So, I started a book club. A real one, not a virtual one. Or rather, one was started by someone else and then hosted by me - meaning I had to banish Paul and Ellie into their bedrooms for the evening. There was plentiful cheese and wine, as there should be at all good gatherings, and a lot of chatter - not all, or even much, about the book itself. It was nice to talk about books in real life though, even if only briefly. I've read so many this year </notsohumblebrag> and I've wanted to talk about almost all of them - it feels like a waste if you can't share your excitement or disappointment or crazy theories about a book. I needed more book chat in my life.
Carrie by Stephen King
I'd never read Stephen King before I picked up Carrie - more by accident than design. I can see why he is so beloved - this is truly an astonishing debut novel and belies an incredible talent. Is it bad, though, that my favourite part about this book was the Foreword? I wish I had read it afterwards, not before - although I'm not sure it would have made much difference. This book is so ingrained in pop culture that I knew the story before I even started, which I think took away from the scariness. I imagine reading this with no pre-knowledge would be super spooky, but I didn't find myself as creeped out as I'd hoped. However, the premise behind the book, revealed in the foreword, was fascinating and gave me a lot of pause for thought. If you've not read it before, Carrie is definitely worth picking up - but maybe try the movie if you're looking to get spooked!
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
This was our book club book, and I think it was a resounding disappointment to all. That's not to say that this is a poorly written or even an uninteresting book - it is in fact relatively gripping and written beautifully. But, Wuthering Heights is sold as one of the best love stories of all time, but it is in fact a story of violence, revenge and abuse - with a tiny bit of an unhealthy, kind of loving relationship thrown in. There's something really distressing about this book, and that its legacy is of the love between Heathcliff and Cathy (so much love, that she marries someone else and Heathcliff spends the rest of his life torturing her relatives...). I loved the character of Ellen Dean, whose perspective the story is told from - I thought that was a really clever way of relaying the story and she was almost the only good character in the novel. The descriptions of the Yorkshire Moors made me excited to visit Haworth next weekend (Bronte County!) but I was left with a bit of a sinking feeling at the end of the book. If you're after some good Bronte with a more positive love story - both Jane Eyre and Villette by Charlotte Bronte will probably fill that gap much better for you!
Home is Burning by Dan Marshall*
Don't read this book if you're in a fragile state, as you will find yourself weeping uncontrollably. You'll also find yourself chuckling at the incredibly dark, incredibly crude humour of this book. This is a true story of self-proclaimed 'rich asshole' Dan, who is forced to move back home from a sparkling life in LA to help care for his two terminally ill parents. It shouldn't be funny, but at moments you will be, quite literally, lol-ing. It's also incredibly poignant and heart-wrenching, as well as being frustrating. All of which, I think, you're supposed to feel. Whilst his mother is suffering with cancer, she has been beating it for years (she's basically a hero, I loved her) but his Dad's condition, Lou Gehrig's disease, is much more pressing and this book basically charts his decline and eventual death (no spoilers, it's mentioned in the first few pages). His Dad sounds like he was an incredible man, and it's frustrating to watch as his family falls apart around him in an effort to care for him - you want to shake them, or march in there yourself and give the whole house a really good clean. It's a testament to the book's honesty that Dan is so honest about his own shortcomings, and his journey to grow up whilst something so awful is happening - although I would defy anyone else to cope much better in such circumstances. I'm not sure you can call it a happy ending, all things considered, but I did find this book very satisfying and I've been thinking about it ever since.
The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay*
This book felt very cosy, and definitely appropriate for this time of year. The main character, Lucy, loves reading and, in particular, the Brontes. As her life starts to fall apart and her past misdemeanours catch up with her, she is transported to England with an older friend, Helen, who confides in her about her own secret past. Together they go on a journey to discover more about their own histories, in a hope to be able to move forward. There were parts of this book that I found a little frustrating - the dialogue was unrealistic and all the characters seemed to be able to pinpoint their exact emotional state and impart it to others in beautifully constructed sentences, and, conveniently, they were all wealthy enough to not have to worry about jetting off the England and wandering around the moors with a week's notice (or less). The love story between Lucy and James had promise at first, but I didn't particularly find myself rooting for them - they both didn't feel like fully formed characters to me, so it was hard to believe in a happy ending for them. That said, I do think that sometimes you have to take a book for what it is, and this was an enjoyable story with wonderful literary references that I particularly enjoyed (especially since they visit Haworth, where I am heading tomorrow!). The secondary characters were wonderful - I adored Sid from the get-go, and I kind of wish we'd been able to find out what happened to Bette and to Dillon, because they were just so lovely - which only added to the cosy feeling. A little lacking in emotional depth and nuance, perhaps, but that's just what you need sometimes.
*I received copies of this book for review purposes.