible as her bloody crystals. However, I did like some of the coastal descriptions and Moira’s experiences at school were well-observed.
    Although the book purported to deal with the subject of sibling rivalry, it did no more than scratch the surface. Having something in common with Amy – being a little sister, rather than comatose – this was disappointing.

  3. hilaryfbbc

     /  April 29, 2009

    Irritating, confusing, un-believable, unlikeable characters…….

    The first 50 pages were pretty much OK, then the ‘Groundhog Day’ repetitive nature of the story (coma-like, I suppose) started to really annoy me. Also the 1st / 3rd person narration.

    I do understand that sibling ‘rivalry’ can be pretty bad, (altho’ I don’t have a sister) – but really I couldn’t see how that explained the guilt Moira had after the accident to Amy.

    Don’t think I will be recommending this to anyone.

  4. michelebbc

     /  April 28, 2009

    hi sarah I think you have clarified some of the thoughts I had about the book!

    some of these things did come up in the meeting. we discussed how the parents had just let Moira choose a school that was so far away and that while we did believe that they loved her perhaps they didn’t always do the right thing by her.

    Also I agree with you about finding the older Moira more difficult. I struggled with the need shown by both Moira and Til for a man to make them happy. We don’t find out anything much about Moira’s career or life outside of her relationships and affairs with others and to me, as you say in your comments, she seems the type of person as a child who could be happy alone and without a man necessary to justify her existence. Its a shame this wasn’t followed through.

    Can anyone think of a novel with a woman as the central character where her relationship with a man isn’t central to the plot?

  5. Sarah

     /  April 26, 2009

    In one sense I’m almost glad I missed the meeting; if I’m out on a limb I need never know!

    Having put off reading Oystercatchers until the eleventh hour, because it looked difficult (wasn’t) and I also expected, as an eldest sister, to feel uncomfortable (a little) I did, in the final analysis, like this book.

    And then I read the author’s commentary at the end. Huh? Well, I suppose if you have to take an opposing view, you might as well go to the top and contradict the author…

    The young Moira isn’t an immediately likeable character, but I did feel a certain amount of sympathy towards her, particularly during the Locke era. (Although, even as a non-boarding, boarding school survivor, of mercifully brief duration, I feel sufficiently expert to say that Locke sounded relatively innocuous.)

    But according to the author the reader is expected to condemn the harsh cruelty of the eleven year-old child, but pity her loneliness… I read the opposite.

    I could not see cruelty in an eleven year old. I did see an appeal to her parents which they completely failed to acknowledge… For me, this was the tragedy of the book, and the pivotal moment when Amy’s fate was sealed. By the same token I did not see that the story was predestined by Moira’s nature. It seems likely that, whilst a difficult child, spared the advent of her sister, or parented more wisely, the outcome would have been very different.

    The loneliness I also interpreted differently. For the most part it seemed to me that Moira was a strong, proud character who revelled in aloneness. The obvious loneliness perceptible in Moira is the kind that exists amongst other people; not by the simple fact of being alone. For this reason I found the section of the book where Moira is left alone in her dormitory, distressed as the others sneak out, completely incomprehensible and unconvincing.

    To further contradict the author, she asks us to forgive the adult Moira. The child Moira I grew to like a little, but the adult version became less appealing as the book progressed.

    I wondered if this was due to the use of narrative voice. The past is related in the third person. Why? Perhaps mainly because present Moira wishes to distance herself from past Moira but, also, third person as narrative is inherently more believable than first. So whilst the third person carries conviction it served to create a contrast where I was less inclined to trust the words of the present day Moira.

    Which is where I found the message of the book to lie. Whilst “Til” suggests that what you believe will happen, (and I did not like Til, either!) the book seems to suggest that what actually happens has little relevance in the face of what you believe. With Moira we see this over and over again. Believing her parents don’t love her, believing in her own unlikeability at school, believing Ray has betrayed her, etc, etc. She acts on her beliefs to the extent that they may as well have been true.

    If you read the book in this way, then the ending is vile. Amy in a coma, dying, is the perfect sister. Moira still chooses to create her own reality which is, presumably, how “the worm” becomes “love.”

    So whilst dubious about the author’s intentions, I did like the book for what I understood from it. I also enjoyed the presence and descriptions of the sea (love Barricane beach, and have experienced similar disappointment to that Moira felt when delightful proximity to the sea only revealed an unprepossessing stretch of East coast!) I feel sure that this is a book I will read again.

  6. michelebbc

     /  April 24, 2009

    This was one of those books that seemed to divide the group.

    The central figure Moira isn’t an obviously likable character, I wondered if the author had in mind the Jane Austen quote on Emma “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like:”. In places the book also brought to mind Jane Eyre – not particularly because of events but more the nature of the heroine. Even so I found myself identifying with the insular, solemn child and after the meeting I wondered if the people who liked the book were the ones who had more aspects of Moira in themselves! (no offence anyone!)

    I liked the poetic writing style and found it easy to read and I thought the device of alternating first and third person to give us a different perspective on events was effective although overused in places. Sometimes it made the writing a little opaque.

    So overall a book that I enjoyed and I’ll look out for the previous novel by this author.


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