Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, 7/15/2010

St. Peter PortOn the whole, the group enjoyed learning about relatively unknown aspect of World War II, savoring the revelation of character and plot through the long-lost art of letter-writing.  Most of us had known nothing about Guernsey – except the cows.  We enjoyed the characters, although a few were skeptical about the attraction between Juliet and Dawsey.  One of our members recalls the days when letters were so precious she would read them over and over again, practically memorizing the contents.  The Potato Peel Pie Society came close to being precious, but everyone took great pleasure in it anyway.

Readers were reminded of other recommended titles:

  • Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Francaise (tells of the relationships between occupied and occupiers)
  • Island at War (2004 British TV series based on the lives of Channel Islanders during the occupation)

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason: 10/16/08

The Piano Tuner The Piano Tuner

by Daniel Mason

Mason’s novel takes place in the ethnically and militarily fractured Burma of the 1880’s. Sadly, over a hundred years later, the situation has many similarities – witness the military government’s refusal of international aid after this year’s devastating cyclone. JOS was in Burma few years ago and even then her driver would not venture into Shan territory after dark.

Our group had many questions after reading this book:

    Why did Drake stay so long ? Many readers were surprised he didn’t go right home, although a reference to the Lotus Eaters gives a clue.
    Why a piano? Why a piano tuner?
    Why didn’t Carroll ever play the piano after it was tuned?
    Was Drake a pawn from the beginning?
    Where were the other Englishmen serving with Carroll in Mae Lwin?

Many of us enjoyed the portrayal of Drake’s character: a man dedicated to and absorbed by his craft, overwhelmed by the contrast between his familiar middle class England and the seductions of Burma. But the English characters “sounded” as if they were speaking in American rhythms, and many readers found the long letters tedious. Most found the relatively abrupt ending jarring and distressing. RP started the discussion by exclaiming, “What a dirty trick!”

CD has read that Werner Herzog is developing a movie based on this book. He feels this is a perfect match, as Herzog is known for bringing “borderline crazy actors to remote locations” and pushing them to the limit for excruciatingly long times.

Daniel Mason
Daniel Mason
Danel Mason Asian Review of Books on The Piano Tuner

More about Mason & The Piano Tuner:
  • For more articles on Mason and his books, try Infotrac Onefile, available at the library, or from home
    (with a Minuteman Library Network card).

Atonement by Ian McEwan: 5/8/08

Atonement by Ian McEwan

We had an interesting and thought provoking discussion about Ian McEwan’s
Atonement. Some of our members thought that the beginning of the book was
‘too descriptive, too flowery’. Others felt that the book showed the ‘messiness of
life’ and was not ‘facile’ like Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. Some members
‘hated’ Briony. One member said that she had taught thirteen-year-old students
and that they were old enough to take responsibility for their actions.

It was interesting to some of us that the effects of class were so strong that a
thirteen year old’s word was taken over an adult from a lower class. One group
member pointed out that it took one hundred words in the old days to say what
we say now in ten words. Someone noted that this book was reminiscent of
Rashomon. You never quite know what happens as everyone is telling another

One participant was inspired by Briony thinking about ‘how do you describe a
flower’. This made her think about how would she describe different things to
really paint a picture of what she was trying to portray. A group member who has
suffered from migraines pointed out that Emily Tallis’ section contains the best
description of migraines she has ever read. One reader wondered if Jack Tallis
had an affair with Grace, Robbie’s mother and if this might explain why Jack
Tallis was willing to fund Robbie’s education. This person had just read The Kite
that perhaps made him think of this angle.

The family name Tallis was chosen by McEwan after the English composer
because the overlapping stories strikes him as a kind of polyphony. It is
interesting to note that Ian McEwan grew up in a working class family and
became a very successful and literary writer. This might be reflected in the
character of Robbie, a lower class person who is very educated and talented.
Also, McEwan’s father fought in the battle of Dunkirk that is described very vividly
in this book. Overall, our group would highly recommend this book as worthwhile
reading. Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan Powell’s Interview with McEwan

More about McEwan & Atonement
  • For more articles on McEwan and his books, try Infotrac Onefile, available at the library, or from home (with a Minuteman Library Network card).


Never Let Me Go: 10/11/07

Never Let Me Go Never Let Me Go
A Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro

Most of us had a hard time getting through this book. In fact, a few people gave up on it all together — but being true book lovers, they came to join in the discussion all the same. Even those who admired Ishiguro’s writing found the narrator’s evasiveness and passivity irritating.

CD complained that the book requires a passive reader. Some asked why the characters never tried to escape once they understood what was in store for them. Some found the question of science getting ahead of ethics a worthwhile one, but were frustrated that the author didn’t take a clearer stand.

DV pointed out that the story can also be about the ways we are capable of dehumanizing and using others – especially those at a distance, like the workers who make our inexpensive clothes or the farmworkers in the fields.

In some ways, Kathy and the other characters are facing a more extreme version of our own situation. Our time is limited: what will we do with it? Some accept whatever they’re handed, some struggle for change, but none live forever.

Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro Interview with Ishiguro from NPR
Reviews of Never Let Me Go
  For more articles on Ishiguro and his books, try Infotrac Onefile, available at the library, or from home (with a Minuteman Library Network card).
More on Never Let Me Go:  
  Video Interview with Ishiguro from publisher Faber & Faber
  A Review by Margaret Atwood
  Satire from The Guardian

I Don’t Know How She Does It: 8/9/07

I Don't Know How She Does It The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother
A Novel by Allison Pearson

After an energetic discussion about Pearson’s novel, most of us agreed with B’s suggestion that a more accurate title title would be “She Can’t Do It.”  JS and HF did attest to the large doses of truth in the book.  However, none of us thinks that a person can reasonably expect to succeed at being at the top of a high-stakes cut-throat business AND be a hands-on parent AND a loving and attentive spouse.

We did talk about whether feminism implies that women should be able to do all of these things at once. This writer firmly believes that whatever feminism may be, men have never been able to do all of these things simultaneously and successfully, and the principle of equality dictates that women can’t either. Having limited time, energy and talent (being human) means making choices about how to spend them.

For this night’s discussion, we were lucky to have 3 men and 5 women, including 3 retired working mothers, 1 working mother, 1 stay-at-home father, and 3 single people with no children.

CD enjoyed the characters and the humor; MG was frustrated by the stressful situations, but enjoyed the black humor; JS called this “a book of truth — I lived it.”

B called it a tragic story; HF found it funny and true, with Kate Reddy’s childhood experiences explaining a great deal about her drive; L was struck by Kate Reddy’s greedy whining and lamented the too-tidy conventional ending.

GC did not enjoy the humor; DS knows the life of a working mother first hand, and her response was to say to Kate: “get over yourself.”

We talked about the difference between choosing to be a working mother and having to be a working mother just to survive. What are our expectations about the level of comfort and convenience we must have?

CD saw many stereotypes in the book, particularly the male characters, who were all dependent on women to function properly.

An excellent book for discussion, whether or not you admire the story.

Allison Pearson – An Interview with the author at Allison Pearson
Daily Mail Pearson’s Daily Mail columns
“Behind the Book” at Anchor Books
Pearson tells the story of how she came to write the book.
Book cover - UK version  
Related titles… The Nanny Diaries

Bridget Jones’s Diary
The Bitch in the House: 26 women tell the truth about sex, solitude, work, motherhood, and marriagePerfect Madness: Motherhood in the age of anxiety