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Book Group

Meet @ 2pm on 1st Monday of the month in the Advocate Arms (Market Rasen)



The book for our May meeting was 'Adam Bede', the first novel by George Eliot published in 1859.

The novel follows a love rectangle among Adam Bede, a carpenter, Hetty Sorrel an attractive but self-absorbed village girl, Arthur Donnithorne, grandson of the local squire and Hetty's cousin, Dinah Morris, Hetty's attractive cousin. Adam loves Hetty but she is also attracted to Arthur. After Adam disturbs a tryst between them which ends in a fight, Arthur agrees to give Hetty up and returns to join his regiment. Hetty agrees to marry Adam but just before the wedding discovers that she is pregnant. She leaves the village to try to find Arthur but fails. Unable to return home because of the shame, she gives birth and then abandons the baby. She is caught and sentenced to death for murder of the child and is comforted in prison by Dinah in her role as a Methodist lay preacher. Hetty confesses to Dinah what happened and Arthur, who is home on compassionate leave hears of Hetty's plight and successfully pleads for the sentence to be reduced and she is, instead, sentenced to be transported. The novel ends with Adam and Dinah falling in love and marrying.

Given the age of the book it was unsurprising that several of us found the writing to be over-descriptive, using a dozen words where one or two may have sufficed. However, some thought that the story may have benefited by being read over a longer period or in a group as may have been the custom of the time. As for the shortcomings in the plot or more feasible outcomes for situations, it has to be remembered that the book is founded on a story told to George Eliot by her aunt, a Methodist preacher and the model for Dinah, of a confession of child murder made to her by a girl in prison.

It was gratifying that several readers loved the pastoral descriptions and the command of language which chimed with reviews of the original work which Geoge Eliot described as 'a country story full of the breath of cows and the smell of hay'.




April 24

This month's book was 'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley which provoked a lively discussion.

Most people will have an awareness that Victor Frankenstein created a creature from old body parts but will only have a hazy understanding of what then followed. The plot is that Victor Frankenstein had devoted himself to the study of science and, having created life, is repulsed by the sight of what he has done and abandons the creature. Rejected and embittered. the creature murders Victor's younger brother but it is a harmless girl, Justine, who is blamed and executed. Victor tracks down the creature who promises to leave mankind alone if Victor will but create a companion for him to ease his loneliness. Victor refuses and the creature then murders his friend and younger sister. Victor vows to destroy his creation but then dies in the pursuit leaving an intrepid Arctic explorer, Captain Walton, to continue the pursuit.

Not everyone liked or finished the book for the language and concepts were of their time, however all agreed that for a book written over two hundred years ago by a young woman in far less enlightened times, the subject matter still continues to create much interest. The consensus was that having created life, Frankenstein had a moral obligation to look after it, instead he totally abandoned his being, thus leaving a sad and embittered person ill equipped to face the world and all the animosity he was subject to. Thus, we thought that it was Frankenstein who was the monster for abandoning him and giving no help for living in the real world .

One reader wondered whether it was the impact of losing her children that gave Mary Shelley the inspiration to 'create life', another that Frankenstein was a coward for neglecting his creation. Many of us felt sorry for the 'Monster' but wondered how it had learned to read, write and reason! However perhaps the work said more about scientists and the quest to do something 'because they can rather than with a clear objective'! The discussion was best summed up by an apocryphal quote from the media that 'Knowledge is remembering that Frankenstein created the Monster, but that Wisdom was knowing that it was Frankenstein himself who was the Monster!'

It is both a testimony to Mary Shelley's work, and proof of its' longevity, that every advance in genetics seems to create an ill-informed and knee-jerk reference to 'Frankenstein's Monster' even if, for the less well read amongst us, the cultural reference evoked is from 'Carry on Screaming' with Kenneth William's character uttering the final words 'Frying tonight!'


March 2024 Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards.

The story, set in the period just after The General Strike in 1930  begins on the Necropolis Railway line constructed in Victorian times to transport the dead to a vast new cemetery in Brookwood Surrey to alleviate the pressure on London's burial grounds. For some reason Rachel Savernake has inveigled her way into a reserved carriage to persuade the principal mourner to escape from a looming demise which, for some reason, he declines to do and so ends up never completing his return journey. We then are taken through several other seemingly cut and dried murder cases where the perpetrators are either saved by a last minute witness, or the accused have all charges against them dropped.

