Category Archives: books we’re reading

October’s book: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

This month’s theme was “women killers” and there as a clear winner

Alias Grace by Magaret Atwood

Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders.

Dr. Simon Jordan, an up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Is Grace a female fiend? A bloodthirsty femme fatale? Or is she the victim of circumstances?

The other choices for this month were:

  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  • See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
  • Monster by Aileen Wuornos
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September’s meeting

A small but perfectly formed group of bookclubbers met in our little alcove at Le Lacustre, dodging rabid language enthusiasts and expats, to discuss this month’s book – The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (no relation to Lord B, sadly)

There was a melancholy air to the event. The reason soon became evident – it was guilt. Only one person in the group actually finished this month’s book (well done Val!). The rest of us, apparently, had little love for Mr Byron and therefore gave the book up for more interesting pursuits. One member even admitted that she preferred to sit and stare at nothing on her commute rather than read the book. A damning indictment right there.

The Road to Oxiana became book club’s least loved book yet scoring a dismal 3.3 / 10. Oh dear. The comments around the book were equally damning. “It was just a stream of (boring) conciousness” said one. “Stilted”; “it had no purpose”; “I just couldn’t finish it”; “Why did he write the story?”. Only one person gave the book a score over 6 and even then the reader said she “couldn’t connect emotionally with the story”. A big fail all round then.

We pondered why The Road to Oxiana has been heralded as one of the best travel books ever ever ever. It was a mystery to us. Some people supposed that Byron may be one of the first travel writers in the region, or possibly that a handful of Byron enthusiasts spend their every waking moment on the internet telling everyone how great the book is (I wonder whether they may have shares in the royalties?)

There was a bit of a debate as to whether the book was a diary or a work of fiction. It’s lack of emotion leans towards fiction but the lack of anything interesting happening suggests a diary. It was clear that Byron’s voice was incredibly English and incredibly upper-class English. His descriptions, the way in which he portrayed the locals, and his sense of humour was enlightening to some. It showed how more accessible the world is now and how sheltered travellers were in the 1930s.

This led to an interesting discussion about the nature of travel. In the book, Byron tends to stick with his “own” type of people – the ambassadors, consulate etc. We wondered whether this was a mark of the time and then, looking around us at the groups of expats speaking English, we realised that no, it’s something that happens nowadays. When people go to Thailand to “find themselves”, they inevitably find themselves surrounded by people just like them.

Ultimately, there wasn’t a lot to talk about with this book so bookclubbers found other, better topics to discuss. Two random phrases did pop up in my notes, however:

Let’s hope next month’s book elicits a little more conversation!

 

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