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chris-l



Joined: 27 Nov 2008
Posts: 731



PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2017 8:48 pm    Post subject:  Reply with quote

Sandraseahorse wrote:
Rarely has there been such unanimity as at our book group this week.  Everyone struggled with Elena Ferrante's "My Brilliant Friend."  This depictions of two girls, Lila and Elena, growing up in Naples in the 1950s has won rave reviews but it didn't get a warm response from any of us.

All of us found it difficult to follow who was who among the myriad characters (especially if you read it on a Kindle which made it difficult to turn back to the character list at the beginning).  We all became confused with the family relationships in the various large extended families.  All of us found the section on the two girls' childhood a hard slog as it just seemed to consists of lots of incidents in great detail but not necessarily in chronological order.  Everyone said they would have given up if it hadn't been a book club read (some said they would have stopped at about page 100 while others said they would have gone on to around page 150).

We all agree that the book improved in the last quarter and it even started to become interesting when it suddenly came to an abrupt stop.  Despite the way it improved towards the end, none of us felt like reading the other three books in the series.

I don't think I am giving away any spoilers by revealing that the book starts with Lila's son telling Elena that her friend has disappeared and Elena speculates on why Lila might have gone missing.  At the end of the book we still don't know why she has gone (the book only goes up to when the girls are 16) and I presume you have to read the series to find out.

None of us liked the main characters; one woman said she felt Lila was a "spoilt little madam" and even though I sympathised with Elena's desire to achieve good academic results, the reader has to endure so many continuous references to what grades she got for Latin, etc,. that I just became bored with the irritating swot.  

The only things there were disagreements about in my group were minor issues; one person felt it was a good translation but three of us said the translation was poor as the many Americanisms jarred and it gave little flavour of the Neapolitan dialect.

One person pointed out something I had noted - that there was little reference to food which is surprising given that food is such a key part of Italian life.  One member of the group said they were probably too poor to live on anything except bread and jam.  However, afterwards I thought that pride in putting a tasty meal on the table is such a part of the Italian psyche that I was sure that the women would be able to produce something tasty from basic ingredients of tomatoes, pasta, rice, onions, beans  etc.


What made the experience so infuriating was that so many of us had really been looking forward to this read.  All the ingredients were there; it is set in Italy ( a country I love), it is a coming-of-age novel (which usually I find interesting) and the theme of people trying to make something of their lives from an impoverished background and in an area where the criminal organisation the Camora is all-pervasive is a fascinating one.  But despite these ingredients, for me the mixture failed to rise (like various cakes I've baked in the past).

I note that a two-part adaptation of this series of books has just opened at the Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames.  I won't be going.


I was interested in this, as I have a friend who has been urging me to read the Ferrantes books for a while now. I had been on the point of giving in (Kindle versions), now I am not so sure.. Maybe if I find them in paperback somewhere? I like to think that I am open to new authors, and new influences, but on the other hand, life is short, I don't want to waste too much of it on duds.


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 2974


Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2017 5:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Our bookclub was ambivalent about our latest book - The Underground Girls of Kabul.  I think I have already written somewhere about the premise of this book - that in Afghanistan often girls are brought up as boys and though it is known about it still raises the family's status to have a 'boy' in the family.  

The writer, Jenny Nordberg, is also ambivalent about the effects on the young girls especially when they are turned back into boys when they reach puberty.  She felt it might be detrimental to their mental and emotional health, but the reactions of the young women themselves were mixed.  Some were delighted to be allowed to be feminine, some resigned, some actively resisted.  And she interviewed at least one who just refused to turn back into a woman - she did have her father's support.  

I found the chapter on other cultures who had this custom interesting.  Especially Albania, which has apparently modernised in the last few years and the women there no need to dress up as men.  We thought it was a dreadful situation where girls are so little valued, but the book itself was interesting. The author thought until men accepted women and understood that their economic contribution was valuable the situation would not change.  She also thought it was to men's feelings of self worth and their fear of women's power (if they were able to have economic wealth) that the system would be difficult to change.  We thought (or at least I did) that people in countries under siege or constant warfare were too fearful to raise their heads above the parapets - I liken it to Europe in WWII, where you do all you can to keep your family and yourself safe. Some of the men in this book (not that we saw many of them, since men and women don't really mix in Afghanistan) did talk about how they realised the situation was awful for their children, but they were powerless to do anything about it.  