We are introduced to Leonora Dobell, a widow with an unnatural curiosity in murder trials that she apparently shares with Miss Savernake and ‘The Masqueraders' a somewhat Louche and exclusive club in Soho through the narrative of Jacob Flint, a young reporter who has a somewhat loose association with Rachel Savernake that is never explained. At this stage the story is littered with a plethora of characters that make the plot difficult to follow, but several are disposed of along the way before an Agatha Christie like final scene at Mortmain Hall where we find that the supposedly exonerated villains of three ‘perfect murders' were each probably guilty all along but were saved by the intervention of Major Whitlow and his associates in ‘The Masqueraders'. The latter, apart from being a seedy club, also seems to be a front for an quasi official gang of agents dedicated to eliminating a looming Bolshevik menace and to carry out the work of making Britain a ‘Land fit for heroes' in the decades following the Great War.

The group's discussions concluded that although several of the main characters seemed a little one dimensional and their relationship to one another was never explained in a satisfactory manner, we were, perhaps, required to have read the prequel to this book entitled ‘Gallows' Court'. The failure to allude to that story and the abundance of characters early on in the plot and the subsequent inter-relationship of others at the demise made the story very hard to follow. However by about the halfway stage the majority of our readers were hooked and many enjoyed the read. However for some there remained a mystery of just why Leonora Dobell wanted to delve deep into a series of random cases and likewise just what Rachel Savernake had to do with them remained unanswered. Finally the unnecessary revelation that Leonora had Sapphic tendencies and the failure to develop Rachel's character to bring out something in the way of feminine insight or empathy left a slightly hollow feeling and left one reader struggling to understand how the book or the author ever won an award!



February 24

This month's book was ‘Odd Boy Out' the autobiography of Gyles Brandreth.

If we were summing this book up in one word it would be ‘Marmite'! It would be fair to say that the majority of the Group  did not enjoy the book, finding it over wordy with, as you might expect with Mr B. far too much name-dropping. However, for such an unpopular choice it generated a very lively discussion and, as one contributor said, ‘For a book that I did not like, I found myself talking about it a lot!'

We heard at length about the Brandreth forbears and how they had made a fortune from ‘quack medicine', none of which had filtered down to Gyles' parents. It is a tale where Brandreth expounds at length about how his parents continually lived beyond their means, yet somehow managed to spend most of their lives in rented Mansion flats in central London, enjoyed a great many theatre trips and regularly dined out at expensive restaurants. Gyles was sent to expensive Prep schools and the prestigious Bedales public  school before attending Oxford University. This ‘impoverished' upbringing included running an account at Harrods as well as regular visits to a health farm for his Mother. He describes how his Father died at the moment that his money ran out.....perhaps he should have taken the view that the family  decided that they could not take it with them and so, ‘lived for the moment', but that would be underestimating the constant worry of just what asset could be sold next to make good the shortfall in what was, by all accounts, quite a decent income.

Brandreth, in a self-effacing and apologetic style, makes no claim to being genteel, only to be ‘Middle Class', but the majority of the group found it to be a lifestyle beyond any of their experiences!

Whilst the constant name-dropping became a little annoying, it perhaps illustrated how small the group of society that influences art, literature and public taste might be, for he appears to have been selected to be ‘the voice of youth' at the age of twenty, given his own prime time television series on ITV, and then selected by the self appointed guardian of public morals, Lord Longford for a completely subjective and amateurish investigation into pornography in the early 1970s. From then onwards it seems that he has regularly found employment in the media and, for one term as a member of parliament. Perhaps it is an illustration of the saying that ‘It is not what you know, but who you know!'

There is, however, a voice of sense that interjects from time to time as Michelle Brandreth observes firstly ‘nobody wants to read another book written by you' and again, ‘Gyles you are still doing exactly the same things you were doing when you were twenty, can't you move on?'

Given that Mr Brandreth seemingly records his wife's interjections faithfully and, in his over wordy style attempts to be painfully truthful in observing how ‘I must have been a ghastly child...I was insufferable, precocious, pretentious, conceited, egotistical...' perhaps he is summing up the benefits of a public school education!

However, despite all this, for those who do not mind these character traits in a narrator, the book is a fund of amusing stories about the ‘great and the good' and, on refection and with reference to a paragraph above, might have been all the better for having been written by Michelle Brandreth! Even so, perhaps in the interests of balance, it might be fair to point out that for someone born into a moderately well-off professional family, by dint of being a workaholic and tireless networker he has made quite a success of himself and so, for that reason alone, the book makes interesting reading just to find out how he has managed to get away with it!


