Archive for March, 2012

New venue for April Book Group

Just a quick update to let everyone know that the venue for the April meeting will be The Barrels in Berwick (Bridge Street, for anyone who hasn’t frequented this wonderful pub before!).
There will be teas available, although of course we’ll have to pay for these.
Thanks to Jill for sorting this out.


‘Visit’ not entirely welcomed

I learned something interesting at this month’s Book Group, and I’m surprised it’s taken so long for it to dawn on me. It’s this: that it’s much, much harder to have a good discussion when very few people like the book than when most of us do. There’s something about the debate that falls a little flat, perhaps because so many people have ‘given up’ on the book in a way that they don’t when the work keeps them engaged.
Maybe it’s because I was expecting so much from Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad that it turned out to be such an enormous disappointment. And then I found it hard to articulate why this was the case. I certainly don’t think I disliked it because the time periods were not chronological or because I didn’t ‘get’ Egan’s point. I really did get what she was trying to say/do. It just didn’t work for me.
Some readers, though, did enjoy it – along with the Pulitzer Prize judges, of course, and an army of favourable reviewers, so I realise I am in the minority here! Jill said she went for it with an open mind, deliberately avoiding any attempts to make sense of the not-quite-novel, not-quite-short-story-collection. She enjoyed the style of the writing, finding some of it “exquisite.” Margaret too found much to admire, although overall she felt it didn’t live up to the hype. Among the parts she enjoyed were the safari chapter, the experimental use of language and the fact that Egan didn’t overplay the 9 -11 element. Other parts were an irritation, including the back-and-forwards motion of time in the novel and the lengthy journalist section with all its footnotes. Mike too, who is a fan of American fiction, enjoyed it on his second attempt to read the novel.
Helen “made” herself read it but then found the writing very good and particularly singled out the section about the pauses in music and its relationship to the gaps in the action. She found some of the writing admirable and would read other work by the author.
Many readers found much to appreciate in some of Egan’s turns of phrase, such as Ted “folded up his passion for his wife” and a character’s “predatory lipstick.” Devices such as the text language and the power point towards the end were intriguing, although views were mixed as to whether they worked or not.
Quite a few members, however, couldn’t complete the book. Martin found it “utterly turgid and puerile.” “I’ve read treatises on physics that were more interesting,” he added.
Rose couldn’t get past the first chapter and Maisie – after three attempts – gave up after Pg.67. “It was too busy,” she found, and thought it difficult to keep up with speed of events in the work. For Josie, the book was “terrible” and she could not engage with it, although she too liked some of the writing itself.
Janet read 51% – but lamented her inability to throw her Kindle across the room as she might satisfyingly do with a paperback! She found the first chapter readable (many of us found Sasha the most engaging character). But then it “lost focus.” It seemed to Janet like a rather pointless exercise and although there were some good pieces of imagery, others felt as if the author had tried too hard.
Faced with all those articulate readers who managed to explain their verdict so well, I’ve thought again about why it didn’t work for me. Two–dimensional characters, with the exception of Sasha, whose connections seemed so cold and tenuous, were one problem for me. The use of second-person narrative voice during one section was a massive irritation – I have yet to find an author who’s done this well and I just wish they wouldn’t even try. For me, it got in the way of a section that should have had emotional impact. Overall, an end result that didn’t hang together in any coherent way. Like life, someone pointed out – and that is true. But surely fiction needs to be more than a mirror to our lives- if it’s to have a purpose, it needs to help us make sense of it all. We can get all that pointless randomness at home!
On a sad note, it was our last meeting at the lovely Doolallys, after more than three years in which Kim has fed, watered and supported the Book Group. Kim, and her oasis of a bookshop and cafe, will be a very hard act to follow in terms of a venue. We’re on the lookout for a new monthly home and I’ll post here as soon as that’s decided.
In the meantime, another prize winning novel to discuss next month, so do join us. Somewhere.
Next meeting: Tuesday April 3rd, 6.30pm. Venue TBC. Discussing Pure by Andrew Miller.

Sad farewell to Doolallys

It’s with a heavy heart that I have to announce that Doolallys, Berwick’s independent bookshop and lovely cafe, is closing down. It’s a huge loss for the town, which is left with only the local WH Smiths and the second-hand bookshop for those of us who love to browse a good bookshelf.
It’s been ‘home’ to the Berwick Book group since we started more than three years ago and Kim deserves a huge hero-gram for supporting us, entirely out of goodwill. In that time, I cannot calculate how many teas, coffees, scones and cakes we’ve gone through – and they’ve added to the cultural experience!
It also means that the Book group needs a new venue. We’ll have our last soiree at Doolallys this month (March 6th) and we need to get our thinking caps on to find the new ideal spot conducive to drinks and a group discussion. Doolallys – you will be a hard act to follow!
Next meeting: Tuesday 6th March at Doolallys in Marygate, Berwick. 6.30pm. Discussing A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan.

About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

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

March 2012
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