At the end of the day…..

Literature is (or should be) the enemy of cliche. We rely on writers to stretch language to breaking point, use words to make us think anew. Nevertheless, after our May meeting the only phrase that was rattling round my head was that hoary old  football cliche, “a game of two halves”.  Because Maggie O’Farrell’s tale of apparently unconnected women living 50 years apart sadly appeared to work only 50% of the time, with most of you adoring the fast moving, surprisingly touching love story between Lexie and Innes and totally failing to see the point of the “new mum narrative” centered round Elina and Tom. (I have to say at this point that I think you’re all TOTALLY WRONG about this but, hey, I bow to the view of the majority on only this occasion…)

The things we liked: the 50’s setting, the sassy Lexie and the suave Innes (who most people developed a major crush on), a tale of a woman carving out her niche in the world, the sense of place and time,particularly the sense of places being “layered” with previous events and inhabitants, the quality of the writing and the foregrounding of the “realities” of motherhood, so frequently overlooked in novels.

And now the problems: a lot of rather two-dimensional minor characters, a slightly “stagey” feel to the whole book, the omniscient “knowing” narrative voice used throughout the Lexie story(which as dubbed “the voice of doom”) and an over-reliance on fairly unbelievable plot points (Tom’s recall of his childhood? Discovering Jackson Pollock behind the dressing table? Would Curtis of really married Margot???) left most of us with a feeling of short-changed by a book which promised so much. While we almost universally praised the quality and ease of the prose, for me at least, it seems a shame that a writer as so obviously “good” as O’Farrell has produced a novel of such little substance; as Kelly so accurately said “a Mars Bar for the brain”.

So a mixed bag but mainly a feeling of being a wee bit underwhelmed, something which I can almost guarantee that we wont be saying about next months book The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. I think this may be the sort of book that its impossible not to have an opinion of- and I’ll leave it up to you to guess what mine is…..

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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

May 2011
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