Kind regards



January 24

The book selected for this month was the Birdcage by Eve Chase. The plot was complex and I have shortened the summary as much as I can having, knowingly, left out a lot of the detail!

Three half-sisters have been summoned to a gathering at the family house, Rock Point, on the remote Cornish Coast. It is not a meeting any of them wish to attend for twenty years ago, during a total eclipse of the sun, a tumultuous event occurred that affected each of them deeply.

This is the premise of the novel by Eve Chase which uses multiple narratives from that move in time but never reveal what the terrible event was until the end of the book. The other protagonists are Charlie Finch, the girls' father and once an enfant terrible of the art world and Granny Finch who adores pet birds. The final major player is Angie, hired by Granny Finch as nursemaid to the girls. The missing character who is central to the book but without a voice is Gemma, daughter of the Finch's cleaner Viv.

At the time of the eclipse, Flora, and Kat the elder two daughters aged in their mid-teens have regularly been spending each August with their father. They and their divorced mothers tolerate one another and are united in their dislike of Dixie, the mistress, and her daughter Lauren who displaced all of them as their father's favourites.

The eclipse is to be the first time that Lauren has attended the summer gathering and, feeling an outsider she strikes up a close friendship with Gemma who is the same age as her. The pair long to be part of Flora and Kat's world but are a few years younger. By now Angie has made an unwelcome appearance and, along with Granny, appears to discourage Gemma, perhaps because she is the cleaner's child, a notion rejected by Lauren for whom she is an emotional lifeline.

As the three by now disparate sisters assemble after twenty years, having just met after all that time at Dixie's funeral a few weeks previously, each wonder just what important announcement their wayward father wants to impart. The first shock they receive is the arrival of Angie. Each sister has their own reason for their reluctance to be here, but the mysterious nature of the summons has drawn them home.

Flora, the eldest has driven to Cornwall with her four-year-old son Raff. Her husband, Scott, did not want her to come and shows a controlling streak in calling her persistently, demanding to know when she will return. She is an inveterate organiser, perhaps trying to displace the fact that she does not have a role, and is overprotective towards her son, micro-managing his life. She recalls the year of the eclipse when she had been wilful, wanting to shed any responsibility for the intruder Lauren and her friend Gemma so that she and Kat could attend a beach party after the eclipse. The one obligation the three face is to pose for Girls and Birdcage , a study of the three sisters and later regarded to be Finch's masterpiece. Twenty years later the reader suspects that her marriage and seemingly perfect life are fatally flawed.

Kat is the most driven of the three; she is CEO of a digital health company, Spring and her presence at Rock Point must be brief as there is a vital meeting concerning the future of the company. Twenty years previously, Kat was as resentful of Lauren as Flora and just as wilful. We learn that at one point on that fateful day the pair of them suspended Lauren over a cliff edge in a tussle over a straw bird and but for the intervention of a stranger she had almost let go her hold rather than haul her back. Kat is still single, although she had recently turned her back on the man who loved her.

Lauren is an emotional mess. Twenty years before, she had yearned for her mother and father to get back together so that she could live a normal life. She did not want to be part of the Finch family gathering but Dixie had insisted upon it. She begins to prove indispensable to her Father as his studio assistant before Angie forgot all about the purpose for which she had been hired and usurped her. She formed a close friendship with Gemma who gifted her the straw bird, something which Charlie admired for the skill required to make it. We learn that in later life Lauren has a fear of birds and that ‘the event' twenty years ago had led to her needing several years of therapy. The death of her mother has also hit her hard since they had been very close, but she has recovered sufficiently to have a job in a London art gallery. She does not want to return to Rock Point because of fears that she may have a relapse.

As the individual protagonists recollect, we learn what effect the eclipse had on them. Each of the girls is jealous of the attention their father bestows on the other and we suspect that Lauren's close call on the cliff may have been the ‘traumatic event', but a local boy had interrupted the prank and prevented it going further. Twenty years later mysterious notes demanding that they leave arrive. Charlie announces that he and Angie are to be married and the family decree that the house is to be sold. Flora immediately begins to rush around placing post-it notes on all the pieces that she desires; Kat wants nothing other than some old maps, whilst Lauren can only think of the Straw Bird that Gemma had woven for her, but which had first been taken by the girls and Granny had subsequently commandeered for her own collection before it had disappeared. During the rummage of effects, a sketch of an unknown nude model is discovered but hastily concealed by Charlie.

