A Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

About the book

Wilde’s only novel, first published in 1890, is a brilliantly designed puzzle, intended to tease conventional minds with its exploration of the myriad interrelationships between art, life, and consequence. From its provocative Preface, challenging the reader to believe in ‘art for art’s sake’, to its sensational conclusion, the story self-consciously experiments with the notion of sin as an element of design.

Yet Wilde himself underestimated the consequences of his experiment, and its capacity to outrage the Victorian establishment. Its words returned to haunt him in his court appearances in 1895, and he later recalled the ‘note of doom’ which runs like ‘a purple thread’ through its carefully crafted prose.

 

Reviewed by Godshill WI

A well-known although not very well read book. Interesting, but too many aphorisms. The word we used was pretentious! “

star rating **

 

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The Story of my face by Kathy Page

About the book

A young girl grows up an outsider, then becomes drawn into the life of a local family with some curious beliefs. They treat her as a daughter and take her away with them to a religious holiday camp. It is here that she is introduced to the Finnish Envallist branch of Protestantism and here that events start to take a terrible turn.
Rejected by some of the sectarians for her non-commitment to their beliefs, Natalie creates a rift in the group which culminates in a climactic scene where she is gravely injured. Later, as an adult in Finland, she tries to make sense of what happened and to unlock the secret origins of Envallism itself.

Reviewed by Victoria Reading group:

A very mixed reception – from those who did not enjoy it and gave up reading after a few chapters to those who thoroughly enjoyed reading it and considered it a good read. However one member read it but found it so forgettable that the title and subject matter could not be recalled a week later!

Star rating: **

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Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

About the book

When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers–with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.
The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building’s other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including–perhaps–their aunt, who can’t seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.
Niffenegger weaves a captivating story in Her Fearful Symmetry about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life–even after death.

Review by North Baddesley WI 2 Reading Group:

All members finished the book, one found it depressing. We thought it well written and interesting to observe life from a ghosts point of view. Thee was a great deal of insight into how one of the characters worked through his bereavement. It gave the group plenty to talk about.

Star rating: ***

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Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

book cover

About the book

In 1941, Irène Némirovsky sat down to write a book that would convey the magnitude of what she was living through by evoking the domestic lives and personal trials of the ordinary citizens of France. Némirovsky’s death in Auschwitz in 1942 prevented her from seeing the day, sixty-five years later, that the existing two sections of her planned novel sequence, Suite Française, would be rediscovered and hailed as a masterpiece.
Set during the year that France fell to the Nazis, Suite Française falls into two parts. The first is a brilliant depiction of a group of Parisians as they flee the Nazi invasion; the second follows the inhabitants of a small rural community under occupation. Suite Française is a novel that teems with wonderful characters struggling with the new regime. However, amidst the mess of defeat, and all the hypocrisy and compromise, there is hope. True nobility and love exist, but often in surprising places.

Reviewed by  Enjoying Books Reading Group:

Unusual book – wonderful prose, a great insight into French life during the war. Beautifully drawn characters.

Star rating: ****

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Stuart: a Life Backwards by Alexander Masters

About the book

In this extraordinary book, Alexander Masters has created a moving portrait of a troubled man, an unlikely friendship, and a desperate world few ever see. A gripping who-done-it journey back in time, it begins with Masters meeting a drunken Stuart lying on a sidewalk in Cambridge, England, and leads through layers of hell…back through crimes and misdemeanors, prison and homelessness, suicide attempts, violence, drugs, juvenile halls and special schools–to expose the smiling, gregarious thirteen-year-old boy who was Stuart before his long, sprawling, dangerous fall.
Shocking, inspiring, and hilarious by turns, Stuart: A Life Backwards is a writer’s quest to give voice to a man who, beneath his forbidding exterior, has a message for us all: that every life–even the most chaotic and disreputable–is a story worthy of being told.

