Burnham on Crouch

Book Lovers

Status:Active, full but can join waiting list
Frances Harris Tel: 01621 783770
Group email: Book Lovers group
When: Monthly on Monday afternoons
3rd Monday of each month at 2:30pm
Venue: Member's Home

A monthly discussion group of ten members centred on an individual book supplied by the Burnham Library for that month, generally from titles suggested by members. There are also refreshments - generally tea or coffee with biscuits or cake.

February 2024

The Fall of Giants and The Woman in Black

Our first two books in 2024 couldn’t have been more different, especially in length. The Fall of Giants, the first book in Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy is 864 pages long, whereas Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black is a mere 139 pages in length.

Both are worth reading, especially if – in the case of Fall of Giants - you have time to spare, although not every member of the group managed to get to the end.

Ken Follett’s novel begins in 1911 when a thirteen-year-old boy, Billy Williams, begins working down the mines on the same day that George V is crowned and is the story of five families. Billy’s family is inextricably linked with the Fitzherberts who own the coal mine where he works and when Maud Fitzherbert falls in love with Walter von Ulrich, a spy at the German embassy in London, their destiny becomes entangled with that of Gus Dewar, an ambitious young aide to Woodrow Wilson and with two orphaned Russian brothers, the Peshkovs, whose plan to emigrate to America falls foul of conscription, revolution and war. This is the time of the Russian Revolution and, of course, the Great War of 1914-1918 – the war to end all wars.

In contrast, the events of The Woman in Black occur over a few days. The story is narrated by Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor, who is summoned to attend a client’s funeral in the village of Crythin Gifford and journeys to her house situated in the salt marsh beyond Nine Lives Causeway: a house that cannot be reached at high tide. He has no idea that, as would be expected in a ghost story, Eel Marsh House guards the memories of a pitiful secret, nor does Kipps understand, until it is too late, that the mysterious Woman in Black is intent on revenge.

Ken Follett’s novel is very good in conveying the drama and historical information of a particular period. He is masterly in bringing to life the social conditions and the gulf between the various social classes and this aspect provoked discussion about the motives of war, especially the impact of greed for power and wealth (depressing in that we could see the parallels with modern times). In having such a broad canvas it is difficult to bring much emotional depth to his large cast of characters, which some of the group felt was a drawback as they lost interest in them.

The Woman in Black, on the other hand, had a small number of characters who were conveyed with an emotional intensity that worked but it was felt that, as a ghost story, the novel was not as frightening as the film. (Some of the scenes for the film, starring Daniel Radcliffe, were shot locally, inspiring extra interest.)

I personally liked the descriptive qualities of Hill’s writing. Her depiction of the marshland mist conveys its eerie quality beautifully. “[It] was salty, light and pale and moving in front of my eyes all the time. I felt confused, teased by it, as though it were made up of millions of live fingers that crept over me, hung on to me and then shifted away again.”

Both Fall of Giants and The Woman in Black were interesting choices in their individual ways and while the responses were varied, they were both grippingly told.
- Frances Harris

January 2023

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is a novel about loneliness. Eleanor, the main character, leads a simple, structured life, wearing the same clothes to the office, eating the same meal deals and buying two bottles of vodka to drink at the weekend. She feels that nothing is missing from her timetabled existence. She tells her social worker that she is “fully integrated into the community.”
She might believe that but the reader doesn’t. She is in fact an emotionally isolated character.
One simple act of kindness begins to shatter her carefully constructed life and she learns to navigate the world that everyone else appears to take for granted and begins to find the courage to face the dark corners in her life she has tried to forget.
There are many reasons for her isolation that are gradually unpicked as the novel progresses and her friendship with Raymond, the IT specialist at the company office, develops.
While unspoken sadness permeates the novel it is also full of quiet warmth and touches of humour. This is often a result of Eleanor’s naivety and lack of knowledge about the world around her which is expressed in her articulate, slightly old-fashioned language. One example of this dichotomy is in the description of her favourite mug which she bought in a charity shop: “it has a photograph of a moon-faced man. He is wearing a brown leather blouson. Along the top in strange yellow font it says ”Top Gear”. I don’t profess to understand this mug. It holds the perfect amount of vodka, however, thereby obviating the need for frequent refills.”
This debut novel which won the Costa Book awards in 2017 has become a staple for book groups as the ideas it contains - nature v. nurture and the importance of connection with other people, for instance, can lead to interesting discussion. Certainly the events of the past few years, notably Lockdown, have given us a better understanding of the need for interaction with others.
There wasn’t complete agreement about the novel, one member finding the heroine irritating, but generally it was felt that Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was well worth reading.
- Frances Harris