Saturday, February 13, 2010
The Reading Group: A Novel (P.S.) by Elizabeth Noble tells the story of a book club which consists of a collection of middle-aged women facing a variety of challenges in their lives and how the friendships they develop support them through these crises. Although it deals with heavier topics, such as infidelity, abortion and the death of one's parents, it is a decidedly light-hearted novel which celebrates female friendship.
The book is told from the perspectives of each of the book club members (and sometimes others in each of their lives) - at first, it was difficult to follow each story but I quickly became familiar with the characters and looked forward to the next chapter which would focus on their story. I do think, however, the story could have done without the perspectives of those outside the book club (such as the significant others of each of the reading group members). The story would have been tighter without the distractions of these other character perspectives - since these characters were not well developed, their points of view didn't seem as relevant to the reader. Other than this criticism, I have positive things to say about the book - I really enjoyed it and it felt like a familiar, comfortable read to me. Was it predictable at times? Yes - but that was Ok as I was quite caught up in the characters and their friendships and that was more important to me than a riveting plot with unexpected turns. I have read other Elizabeth Noble novels (Alphabet Weekend) and will certainly read more.
The reading group in this novel is really just a device to bring together these women, have them tell their stories and develop relationships with each other. The book opens with a quote by Margaret Atwood which I think is pretty apt for the book clubs I have been fortunate to be part of: "The real, hidden subject of a book group discussion is the book members themselves". Like the women in the novel's reading group, the lives of my fellow book club members have unfolded during many a book club meeting and we have looked to the group, at times, to provide emotional sustenance in difficult times. The women in this novel do the same and, as the novel progresses, they look forward more and more to their monthly meetings. My book clubs have mostly talked about the books (I have left book clubs in which the book never came up at a meeting) but the discussion would weave through the book but also the lives of each member or our opinions on issues in the book. The books in the novel are given are very light touch by the reading group - there is no real literary criticism going on at these meetings - but I like how the books are always a backdrop to scenes in the novel and to each of their lives.
There is some interesting content at the back of the book - in addition to a brief bio and interview with the author, there is a list of tips for setting up a book club and a piece written by a member of the author's book club which describes each member and how they approach their book club meetings. For a book club lover like me, this content was a great added bonus!
So, tell me about your book clubs - do you strictly talk about the books at your meetings? Do you clubs consist of friends, acquaintances or both? How do you choose your books?
This book qualifies for the Typically British Reading Challenge and the "TBR" category of the Twenty Ten Challenge