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Great Book Club Choices (Part Two)

Following on from last week’s ‘Great Book Club Choices (Part One)’, here are ten more novels which I feel would warrant stimulating and lengthy conversation in a book club environment.

11. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
“Rene is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building. She maintains a carefully constructed persona as someone uncultivated but reliable, in keeping with what she feels a concierge should be. But beneath this facade lies the real Rene: passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Rene lives with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever. By turns moving and hilarious, this unusual novel became the top-selling book in France in 2007.”

12. The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Double “is a surprisingly modern hallucinatory nightmare-foreshadowing Kafka and Sartre-in which a minor official named Goliadkin becomes aware of a mysterious doppelganger, a man who has his name and his face and who gradually and relentlessly begins to displace him with his friends and colleagues.”

13. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
“When Tess Durbeyfield is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D’Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune, meeting her ‘cousin’ Alec proves to be her downfall. A very different man, Angel Clare, seems to offer her love and salvation, but Tess must choose whether to reveal her past or remain silent in the hope of a peaceful future. With its sensitive depiction of the wronged Tess and powerful criticism of social convention, Tess of the D’Urbervilles is one of the most moving and poetic of Hardy’s novels.”

14. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
“With neither friends nor family, Lucy Snowe sets sail from England to find employment in a girls’ boarding school in the small town of Villette. There she struggles to retain her self-possession in the face of unruly pupils, an initially suspicious headmaster and her own complex feelings, first for the school’s English doctor and then for the dictatorial professor Paul Emmanuel. Drawing on her own deeply unhappy experiences as a governess in Brussels, Charlotte Bronte’s last and most autobiographical novel is a powerfully moving study of isolation and the pain of unrequited love, narrated by a heroine determined to preserve an independent spirit in the face of adverse circumstances.”

15. The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer
“In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, rare-gem dealer Isaac Amin is arrested, wrongly accused of being a spy. Terrified by his disappearance, his family must reconcile a new world of cruelty and chaos with the collapse of everything they have known. As Isaac navigates the terrors of prison, and his wife feverishly searches for him, his children struggle with the realization that their family may soon be forced to embark on a journey of incalculable danger.”

16. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
“An elderly artist and her six-year-old grand-daughter while away a summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. As the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, whims and yearnings, a fierce yet understated love emerges – one that encompasses not only the summer inhabitants but the very island itself. Written in a clear, unsentimental style, full of brusque humour, and wisdom, The Summer Book is a profoundly life-affirming story.Tove Jansson captured much of her own life and spirit in the book, which was her favourite of her adult novels.”

17. My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young
“A letter, two lovers, a terrible lie. In war, truth is only the first casualty.  While Riley Purefoy and Peter Locke fight for their country, their survival and their sanity in the trenches of Flanders, Nadine Waveney, Julia Locke and Rose Locke do what they can at home. Beautiful, obsessive Julia and gentle, eccentric Peter are married: each day Julia goes through rituals to prepare for her beloved husband’s return. Nadine and Riley, only eighteen when the war starts, and with problems of their own already, want above all to make promises – but how can they when the future is not in their hands? And Rose? Well, what did happen to the traditionally brought-up women who lost all hope of marriage, because all the young men were dead? Moving between Ypres, London and Paris, My Dear I Wanted to Tell You is a deeply affecting, moving and brilliant novel of love and war, and how they affect those left behind as well as those who fight.”

18. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
“At the heart of this epic saga, set just before the Opium Wars, is an old slaving-ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its crew a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a truly diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt Raja to a widowed villager, from an evangelical English opium trader to a mulatto American freedman. As their old family ties are washed away they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais or ship-brothers. An unlikely dynasty is born, which will span continents, races and generations. The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of China. But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, which makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive – a masterpiece from one of the world’s finest novelists.”

19. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
“Northern Iceland, 1829. A woman condemned to death for murdering her lover. A family forced to take her in. A priest tasked with absolving her. But all is not as it seems, and time is running out: winter is coming, and with it the execution date. Only she can know the truth. This is Agnes’s story.”

20. The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai
“In this delightful, funny and moving first novel, a librarian and a young boy obsessed with reading take to the road. Lucy Hull, a 26-year-old children’s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both kidnapper and kidnapped when her favourite patron, 10-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy’s help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly anti-gay classes. Lucy, a rebel at heart beneath her librarian’s exterior, stumbles into a moral dilemma when she finds Ian camped out in the library after hours, with a knapsack of provisions and an escape plan. Desperate to save him from the Drakes, Lucy allows herself to be hijacked by Ian. The odd pair embark on an improvised road trip from Missouri to Vermont, with ferrets and an inconvenient boyfriend thrown in their path. Along the way, Lucy struggles to make peace with her Russian immigrant father and his fugitive past, and is forced to use his shady connections to escape discovery. But is it just Ian who is running away? Who is the strange man on their tail? And should Lucy be trying to save a boy from his own parents?”

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7

Great Book Club Choices (Part One)

Whilst I am sadly no longer part of a book club, I thought I would compile a list of twenty titles which I think would be wonderful choices for book club discussions.  Whilst not everyone will like these novels (from past experience, selecting a novel which everyone enjoys and admires is nigh on impossible), the conversation which can be built around them is sure to be stimulating.  For each book, I have copied the blurb to give you an idea as to the plot and style of each.

1. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
“The devil makes a personal appearance in Moscow accompanied by various demons, including a naked girl and a huge black cat. When he leaves, the asylums are full and the forces of law and order in disarray. Only the Master, a man devoted to truth, and Margarita, the woman he loves, can resist the devil’s onslaught.”

2. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
“Ten-year-old Abdullah would do anything for his younger sister. In a life of poverty and struggle, with no mother to care for them, Pari is the only person who brings Abdullah happiness. For her, he will trade his only pair of shoes to give her a feather for her treasured collection. When their father sets off with Pari across the desert to Kabul in search of work, Abdullah is determined not to be separated from her. Neither brother nor sister know what this fateful journey will bring them. And the Mountains Echoed is a deeply moving epic of heartache, hope and, above all, the unbreakable bonds of love.”

3. Restless by William Boyd
“It is 1939. Eva Delectorskaya is a beautiful 28-year-old Russian emigree living in Paris. As war breaks out she is recruited for the British Secret Service by Lucas Romer, a mysterious Englishman, and under his tutelage she learns to become the perfect spy, to mask her emotions and trust no one, including those she loves most. Since the war, Eva has carefully rebuilt her life as a typically English wife and mother. But once a spy, always a spy. Now she must complete one final assignment, and this time Eva can’t do it alone: she needs her daughter’s help.”

4. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
The Lacuna is the heartbreaking story of a man’s search for safety of a man torn between the warm heart of Mexico and the cold embrace of 1950s McCarthyite America. Born in the U.S. and reared in Mexico, Harrison Shepherd is a liability to his social-climbing flapper mother, Salome. Making himself useful in the household of the famed Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and exiled Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky, young Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution. A violent upheaval sends him north to a nation newly caught up in World War II. In the mountain city of Asheville, North Carolina he remakes himself in America’s hopeful image. But political winds continue to throw him between north and south, in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach – the lacuna – between truth and public presumption. A gripping story of identity, loyalty and the devastating power of accusations to destroy innocent people, The Lacuna is as deep and rich as the New World.”

5. The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson
“Can a man be maimed by witchcraft? Can a severed head speak? Based on the most notorious of English witch-trials, this is a tale of magic, superstition, conscience and ruthless murder. It is set in a time when politics and religion were closely intertwined; when, following the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, every Catholic conspirator fled to a wild and untamed place far from the reach of London law. This is Lancashire. This is Pendle. This is witch country.”

6. Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote
“When Joel Knox’s mother dies, he is sent into the exotic unknown of the Deep South to live with a father he has never seen. But once he gets there, everyone is curiously evasive when Joel asks to see his father. Truman Capote’s first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms is a brilliant, searching study of homosexuality set in a shimmering landscape of heat, mystery and decadence.”

7. Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker
“Cassandra Edwards is a graduate student at Berkeley: gay, brilliant, nerve-racked, miserable. At the beginning of this novel, she drives back to her family ranch in the foothills of the Sierras to attend the wedding of her identical twin, Judith, to a nice young doctor from Connecticut. Cassandra, however, is hell-bent on sabotaging the wedding. Dorothy Baker’s entrancing tragicomic novella follows an unpredictable course of events in which her heroine appears variously as conniving, self-aware, pitiful, frenzied, absurd, and heartbroken-at once utterly impossible and tremendously sympathetic. As she struggles to come to terms with the only life she has, Cassandra reckons with her complicated feelings about the sister who she feels owes it to her to be her alter ego; with her father, a brandy-soaked retired professor of philosophy; and with the ghost of her dead mother. First published in 1962, Cassandra at the Wedding is a book of enduring freshness, insight, and verve. Like the fiction of Jeffrey Eugenides and Jhumpa Lahiri, it is the work of a master stylist with a profound understanding of the complexities of the heart and mind.”

8. The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry
“One morning a librarian finds a reader who has been locked in overnight. She begins to talk to him, a one-way conversation full of sharp insight and quiet outrage. As she rails against snobbish senior colleagues, an ungrateful and ignorant public, the strictures of the Dewey Decimal System and the sinister expansionist conspiracies of the books themselves, two things shine through: her unrequited passion for a researcher named Martin, and an ardent and absolute love for the arts. A delightful divertissement for the discerning bookworm…”

9. Hunger by Knut Hamsun
“First published in Norway in 1890, “probes into the depths of consciousness with frightening and gripping power. Like the works of Dostoyevsky, it marks an extraordinary break with Western literary and humanistic traditions. ”

10. Keepers of the House by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran
“Since the eighteenth century the eccentric and flamboyant Beltran family have ruled their desolate Andean valley. Now they are almost extinct. At seventeen, Lydia Sinclair, newly married to Don Diego Beltran, the last of the line, arrives at the vast decaying Hacienda La Bebella. As her husband retreats into himself, Lydia takes refuge in unearthing his ancestors’ tragic history. Benito, the family’s oldest retainer, relates to her tales of splendour and romance, violence and suffering. From these she weaves a rich gothic tapestry in which the fantastic legends of the past are mingled with the present necessity for survival in a harsh, drought-ridden land.”

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Stay tuned for part two!