Poor and intermittent Wi-Fi connections dictate that many phone calls are missed or aborted. The threatening notes prey on their minds as does Lauren's chance meetings with a stranger. Then, as Angie is about to leave to give the sisters and their father time to discuss their personal matters, she cannot because one of her tyres has been slashed.

It seems that the family are finally about to go their separate ways leaving past issues unresolved when Flora allows Lauren to take young Raff for a walk. A storm springs up and Lauren and the little boy take shelter in the deserted cottage where Gemma and Viv lived during the summer of the eclipse. There they are confronted by another, more menacing, stranger….

Finally, we learn just what did happen for the stranger is Pete, Gemma's brother whose life was also deeply scarred on that day. It appears that Gemma and Lauren both desperately wanted to be accepted by the elder pair and so went along with dares to drink the concoction of spirits and sniff the chemicals assembled by them. Kat and Flora then cajole the girls into the aviary (breaking Granny's cardinal rule) and lock the door whilst they run off to join a beach party. Gemma died almost immediately afterwards from anaphylactic shock, seemingly caused by her allergy to feathers although the glue inhalation may have contributed. In her desire to be like the Finch sisters Gemma had not brought her medication.

Pete admits to writing the threatening notes since the family's unexpected reappearance has brought back too many memories of his sister's death that has blighted his life. A tragedy compounded by the family failing to express sorrow or condolences. A stand-off is prevented by Viv and Jonah, Pete's friend, arriving and calming the situation as Flora had sounded the alarm to trigger a search for Raff. However, Angie had slashed her own tyre as she had hated being dismissed in favour of the sisters.

It transpires that each sister has been haunted by the thought that they might have contributed to Gemma's death, but the cathartic gathering in the derelict cottage brings everything out into the open. Kat misses the plane to her meeting; Flora does not go home to Scott whilst Jonah turns out to be the boy whose timely intervention saved Lauren from being dropped from the cliff. Finally, Raff gives Lauren the straw bird found during the rummage that means so much to her.

Later, faced with the magnitude of what had gone wrong the day of the eclipse, Charlie went for a swim in the sea, the shock of the cold water and his prolonged exposure to paint and chemicals bringing on a fatal heart attack.

The story concludes a year later with a Christmas reunion at a now renovated Rock Point. Lauren has a new job in St Ives and she and Jonah are now very much in love, Flora has divorced Scott, and Kat had accepted that the only way to save Spring had been to resign. She is now back with the lover she ditched. Rock Point is now an artist's retreat managed by Angie, having been renovated by Pete and his mates. 

One final twist was yet to come, Fascinated by the mystery nude sketch, the girls find more and discover that the subject was Viv, Gemma's mother and that the date coincides with Dixie and Charlie's. One of the artists renting studio space then finds a canvas hidden by Charlie. It is a picture of four girls, Flora, Kat, Lauren, and Gemma who is holding the bird. It is entitled Four daughters and straw bird.

Some readers were fascinated by the psychological interplay of the sisters and others encouraged to seek out other books by the same author.

Paul Rowland


December 23

The subject of this month's meeting was the 2020 Booker Prize winner ‘Shuggie Bain' by Douglas Stuart. The plot follows Agnes, born into a life in working class Glasgow and her family, principally her youngest son Shuggie. Agnes had a good childhood enjoying her father's doting attention and being indulged within the limitations that life in a Glasgow tenement and then a high rise tower block will allow. She has two children from her first marriage, ‘Leek' (Alexander) and Catherine, but walks out on their father whose only crime appears to be that he cannot provide a better, more exciting life than she craves. Instead she has settled upon ‘Shug' Bain, a taxi driver and inveterate womaniser who seems incapable of any lasting fidelity and is unable to prevent Agnes from numbing her frustrations with life by taking refuge in alcohol. Agnes and ‘Shug' bring forth young Hugh (Shuggie) but his presence does little to cure Shug of his philandering ways or to prevent his mother from a growing dependence upon' Special Brew' and cheap vodka. Firstly through the eyes of Catharine and Leek we witness the stark choices facing youngsters in such dysfunctional families. Catherine settles for a safe husband, whom we suspect that she does not really love, to escape to a good job in South Africa when the shipyards close. Meanwhile, Leek feels that he has no option but to become the man of the house and forego the place that he has been awarded at Art School in order to undergo a YTS apprenticeship that he hates when Agnes and the children are abandoned by Shug in a small dour flat in a run down and desolate social housing scheme in a failed mining village miles from anywhere.

Shuggie's narrative then comes to the fore. Agnes dotes upon the boy but not enough to put his welfare ahead of her need for alcohol and we witness the realities of a life on benefits where life is lived from the pages of a catalogue and unsustainable credit. Poor Shuggie does not fit in with the other children on the ‘scheme' for Agnes has instilled within her son the need to dress smartly and speak well, which make him the subject of sustained bullying. This behaviour is made worse by the suspicion that he is gay and also that Agnes needs him increasingly to get her from one day to the next, so missing out on what is suggested my, in any case, be a sub-standard education.

The plot  shows a glimmer of hope when Agnes manages to survive a year sober and even her feckless husband, Shug, is tempted to return home, however, all comes crashing down when a new boyfriend, Eugene, is unable to comprehend that once you are an alcoholic then you have to abstain for good. He takes Agnes out to a good restaurant and relentlessly cajoles her into joining him in a drink where after the descent back into the old ways occurs overnight and the prime victim of the collateral damage is young Shuggie. Agnes's mood swings and failure to think about anything other than where the next drink is coming from drive Leek from home and perhaps in one final attempt to get herself out of the trough she is in, Agnes manages to exchange the flat for another in the centre of Glasgow.

Alas it does not work and almost immediately she is permanently wasted, constantly abused and completely unable to look after Shuggie who by now has learned how to break into the electricity meters in order to keep himself fed and to keep his Mother in some outward semblance of order. However, you just know that the task is beyond him and finally Agnes chokes to death on her own vomit whilst in a drunken Stupor.

Despite all this adversity Shuggie learns how to cope and survive by keeping himself invisible. Like leek before him he has an artistic ability and harbours a desire to become a hairdresser but, again like Leek, lacks the self assurance or the support to help him realise his dreams because he does not see opportunity as being something that is available to the underclasses. The book ends, however, with a slight ray of hope in that he strikes up a friendship with Leanne, another child trying to look after an alcoholic mother and you hope that the two of them will be able to provide the companionship that they both lack in their lives.

The above synopsis does not do justice to the book for there are many instances that illustrate the lifestyle that disadvantaged families struggling to survive on benefits and addiction face, but the group were unanimous in their enjoyment of the quality of the writing and the need to know what happened to young Shuggie and the hope that he would somehow find an escape from the life that he has known. The book is a fine example of how challenging subject matter can be made palatable and encourage the reader not to give up when adversity strikes a character that they have invested in. Above all the writing is so well observed that the reader could well believe that it is an autobiography, which the author clearly states that it is not.



The subject of this month's review was named, somewhat coincidentally, ‘The Book Club' by CJ Cooper.

The story is set in a Cotswold village in the present day and the main protagonists are a  group of friends. There is Tom, an artist, who is gay, but is a confidante to Lucy, Maggie and Rebecca. Lucy is a recent addition to the group having escaped London, a failed romance with her married boss, and is searching for a new source of income for when her redundancy money runs out. Maggie is a successful Interior Designer married to the local doctor, whilst Rebecca is trying to run a perfect house with two ideal children even if  her attempts at being a domestic goddess seem doomed by the lacklustre support of her hapless husband, Sam, who means well but often falls short of the mark when it comes to the tasks Rebecca has set him.

The four are living a harmonious life of easy-going friendship, but each is harbouring their own dark secret. All might be well except for the arrival of the fifth protagonist, Alice, who moves in next to Lucy. We learn that Alice is socially awkward but, as a means of integrating herself into the friendship group, suggests starting a Book Club.

Lucy, however, feels very uneasy about her new neighbour and begins to suspect that she has malicious intentions, confirmed by the impression formed by her friend Liz who tells her, in no uncertain terms that she should get away as soon as possible. As the story progresses Alice uncovers what each character is hiding and is soon sowing seeds of poison that take root as  successive books are debated and each secret is forced into the open.

Alice quite clearly has a distorted view of her own existence, but nobody makes the connection between the disintegrating friendships and her arrival for her successful strategy is to make each guilty party believe that it is one of the original friends who has been indiscreet. Alice's agenda, we learn, is based upon imagined injustices caused by Lucy that involve not just revenge  upon her, but the destruction of all those near to her.

The final denouement wreaks havoc but also leaves many unanswered questions, although one thing is certain, nothing will ever be the same again.