Reviewed by King’s Somborne Reading Group:

Our one word descriptions of this book included: frightening, miserable, inevitable, challenging, injustice and friendship. Very much an eye opener on the system and the majority of our group rated Master’s handling of the biography very highly indeed – the highest score we’ve ever given to a book in our 11 years or more.

Star rating: ****

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Swallowing Grandma by Kate Long

About the book

Katherine Millar is eighteen and desperate to be less fat, less swotty and to have cooler friends. But most of all she wishes she had two parents, instead of one grandma, Poll. Poll is pushing seventy, half blind and utterly poisonous. She has looked after Katherine since she was a baby, when her father was killed in a car crash and her mother vanished. Poll’s ambition is for things to stay exactly the same for ever, and for Katherine never to leave their pit village of Bank Top. Katherine has other ideas, and she can feel change is coming; the omens are all around her. In the meantime, she cleans up after Poll, revises for her exams, watches daytime television and surfs the net at the library trying to find out how to be bulimic. What she doesn’t quite realize yet is that life won’t always wait for you to catch up with it.

Reviewed by Cowdray Reading Group:

Enjoyed by most – found it very lighthearted. Thought the characters were interesting – especially the way the mother’s perception was written in dark print. Compelling with great sensitivity.

Star rating: ***

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Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka

book cover

About the book

The follow up to her hugely popular first novel presents a Canterbury Tales inspired picaresque that is also a biting satire of economic exploitation. When a ragtag international crew of migrant workers is forced to flee the strawberry fields they have been working in, they set off across England looking for employment. Displaying the same sense of compassion, social outrage, and gift for hilarity that she showed in A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka chronicles their bumpy road trip with a tender affection for her downtrodden characters and their search for a taste of the good life.

Reviewed by  KYC Ladies Reading Group:

Lively and humorous with good descriptions. Described the plight of immigrants well, but the plot became disjointed after the first few chapters. Thought provoking but rather incredible in parts.

Star rating: ***

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Foetal Attraction by Kathy Lette

About the book

Aussie Madeline Wolfe has left her home, her surfboard and her hemisphere for the new man in her life. Alexander Drake, indisputed King of the TV jungle, gives the best cunnilingus this side of a detachable shower nozzle. He’s also the kind of bloke who goes through the Tunnel of Love holding his own hand. By the time Maddy discovers that it’s not just Alex’s feet but his entire body that’s made of clay, she’s taken a pregnancy test . . . and failed. Will Alex chicken out of his obligation to his egg?

Reviewed by Happy Days Reading Group:

We thought this book was without substance.

Star rating: *

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Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill

About the book

Diana Athill made her reputation as a writer with the candour of her memoirs, now aged ninety, and freed from any inhibitions that even she may once have had, she reflects frankly on the losses and occasionally the gains that old age brings, and on the wisdom and fortitude required to face death. This is a lively narrative of events, lovers and friendships: the people and experiences that have taught her to regret very little, to resist despondency and to question the beliefs and customs of her own generation.

Reviewed by HIP Reading Group Winchester:

Mixed reaction. Most of the group couldn’t see why she bothered to write it. What a dismal book cover!

Star rating: **

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A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

About the book

‘Can I explain why I wanted to jump off the top of a tower block?’ For disgraced TV presenter Martin Sharp the answer’s pretty simple: he has, in his own words, ‘pissed his life away’. And on New Year’s Eve he’s going to end it all . . . but not, as it happens, alone. Because first single-mum Maureen, then eighteen-year-old Jess and lastly American rock-god JJ turn up and crash Martin’s private party. They’ve stolen his idea – but brought their own reasons. Yet it’s hard to jump when you’ve got an audience queuing impatiently behind you. A few heated words and some slices if cold pizza later and these four strangers are suddenly allies. But is their unlikely friendship a good enough reason to carry on living?

Reviewed by West Meon WI Reading Group:

Initially put off by excessive bad language, we became interested in the characters and were intrigued in the way Hornby resolved their problems or at least to carry on living.

Star rating: **

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