We are hopeful that our next book will be less depressing!  It is Reach by Laurence Fearnley (who is a woman). She has written various books, but usually with rural outsiders as the main characters.


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Mikeharvey



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 3360


Location: Lancashire

PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2017 12:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have never been in a Book Group.  I don't like having to read to order. I much prefer the serendipity of my own extensive book collection (many unread because I'm a book addict and buyer) and reading what ever title floats up next.......


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Sandraseahorse



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 1154



PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2017 7:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mikeharvey wrote:
I have never been in a Book Group.  I don't like having to read to order. I much prefer the serendipity of my own extensive book collection (many unread because I'm a book addict and buyer) and reading what ever title floats up next.......


I've heard several people say that, Mike, and it is a view I respect but I've belonged to one book group and then its successor for 17 and a half years now. In that time there have been about half a dozen books I really couldn't finish and a similar number I resented having to read (one by Edwina Currie springs to mind and also "The Maid of Buttermere" by Melvyn Bragg).  However, possibly a similar number I would never have thought of reading but I enjoyed once I became engaged.

The book group helped me to make friends when I was new to the area and at times we have had some fascinating discussions.


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Mikeharvey



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 3360


Location: Lancashire

PostPosted: Sun Apr 30, 2017 11:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, the chance to make new friends is certainly an inducement to  join a book group.  Especially as I grow older.....


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Joe McWilliams



Joined: 10 Feb 2012
Posts: 678


Location: Canada

PostPosted: Sun Apr 30, 2017 6:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's what this is - a book group with no obligations.
|'ve also never belonged to a proper book group. Joining one, where I live, would mean spending time with some people whose company I find worth avoiding.


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chris-l



Joined: 27 Nov 2008
Posts: 731



PostPosted: Mon May 01, 2017 5:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I do feel much the same, Joe. I have thought about joining a book group a few times over the years, but, for similar reasons to yours, have always backed off. I do belong to a discussion group, which, from time to time, decides to read a book and talk about it. Mostly, I have been quite interested in the choices, but there have been a couple of duds. In one case  everyone agreed, including the person who had suggested the book, in the other case,  I was a bit of a minority in not enjoying the novel. The company, though, has always been congenial, as it is here.


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Joe McWilliams



Joined: 10 Feb 2012
Posts: 678


Location: Canada

PostPosted: Mon May 01, 2017 5:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Regarding Afghanistan, Caro, your report on The Underground Girls of Kabul reminds me of Ms. Sierstad's The Bookseller of Kabul, which concentrates on the fate of one woman from a so-called 'liberal' family. The bookseller of the title is broad-minded in some respects, but when it comes to his niece, he is locked into the customary notions of what she can and can't be allowed to do. So she's a house-bound servant until he can find a suitable spouse for her. Period. She has nothing to say about it, and though she longs for a bit of freedom, it is out of the question.
It's claustrophobic and depressing, but apparently just the way things are.

I hesitate to judge a culture based on the exceptional situations that tend to make it into the news. Much less the ones exploited by novelists. Sierstad's book was all the more unsettling because it was not an example of Taliban-like extremism in treatment of women, and yet was still horribly oppressive.

My head is full of this stuff right now, having reached Afghanistan in my own travel memoir. I was utterly enchanted at the time, having no inkling (how could I?) of what women were or were not enduring. I saw them as ghostly shapes 'flitting across the scene,' as Robert Byron described in The Road to Oxiana. As weird as it was to a wide-eyed western kid to see (or not see) women, my inclination was to accept it as just a cultural difference, which must have its own merits. That still is my inclination. The notion it is oppressive, full stop, doesn't hold water. And yet...

Byron himself, full of scathing opinion on anything and everything, had nothing whatsoever to say about the role or treatment of women - except by implication to condone it as being preferable to whatever clumsy attempts the Shah next door in Iran was making in the way of 'liberalization,' or 'westernization.' Byron deplored this because it interfered with and sullied his romantic notions of the Exotic East.

Sorry for carrying on.... this should probably be in another thread.



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