Although a minority of the group found the book to be well-written and enjoyable, for the majority there were many unanswered questions concerning the credibility of the plot-lines and the manner in which so many loose ends were left hanging. Several thought that the characterisation of the protagonists had not been developed enough for them to be visualised and that the plot seemed to resemble a television or stage plot. One of us even commented that it resembled an inferior episode of ‘Midsomer Murders'! All in all many expressed their doubts as to why such a seemingly close-knit group should believe the newcomer as opposed to friends that they had known for some time and why they should react so negatively to imagined slights rather that to talk to their old friends later about why they should react as they had.


‘This is Going to Hurt' by Adam Kay was this month's selected book. It follows six years in the life of a junior doctor based upon extracts from his diaries interwoven with many anecdotes and situations which range from mainly hilarious through several  dark, to a very few heart-wrenching episodes culminating, almost inevitably, in the author becoming so emotionally drained that he resigns on the verge of becoming a Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

For several members this was the second time of reading or followed viewing the recent television dramatisation, but the message of the book was not diminished. For many it was the realisation that ‘junior' refers to a wide swathe of the profession from newly qualified to very senior clinicians and for some of the group who had worked in the NHS, the stories reflected many similar ones that they had encountered during their professional lives. There was much to commend the book for its' humour, the subjects of which anecdotes cannot really be repeated here save that when the author was writing a presentation on births outside of a hospital setting, he concluded that ‘home deliveries are for pizzas'.

For many the current roots of the unrest amongst junior doctors are very well illustrated, and although covering the years up until 2010, former NHS employees in the group concluded that things had certainly not improved since then and that the expectation that staff shortages should be made up with additional unpaid working hours probably extended across the whole public sector. Even so the subject matter was informative as some felt that they now knew how to deliver a breech birth whereas the writer of this review believed that the book, when read, was an effective contraceptive!

Finally, the group concluded that choosing a career such as medicine at the age of eighteen based on very limited information or experience was flawed and also that it would be interesting to read a similar account based upon post pandemic experiences.

Paul Rowland



The book selected this month was ‘Leviathan' by Rosie Andrews set during the English Civil War. The Leviathan is one of the names used to portray evil as referenced by many authors of the past. The narrator, Thomas Treadwater, is recovering from a wound received in battle and is summoned home by his sister to attend his ailing father. He is too late for not only is his father dead but the family farm has gone to ruin and  a maidservant (Mary) has been imprisoned accused of witchcraft by his sister (Esther). These are (supposedly) enlightened times and Thomas, ‘a rational man' is no more inclined to believe that Mary is a witch than the local magistrate. Esther, however, has taken up with the local witchfinder in defiance with Thomas' wishes.

As the story unfolds Thomas has Mary, the maidservant, released into his custody and seemingly has a chance to forge a new career for himself as the magistrates' clerk, this chance replacing his original dream of emigrating to Virginia to become a tobacco farmer. What transpires is that Esther, his supposed sister was actually rescued from a shipwreck as a baby and brought up as his sibling. Even more astounding is that the storm was created by ‘The Leviathan' a force of great evil that has apparently taken root in Esther's soul and that it was she who killed her putative father and then encourages her fiancé, the witchfinder, to take his own life. Mary and Thomas manage to sedate Esther and over the next forty years keep her locked in the attic in a catatonic state until she emerges and encourages a rapidly ailing Thomas to return her to the sea where the evil spirit within her can be reunited with its' monstrous form.

More than a few readers loved the book's dark atmosphere and were gripped by the unfolding story although quite what the evil force was and what did it want from Esther were not evident. Thomas appears to have devoted his life to preventing the evil spirit from doing further harm although he could have allowed Mary (his eventual wife) to have continued administering stronger doses of the sedative. This he refuses to do until, with almost his final act of strength, kills her after the evil parasite within her has killed many more sailors in a catastrophic storm.

Not all readers found it enjoyable however, either finding the plot to be barely credible or that the general mistreatment of women, the passivity in the patriarchal society, and the way they did not act against Esther, even though other women had suffered badly as a result  very annoying. The idea that the only way to fight the Leviathan was to be pious and pure was frustrating too, as that seemed to reinforce the societal norm which expected women to behave perfectly. Alas, however, It could, perhaps, have  been an accurate depiction of the times.



Our book choice for August was ‘Daisy Jones and the Six' by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The plot starts by telling us about ‘The Six', a moderately successful band founded by two brothers, Billy and Graham. After a couple of fairly successful albums, they are introduced to Daisy Jones, a self-taught musician of prodigious talent, but no success. She and Billy record a duet that becomes a massive hit following which a collaborative album is planned to be called ‘Daisy Jones and the Six'. The album becomes one of the major recordings of the 1970's, but the making of it and the subsequent tour tell us of the protagonists' battles with drugs and the rock and roll lifestyle. At the heart is the love triangle between Billy, Daisy and Billy's wife Camille, but also featured are the struggles of the other group members to make their voices heard during the production process, and their own battles with life on the road.

