Book Club Reviews 2019
"So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install a lovely bookshelf on the wall." – Roald Dahl
The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy.
Interestingly, each of our members had a different copy
We discussed this classic novel having been fuelled by an excellent buffet lunch, as this was our ‘Christmas meeting’. All except one had enjoyed the book and pronounced it a page-turner and a jolly good story.
Hardy’s life covered most of Victoria’s reign, that of Edward VII and most of the reign of George V. He married his first wife Emma in 1874. She died suddenly in 1912 and he was stricken with remorse for his neglect of her after their differences in her latter years. He wrote many poems in memory of her and their happiness together in their early years. His output of poetry was in fact more prolific than his novels. He married again in 1914 and died in 1928.
The novel portrays Hardy’s view of life. It is set in a rural agricultural town and addresses several issues including the economic gap between farmers and business men on one side and ill-paid labourers on the other; the impact of new machinery and the prejudices and lingering superstitions of some locals and the survival of illegal practises such as wife-selling and mock parades. It also relates to pre-historic and Roman times. One of the scenes is set around a royal visit to the town.
Michael Henchard is the central character. In a drunken state he sold his wife for five guineas, and after a long period of regret and hard work became Mayor of Casterbridge. His eventual downfall from this privileged position was due to his own passionate and fiery temperament and strong character. Most of us, were saddened by his apparent intent on self-destruction, and had willed him mend his ways and become successful again.
The story benefits from originally being serialised, and the end of some chapters left the reader in suspense and on a cliff edge. The novel is written in a clear and dramatic way. Henchard’s tragic end is beautifully and sensitively told.
If you haven’t read it, then I recommend you do so for the pure pleasure of an exciting story and one of the greatest pieces of writing of its time.
The Language of Kindness. A Nurses Story, by Christie Watson
As a complete contrast, in October we read ‘The Language of Kindness’ by Christie Wilson. This is a non-fiction, real-life memoir about what is like for a nurse working in the NHS today. It is a harrowing read (it may well make you cry as it deals with many heart-breaking stories), but it is an honest book about good people going to extraordinary lengths to do the best they can within a struggling health service.
It is a book about nursing written by Wilson, an ex-nurse, who is currently a novelist. One reviewer said that however good a writer she is, she was probably an even better nurse. This is because she has learnt The Language of Kindness to be used at times when it matters most to her patients and their families. It’s about the smallest details in nursing and understanding how they can make the biggest difference. It’s about the effects of working in the crumbling NHS on the physical and emotional health if its staff – it’s hard to be kind when you’re exhausted , undervalued, unsupported and depressed.
However, I found it to be an uplifting and heart-warming book, shot through with humanity, empathy, care and compassion. It is more than a memoir – it asks searching questions of the values in our society, and of the public health crisis governments have ignored for too long. It hopes for a kinder and more patient society especially for the most vulnerable.
And Wilson’s advice for the future? ‘Fall in love. In the end it’s the only thing that matters. The most precious love of all is with your grandchild’.
A thought provoking, unforgettable book.
The Citadel by A.J.Cronin
The Wesley Book Club met in June to discuss ‘The Citadel’ by A.J. Cronin.
The novel, published in 1937, follows the career of a newly qualified doctor in a Welsh mining community in 1924. His story covers his personal and professional development and the obstacles he has to overcome in challenging the status quo. It exposes the inequity of the system and the incompetence of some of the medical
The medical ethics in the book are said to have inspired the launch of the NHS, and several members of our group remembered what life was like pre-NHS – having your tonsils removed on the kitchen table!
The book was a publishing success, and A J Cronin went on to write many other novels. Whilst we enjoyed the read, the book is dated and old fashioned in attitude. The doctor’s wife is the moral barometer of the book, but has only a minor and supporting role.
We also read The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain and Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert