Archive for March, 2011

Books, biscuits and a blinking good chat

Official approval for Jonathan Coe

While mulling over the multiple meanings of the title “What a Carve Up”, our fabulous March book, I was reminded me of a conversation that I had with a lady who I was trying to persuade to join in the book group fun. And her objection was that she didn’t like the idea of “pulling a book to bits”; she reckoned that would ruin it. It’s not an unique view by any means; from time in memorial people have complained that application of intellect and scrutiny somehow destroys the mysteries of artistic creation. Even the divine Keats objected that literary critics (and scientists…) “unweave the rainbow”.

But it seems to me that what this view misses is the bit AFTER the pulling apart, the bit where we reform the book and try and apply all we have discussed to the whole. After every book group I come away with a deeper sense of appreciation for a book- even if I didn’t enjoy it myself- because a few people have said a few incisive things that shift my perspective or make me see a connection that I didn’t before. And that, my dears, is the beauty of the book group.

I was struck with this sense a few times on Thursday as we discussed “What a Carve Up!”. Even though this had been my book choice, I struggled a bit with it and thought that others might too- it’s by far the most demanding, formally experimental and involved (some might say confusing…) book we’ve read for a while. While reading it I had been overwhelmed by a sense that I DID like the book but, for whatever reason, wasn’t “getting it” in quite the way I should. It was a severe bout of RAS (reading anxiety syndrome). But having a discussion about it with a bunch of people who had really embraced the novel helped me reformulate my own thoughts and made me able to better appreciate all the parallels/ coincidences/ hidden meanings that mix together to create this incredibly funny, incredibly angry and, we agreed, still timely novel. So, thanks everyone!

In short, we liked:

  • the humour
  • the politics (nice to have an “engaged” novel)
  • the writing and stylistic experimentation
  • the mix of characters, from the grotesque Winshaws to the more “realistically” depicted Michael, Fiona and Phoebe who we could relate to and empathise with.

We weren’t to keen on:

  • a bit overlong and maybe one twist too many?

I should also give an honourable mention to the two book-groupers who absolutely loathed it. If you’re reading this Mr Coe (I wish!!!), you can’t win ‘em all….

Can’t wait for next time. x


About the group

Sunderland Book Group meets on the third Wednesday of every month at 6pm at Holmeside Coffee in Sunderland.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

March 2011