The book is written in the form of transcripts from interviews and during the final chapters it is revealed that the author is Billy and Camille's daughter, and, as a final reveal, tells us where each of the protagonists is now. In common with another book by the same author, ‘The seven husbands of Eleanor Hugo', the author has taken several stories that may or may not have happened at the time and created a background narrative that binds the work together and the material provides a form of quiz as to who the reader might think that ‘The Six' are based on!

Our group was divided upon the merits of the book, several not finishing it, feeling that it was unclear as to who the audience for it was meant to be. The major issue for the dissenters was the ‘documentary come script' way in which it was written. Of course, the subject matter might only appeal to those interested in the processes that go into the production of a body of music. The book itself became more than a little repetitive and boring should you not have the songs being referred to close by so that you could listen to and appreciate them! However, in the end it was about the love triangle and the ending had a warm feeling to it in which Daisy and Billy are urged to write one more song together.

Paul Rowland 


The book read this month was ‘Conclave' by Robert Harris. The subject matter was rather inauspicious since it told of the election of a new Pope. Even so, we found it a fascinating explanation of the process and background such that we became invested in the subject matter as told by our narrator, the Dean of the College of Cardinals (one of the most important officials after his Holiness). He tells us that he has no desire to be the new Pope, not only feeling himself not well enough, but also owning up to....having doubts! However as the story unfolds we are given an insider view of the main contenders for the papacy and the opportunities and, more importantly, the threats presented by each.

The group were unanimous in their opinion that this was a good read although the majority admitted to skipping the author's description of many of the supporting archbishops who are named but play no further part in the story. In fact, this omission in no way seemed to detract from the enjoyment of the book! 

As the front runners emerge it seems that each either poses a danger, or has a dark secret, that would be catastrophic to the church should the truth ever emerge, and although our narrator finds himself emerging as a contender, there are enough clues to ensure that who eventually emerges will be beneficial to the church. Thankfully the Conclave chooses an outsider who is acceptable to all, only for there to be an unexpected twist to the tale. How this is handled and the hares that are set racing as the reader ponders ‘what if' leads to a satisfactory conclusion and also a desire of many of the club to want to read more of Robert Harris' work.


June 2023

For once there was a universal opinion on ‘Death at the Auction' by EC Bateman! In a nutshell it was light, easy to read but perhaps not a book that you would remember for very long!

The plot concerns the daughter of an Auction House owner returning to help out following breaking his leg, only to have her renewed spell as Auctioneer spoiled somewhat by her ex-husband who rushed in as the final lot went under the hammer. He told her that she was making a serious mistake. The said lot, an old wardrobe, then burst open to reveal the body of the business's rival auctioneer. What follows is a diverting and mildly amusing detective yarn with a good helping of ‘red herrings' and incidental characters thrown in that ends with an attempted cliff-hanger when she (not very convincingly) believes that her son has met a sticky end and the subsequent unveiling of a surprise villain.

The book is a good advertisement for Stamford without becoming too bogged down with the intricacies of auctioneering and there are plenty of loose ends to fuel the several sequels that have followed. The group concluded that it would make an ideal read for a long journey or holiday even if the author's over observation of the outfits worn or the state of the female characters' nail treatments was a little distracting!

Paul Rowland


The book discussed this month was ‘The Twyford Code' by Janice Hallet. In brief, the initial part of the book comprises a print of a series of voice messages left on a mobile phone by an ex-prisoner, who we are led to believe is trying to solve a mystery from his schooldays, based upon a hidden code within a series of children's books which were written by an Enid Blyton type character named Edith Twyford as well as  being  the narrator's life story. However, just when we have been led to believe that a climax has been reached and the narrator has met his end, the story branched off to provide an alternative interpretation and a more upbeat conclusion provided by a different character.

The Group were evenly split between those who loved it and those who detested it! In fact, one reader commented that it was a ‘Marmite' novel! However, the content was the source of a lively discussion, and it was observed that the writing was a good example of the treatment of several strands of a story as well as being a good example of an unreliable narrator.



March 2023 ‘This Boy' by Alan Johnson, former Home Secretary and MP for Hull West and Hessle.

It may be worth noting that we normally read an eclectic mix of titles but, on this occasion, we have found ourselves reading two consecutive biographies.

