The nights are drawing in, we are in the midst of university open days and personal statement revisions, and I have read some really great books this month.
Our book club choice this month is "Stoner" by John Williams, first published in 1965. William Stoner is a college professor who spends his entire adult life at the University of Missouri, first studying, then teaching English literature. His life seems to be insignificant, he lives, gets married, retires and dies. However, John Williams writes so vividly and beautifully about his story, we realise that even the most humdrum-looking lives have so much going on under the surface. The relationships Stoner has, with his colleagues, his wife, daughter and lover, are drawn with simplicity but in devastating detail. The blurb on the back of the book says it is "a novel to be savoured" and I would totally concur.
I first read "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt when it was published twenty one years ago. Since then she has only produced two more books, one of which is on my Christmas wish-list ( The Goldfinch). I decided to re-read her debut novel in preparation but also because it concerns a group of classics students, which is the subject my daughter is hoping to study next year. However, I hope she doesn't get dragged into a murder plot which is what happens to Richard Pappen when he becomes entangled and enamoured with an eccentric group at his New England university. This is a terrific book, intelligently written, darkly funny and with great characterisation. It is now on my daughter's "to read" list, I'm only hoping it won't put her off studying the lives of the ancients!
"Reconstructing Amelia" by Kimberly McCreight was an excellent, if harrowing, book. Kate Baron is a successful New York lawyer who is faced with an unimaginable tragedy. The central thesis of the novel, is how well do we know our own children, and how Kate refuses to believe the official reason behind the tragedy and her dogged pursuit of the truth, is a real page-turner. It was very well written, and I had enormous sympathy for Kate and Amelia, the ending was not obvious, and I stayed up until the very wee small hours to finish it. I cried at various points too, but maybe I was very, very tired!
Another book that had me in absolute buckets of tears was "The Light Between The Oceans" by M.L.Stedman. Tom and Izzy are the lighthouse keeper and his wife on a remote island off the coast of Australia in the 1920s, happily married but unable to have children. When a boat washes ashore containing a dead man and a very-much alive baby girl, the couple make the decision to keep her. The novel then goes on to describe the consequences of that decision. This is such a haunting book, the reader's sympathies lie with all the characters and the conclusion is so heart-breaking. One for the chilly autumn nights, make sure you have the tissues ready!
I have enjoyed Salley Vicker's previous books and "The Cleaner of Chartres" is another very good read. Agnes Morel is a a lady with a mysterious past who life is now inter-woven with those in the beautiful city of Chartres. Her story is a sad one, and I did like how all the threads came together to give an almost happy, but realistic, ending. Vickers writes quite beautifully and her description of the cathedral is very vivid. There are some excellent characters, I liked the subversive nuns in particular, and you really do root for poor old Agnes. It reminded me of some of Joanna Harris' novels in a way, no bad thing.
Finally, after such sadness, India Knight's "Mutton" had me chuckling. I wasn't too keen on her last book, "Comfort and Joy" but this was much better, not as mean-spirited. Clara is forty-six and quite comfy in her skin, until her school friend, the impossibly glamorous Gaby, moves in. Being of that certain age myself, I found the book very funny and could recognise a lot of the character's sentiments and traits! India has described some characters very well, I loved the author of "Game of Thrones" type books who had writer's block. A light read, but after all the emotional novels previously read, a bit of relief!