Meeting the Second

Tonight is the second meeting of our new book group and it will be interesting to see if the enthusiasm has carried over and we get as good an attendance this month as we did last.  I’m also looking forward to seeing whether people will be a little less conservative in the choice of books they bring for discussion.  The whole idea is that you talk about what you have read since our last meeting, but I was aware last time that some members of the group had selected on the basis of what they were prepared to admit to having read rather than what their real preferences might have been.  With that in mind, I am going to take along two very different books in the hope that it will encourage wider tastes to emerge as the group grows in confidence.

One of these is the first in a new crime series, The Puppet Show, by M W Craven, a writer who has previously published as Mike Craven.  This is one of the best police procedurals I have read this year and I am already looking forward to Black Summer due out next June.  His chief character, who goes by the wonderful name of Washington Poe, is called back from suspension from the National Crime Agency to help in the investigation of a series of particularly nasty killings in the Lake District, an area of the country he knows well.  Prominent people are being burnt alive in prehistoric stone circles, but other than their standing in the community nothing else appears to link them.  With no evidence left after the immolations and without any obvious connection between the victims, it is difficult for the police to get a lead on who the murderer might be or to predict where he or she might strike next.

Poe has many of the features readers have come to expect in the protagonists of crime fiction.  He has little regard for authority, the rules or those who stick too closely to them when he feels a short cut might catch the villain of the piece sooner, so I suppose you could say he is a bit of a cliché.  But, you know, clichés are clichés because they work and I liked Poe’s style.  I also loved Tilly Bradshaw, the young statistical genius, who has never been out of the office before but who, finding herself carted off to the Lake District to crunch the numbers and try to predict the killer’s next move, comes good in a big way.  Tilly does literal like nobody else and given my Aspergers I really appreciated that. Reassuring her after a particularly nasty occurrence in a bar, Poe praises her reaction and advises her to look on the whole incident as a glass half-full kind of thing.

Bradshaw removed her glasses and polished them with a special cloth she kept in her bag.  When they were back on, she tucked some hair behind her ear and said, ‘The glass isn’t half full, Poe. And neither is it half empty.’

‘What is it then?’

She grinned. ‘It’s twice as big as it needs to be.’

Oh yes, Tilly Bradshaw is my sort of person.

The other novel, I’m taking along is very different; it’s Pat Barker’s Costa nominated The Silence of the Girls.  What with moving house and bouncing in and out of hospital over the last few months, I’m late coming to this, but managed to give it my full attention over the weekend and I have to say that I am in two minds about it.  I’m sure anyone reading this will be aware of the premise behind the book.  It is a retelling of the same time period as is covered by The Iliad, but in this instance narrating the story of the last two years of the Trojan Wars from the point of view of the women involved, with Briseis, the nominal source of the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon, as their mouthpiece.  It highlights the way in which women were treated as spoils of war and passed out to their conquerors like any other captured asset.  And, although I’ve used the past tense there, as I read it always in the back of my mind were those instances where school girls in various parts of the African continent have been kidnapped and taken captive by militant forces opposed to the education of women.  What happened in Troy should not be seen as history.

The point that Barker appears to be trying to make is that that is precisely what the Trojan War always has been – his story and that this is her attempt to set that straight.  My trouble with the novel was that despite her foregrounding of the horrors that Briseis and her fellow captives face what moved me most was still the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus and the horror of the killing of Hector.  I simply didn’t engage to the same degree with any of the women.  Is this a fault in me?  Is it because if Barker had written in the same sort of detail about the evil handed out to those women the book would have been unbearable?  I don’t know.  I just know that for me, while the book allowed the women to have a voice it still wasn’t the voice that came through loudest.  As soon as this is available in paperback it will be up for discussion in one of my other book groups, probably both, and I am looking forward to having a reason to give time to read it again and to the opportunity to discuss it with others who have read it in detail.