‘This Boy', the first in the autobiographical series on the life of Alan Johnson, the former Home Secretary and former member of parliament for Hull-Hessle. The story covers his birth in 1950 and his formative years growing up in the Notting Hill/ North Kensington area of London in a series of unheated and damp rented flats long before the area became respectable and unaffordable to anybody of less than wealthy means and concludes with his wedding just after his eighteenth birthday to a single mother four years his senior.

His father contributed very little to the household and deserted the family to run off with the local barmaid when Johnson was eleven. His Mother and later his elder sister kept him safe and away from the clutches of the care system through a series of menial jobs and his first career choice was to have been music. Those hopes were dashed just as they were about to be realised when, after an audition for a professional group his guitar and other equipment were stolen. As the book concluded Johnson's career had moved on from leaving school at fifteen to stacking shelves in a supermarket to joining the Post Office.

Later books in the series deal with his life as a Postman in the Slough/ Burnham Beeches area to becoming a union official and then leader of the Communication Workers Union. During that later life he impressed Tony Blair enough to be selected as an MP for the 1997 election after which he made his mark bringing long-standing grievances for Hull Trawlermen to a successful conclusion and holding several high-ranking cabinet posts.

The group had, as usual, mixed feelings ranging from ‘all right' to being enthusiastic enough to want to read the later volumes. Several members felt that the living conditions described, and the social attitudes reflected those that they had encountered in their own lifetime and that the contributions to his life of his mother and especially his Sister had been outstanding, During the conversation a comparison was made to ‘Shuggie Bain' which was thought to be a more entertaining and better written example of the ‘growing up in adversity' theme.



February 2023

The Group found ‘Lady in Waiting' by Anne Glenconner to be  readable and mostly entertaining, giving an insight into the life of the first born child of the 5th Earl of Leicester who tried very hard but failed to be a boy thus meaning the title and the tenure of the family seat would pass to another branch of the family.

We followed her journey from being a successful if unorthodox seventeen year old travelling sales representative for her mother's pottery business to debutante in the post war era of austerity whose ‘coming out' dress was made from an old parachute!  During her sales trip to the United States she received the summons to be one of the Queen's Maids of Honour at the Coronation and in later years to becoming a long term companion to Princess Margaret. She was clearly well connected and although not wealthy in her own right, married the very rich if eccentric Colin Tennant the future owner of Mustique.

Alas the fairy tale had a very dark side for she lost two of her five children in tragic circumstances and had to battle to ensure that a third received treatment to make a partial recovery from what would otherwise have been a fatal motorcycle accident. If that was not enough misfortune her marriage was far from ideal and the group concluded that it was the mores of the time that prevented her leaving a man who, although a sometimes brilliant companion could also be exceedingly petulant and unpredictable. The protagonist also gave an interesting insight into a long association with Princess Margaret without being indiscreet or judgmental.

Paul Rowland

January 2023

"The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Bronte is considered by many to be one of the first feminist books that highlighted the iniquitous position of women in a time when not only their property and earnings legally belonged to their husbands, but also their children. Although not everyone was able to finish the book(something to take on a long cruise), the majority found it an enjoyable read .... althoiugh one reader noted they felt like a child, just learning to read, being presented with a book which contained "too many words"!

The content provoked a lively discussion about how and why women could put up with abusive relationships in the victorian era and how British society could abolish slavery, on the one hand, but women had to waite a further seventy years to gain any rights at all.


December 2022

The book we discussed this month was ‘The Paris Library' by Janet Skeslien Charles. For the first time all the group agreed that this was a very good book, well written and thought provoking. It is about a French girl who is working in the American library during the second world war when France was occupied. We hear about her colleagues and the problems they had to face and the decisions they had to make. It really is well worth a read. We also welcomed a new member, Anita.

Our next meeting is on January 6th at 2pm. at the Advocate Arms Hotel in Market Rasen, when we will be discussing ‘Tenant of Wildfell hall' by Anne Brontë. New members are always welcome.

Lesley Brewis 




 !   News

Members will be gratified that we have now read the two 'classics' from our selection for the year and next month we have a former Waterstone's book of the year, 'The Essex Serpent' by Sarah Parry to look forward to. This is an historical romance come mystery set in the late 1890s, but which reflects a picture of Victorian life that is, perhaps, more normal than the stereotypical prurient and over moralistic view that we are accustomed to.

We next meet at The Advocate on Monday June 3rd.

Paul Rowland


New members are always welcome, just turn up on the day!

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Books on order .......



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