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      April Supporter Giveaway   04/01/2019

        "If you look the right way you can see that the whole world is a garden."   In honour of spring, the April giveaway is a print of this wonderful quote from The Secret Garden (thanks, once again to www.thestorygift.co.uk) along with a Secret Garden tea (Victoria Sponge flavoured!) from the  Literary Tea Company! (You can find them both at their own website theliteraryteacompany.co.uk and at their etsy store www.etsy.com/uk/shop/LiteraryTeaCompany ).   As always, patreon supporters will be entered automatically and if you don't support but want to be included in this month's giveaway you can join the patreon here: www.patreon.com/bookclubforum A winner will be chosen at random on the last day of the month!
Books do furnish a room

A Book blog, 2019 by Books do Furnish a Room

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Great review of Bellman and Black, I agree completely. I really can't understand why so many synopses refer to this book as a ghost story, and even make out that it's tense or scary, because it just isn't. Very little actually happens and it's very metaphorical. I think if I'd known that when I started reading I would have liked it more. 

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Thanks Hayley

Loaves and wishes edited by Antonia Till

A collection of writing about food, all from female writers and published by virago to commemorate Oxfam’s fiftieth anniversary in 1992. There is a brief history of Oxfam at the end.

This is a very varied collection from writers like Woolf, Germaine Greer, Attia Hosain, Kathy Lette, Sara Maitland, Susie Orbach, Shashi Deshpande, Doris Lessing, Sohaili Abdulali to mention a few. There are great contrasts here, Greer talks about the difference between hunger and starvation whilst Hosain recalls the foods of her childhood linked to feast days and times, such as Eid.

Till asserts in her introduction that women:

“are burdened with the necessity of providing food for their families, day after day, week after week, year after year … any failure to do this with good grace is readily equated with a failure of love.”

Maitland admits to hating cooking and compares the kitchen to the Gulag whilst Susie Orbach talks about the restorative power of chicken soup and provides a recipe. There’s a passage from To The Lighthouse and The Golden Notebook and a couple of short stories, some nostalgia and a look at the more negative side of the kitchen on the Indian subcontinent.

It isn’t very long and each contribution is brief. There is a good variety and a couple of writers who I was not familiar with for me to follow up

7 out of 10

Starting Salt on your Tongue by Charlotte Runcie

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Tripticks by Ann Quin

This is the first time I have read anything by Ann Quin: she was a British experimental artist who took her own life in 1973 following years of mental ill-health. She wrote four novels and this was the last and most experimental. She was part of a very loose group of experimental writers including B S Johnson, Eva Figes, Alan Burns and Rayner Heppenstall.

She is not much read today but she has influenced many other writers, including Kathy Acker, Juliet Jacques, Stewart Home, Deborah Levy and Chloe Aridjis.

The plot is very loose and the narrator is male with three ex-wives. He is taking a sort of road trip across the US. He keeps coming across his ex-wives in all sorts of locations: usually his first ex-wife and she crops up most often. Various older family members also pop up in odd places and there are epistolary episodes as well. This has been compared to Burroughs and Quinn’s landscape is just as surreal. If you didn’t know the date you could easily date it by the references to fashion, TV, by the language and attitudes to sex and sexuality. The account is rather scattered and broken, jumping around a great deal. When a phrase like pre-punk aesthetics is applied to a work you pretty much know what you are going to get! It certainly wasn’t liked by the critics, look at what the TLS had to say:

“The technique, which must be even more laborious to employ than it is to interpret, cannot perform what it aims at. The thing is still physically a book, we must still turn over its pages, we still have to remember from one page to the next what has accumulated. The effort of doing so through the thickets of frustration that the method and layout interpose is too much, and draws fatal attention to the powerful underlying humourlessness of the whole thing”

However there are other views:

"a savage assault on an America obsessed by commerce, advertising and media, a road novel from hell, written as if it is the frenzy of one last gasp"

Of course it is a road novel of sorts and a pursuit narrative, but in some ways these aspects are almost asides to the encounters with various aspects of early 1970s American culture. There is also a good deal of free association and stream of consciousness digressions. This isn’t light bedtime reading, it is quite hard work. The more perceptive will also notice the influence of Marcuse. Quinn expects a lot of the reader, but she was the same in real life as her friend Alan Burns recalls a public literary meeting:

“she did her Quin thing, that is to say she came onto the stage and she just sat and looked at people, she wouldn’t say a goddamn word! She just stared, she either implied or she actually stated that … we can communicate more in silence than with someone actually putting the words across.”

Quin chops things about pop-art style and there are lots of illustrations from Carol Annand. You get the words of Nixon or Johnson juxtaposed with ads for erotic underwear or inserted into family history as in this instance where the narrator is talking to an ex father-in-law:

He was all for reconciliations, and while slicing through a neatly tiered 3-layer cake – more like a marble cake full of unexpected whorls and inseparable blendings – he exclaimed: “I do not think that those men who are out there fighting for us tonight think we should enjoy the luxury of fighting each other back home.”’

The quote at the end is from a TV broadcast by Johnson in 1966.

I can’t say that I was passionate about this and I think I would enjoy her first novel Berg more, but it is memorable and I know people on here who would love it. It is an acquired taste.

6 out of 10

Starting What we talk about when we talk about rape by Sohaila Abdulali

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In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor

It has been an interesting experience reading Taylor’s novels one after the other. This is Taylor’s eighth novel and it is about love, but don’t let that put you off, it is an interesting examination (and very English). It is set over a single summer. The title being the opening lines of Piers Ploughman. It revolves around a middle-aged woman called Kate. Her husband has died and she has remarried to Dermot, a man ten years her junior. Her son Tom has started working in the family firm and her daughter Louise is sixteen and home from school for the summer.