20 thoughts on “Meeting the Second

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings November 26, 2018 / 4:15 pm

    I know I *should* read the Barker, but I just don’t know if I can stomach the subject matter. I seem to get more sensitive, not less, as I get older, and I think I would just be angry all the time – not great for my blood pressure either… :s


    • Café Society November 27, 2018 / 12:26 pm

      I think part of my problem with the book, Karen, was that it didn’t leave me as outraged as I thought I was either going to be or should have been. It really didn’t threaten my blood pressure at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A Life in Books November 26, 2018 / 4:16 pm

    Those two should mix things up nicely. Such a shame if your fellow group members feel judged for what they’re reading.


    • Café Society November 27, 2018 / 12:29 pm

      I think it’s inevitable to start with, Susan. We are all still feeling each other out. When it become apparent that you can talk about anything safely I’m sure they’ll all get better. I might take a graphic novel along next time and see what sort of reaction that gets.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Cathy746books November 26, 2018 / 9:00 pm

    Washington Poe sounds like a fantastic character. Two good choices there, ripe for discussion.


    • Café Society November 27, 2018 / 12:31 pm

      Poe is great, Cathy and I can’t wait to see what sort of reaction his parting shot in this book stirs up in the next. It isn’t one of those annoying instances where you are left with a plot dangler – I hate those – just a slight twist, it it is bound to have the sort of repercussions a character like Poe causes wherever he goes.


  4. Helen November 26, 2018 / 9:31 pm

    I enjoyed The Silence of the Girls, but I was surprised that there was so much focus on Achilles. The title had made me expect that more of the female characters would have been given a voice.


    • Café Society November 27, 2018 / 12:31 pm

      Yes, Helen,when I started the second part and realised that it was being told from Achilles point of view, I was surprised as well.


  5. Kat November 26, 2018 / 10:10 pm

    I am so glad to see you back! And I love the concept for your book group. For one thing, some book groups are so large that it’s almost impossible to get a word in, so it’s nice that everyone gets a chance. I like a mix myself: genre books AND literary fiction, as you tend to do.

    I always write down your recommendations for crime fiction.

    I’m not usually keen on retold myths, however good the writing, but I was fascinated hereby Barker’s beautiul style as well as by Briseis, a character I never paid much attention to (she was just a prize, alas). Homer’s Achilles is usually just the shining “wrath of,” but here he evolves into a more complex hero.. I did find it a little jarring to go back and forth between Briseis and Achilles, but it worked well for me.

    Let us know how the book group goes~


    • Café Society November 27, 2018 / 12:35 pm

      Have you read Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, Kat? Briseis features in that as well, although the prominence is given to the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. In many ways I found that more interesting because I thought she was trying to keep to the spirit of the original while offering a more modern take on the interplay between the characters. I also very much enjoyed her more recent Circe.


      • mlegan November 27, 2018 / 2:10 pm

        I recently finished the Song of Achilles and although I am a great Pat Barker fan, I couldn’t face a second Trojan War book so quickly. Unless it was a re-read of Jodi Taylor…


  6. Jeanne November 26, 2018 / 10:11 pm

    I’m guessing it’s hard to write much about silence if you want to stay fairly close to any of the available source materials.


  7. BookerTalk November 27, 2018 / 3:40 pm

    The Sunday Times just highlighted the Pat Barker as one of the best novels of the year. But it didn’t appeal that much to me and your comments have been the deciding factor. I have plenty of others to focus on. I suspect the group members might have been sussing each other out last month and this month should feel a little more comfortable in revealing more about themselves


    • Café Society November 28, 2018 / 10:34 am

      Yes, someone bought the new C J Sansom to discuss and I saw a couple of others noting down the title. The Barker is well enough written; I just didn’t feel it delivered what it promised.


      • BookerTalk November 29, 2018 / 11:23 pm

        Sansom’s book is turning up everywhere I look at the moment. Not sure I want to read it or whether I’ve had enough of the character


      • Café Society December 1, 2018 / 9:31 pm

        I feel the same way, Karen. I liked the earlier books but I think hes become self-indulgent.


      • BookerTalk December 4, 2018 / 9:58 pm

        And the latest one is so long…….why I wonder?


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