There are some strong minor characters. Dermot’s mother Edwina lives in London. Living with Kate and Dermot is a relative, Ethel who is an ex-suffragette. Mrs Meacock is the cook who dreams of other things. Halfway through the novel an old friend of Kate’s returns to the neighbourhood; Charles and his daughter Araminta (Minty). There are also, in the first half several female acquaintances of Tom. Louise manages to fall in love with the local curate Father Blizzard.

The novels revolves around the relationship of Kate and Dermot and she analyses rather well, positives:

‘Separated from their everyday life, as if in a dream or on a honeymoon, Kate and Dermot were under the spell of the gentle weather and blossoming countryside. They slept in bedrooms like corners of auction rooms stacked with old fashioned furniture, they made love in hummocky beds, and gave rise to much conjecture in bar parlours where that sat drinking alone, not talking much, though clearly intent on each other.’

And negatives:

‘On the way home they quarreled – or, rather, she listened to Dermot quarreling with an imaginary Kate, who supplied him with imaginary retorts, against which he was able to build up his indignation. Then, when they were nearly home, he began to punish himself, and Kate realised that the more he basked in blame, the more it would turn out to be all hers; her friends, for close friends of hers they would become, would seem to have lined up to aggravate him, and her silence would be held to account for his lack of it.’

There is a dry comic element:

“Aunt Ethel descended the stairs wearing her beaded jersey and a touch of talcum powder… – a concession she made in the evenings. She had the ample, maternal, bosomy looks to be found in so many elderly spinsters….Living in her niece’s house involved her in all sorts of problems that no one else knew existed… Ethel had a way of bending her head at closed doors, not listening, as she told herself, but ascertaining.”

 and some rather wry observations about the English middle class. The persecution of Father Blizzard for being too high church is an interesting side plot. The buildup and development of relationships is done well and the reader does wonder where it is all headed. The ending is interesting and has been speculated about. It felt to me like Taylor thought “let’s crash the thing and see what happens”, it’s all so sudden, but interesting none the less.

7 out of 10

Starting The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor

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What we talk about when we talk about rape by Sohaila Abdulali

A book every man should read, written with compassion and power and managing to maintain balance. Abdulali describes herself thus:

“A brown bisexual middle-aged atheist Muslim survivor immigrant writer without a Shame Gene”

She knows of what she writes having survived a gang rape by four men when she was seventeen and living in India. One of the strengths of the book is that it draws on the stories of women throughout the world, not just from Europe and the US. Abdulali talks about the #MeToo movement, which took off while she was writing:

“I’m not qualified to talk about whether it has the capacity to revolutionize society, since I’m a complete social media misfit. But of course it should! Anything, in any medium, that connects women and helps amplify their voices on this issue, is fantastic, as far as I’m concerned. If one lone woman spoke out for the first time about sexual abuse, that’s already a success.”

Abdulali has worked for a rape crisis centre and with rape survivors for many years and draws on her experience with many women and some men. She talks about the complexity of rape and the feelings related to it. This is illustrated by an extended quote:

“In the fall of 2017, the international news was suddenly full of women who were abused and terrorized by men, who stayed in relationships (personal, professional) with their abusers and have said they had conflicting feelings. This may sound confusing, and I’ve had friends express doubts to me about how severely these women were really victimised.

Maybe it wasn’t so bad?

No, no, no. This is a tough one to grasp, I know, so I repeat: no, no, no. How you act with your rapist afterwards, and even how you might feel about your rapist afterwards, doesn’t indicate the seriousness of either the crime or your trauma.

In the midst of my own shock and pain all those years ago, I felt a fugitive pang for the people who raped me. I had no history with them. They were strangers full of hostility and rage and I had nothing in common with them. I looked into their eyes and felt sick with panic. But I also felt a weird compassion.

I think calling it Stockholm Syndrome and labelling it a pathology or a dysfunctional response is too simplistic. I didn’t like them, or sympathise, or understand. But I did see that in some odd way they were fellow human beings.

And they were not happy. They were not having a fine old time, out for a jolly gang-bang. Maybe some men have fun committing rape, but these men weren’t. It was all terrifying for me, but they were also tormented, and I couldn’t help noticing that and feeling a tiny chord of empathy.

Oddly enough, this might have been what saved my life that day. Their plan was to kill us, my friend and me. I talked and talked and talked—I’ve never talked that much before or since. I forgot that I was supposed to be a shy kid. I talked about how I knew they were good people, we were all brothers and sisters, blah blah ...

Let me be very clear, I did not think they were good people or that we were brothers and sisters. I thought, and still do, that they were extremely bad people. They were malign, brutal, and vicious. But it was the only way I could think of to get them to see me as someone they couldn’t destroy. Or themselves as people who couldn’t kill. And perhaps the only way I could do that was to believe it a tiny bit myself.

If the world were different and I had seen them in court, would I have felt sorry for them? I have no idea. I’m just pointing out that it makes perfect sense to me when I see photographs of famous women smiling and hugging men whom they later point out as rapists. The fact that you have confused feelings about the person who hurt you doesn’t make you guilty. It makes you human.”

Abdulali asks a lot of relevant questions; Is rape always a life-defining event? Does rape always symbolize something? Is rape worse than death? Is rape related to desire? Who gets raped? Is rape inevitable? Is one rape worse than the other? Who rapes? What is consent? How do you recover a sense of safety and joy? How do you raise sons? Who gets to judge?

This should be required reading, it is well written, very important and analyses the culture and attitudes around rape with anger, cold calm humour and humanity.

9 out of 10

Starting Voyages Out and Voyages Home edited by Jane de Gay and Marion Dell

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