Monday, January 31, 2011

What's the point of Creative Writing?

Prompted by the Faber Academy discussion about Creative Writing on Fictionbitch, here's my own (ambivalent) take on one particular aspect, the teaching of the subject. It's my first post as a contributor to the online version of the excellent literary magazine The View From Here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Reading group: Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

Trevor suggested this 1952 novel, Vonnegut's first, which takes place in an America where, after another war, machines have taken over from not only labourers but non-manual workers too, and the only people in full and certain employment are a small elite of engineers, the designers of the machines. Most people live mod-con-aided but unfulfilled lives and work for the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps (the Reeks and Wrecks), devised to provide them with fake manual jobs, or join the Army where they train with wooden rifles, since it is machines now that win wars and indeed led to the recent victory. The novel's protagonist is Paul Proteus, son of the influential engineer, the late George Proteus, in whose footsteps he is following until he becomes involved with rebellious elements. The novel charts his deepening entanglement in the revolutionary movement and a final rebellion, but spends a good deal of space along the way describing the society that Vonnegut imagines.

Introducing the novel, Trevor spoke of the ways in which its predictions were accurate, chiefly the fact that technology has indeed taken over our lives while we have descended into mass unemployment. People immediately said however that, from a present-day perspective, the vision of the details of the predicted world seems naif, the so-called sophisticated machines being run by tape-recorders and valves, and the computers huge rather than tiny, filling whole underground caves. That's perhaps the danger with science fiction, they said, that it dates - especially, John pointed out, novels written in the realistic style of this one. He said, if you considered Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5, written eleven years later and which we discussed previously, there was just no comparison: that book is surreal and so doesn't suffer from the same problem.

I said, but also Slaughterhouse 5  is so much better written. (In fact of course Slaughterhouse 5 is about the past rather than the future and breaks the bounds of the science-fiction genre.) Didn't anyone else find this novel utterly plodding? I asked. (I found the prose airlessly pedestrian, lacking the demotic energy of the voice of Slaughterhouse 5, and there was a lot of telling and explaining rather than showing, so the book lacked vividness for me. Here, for instance, is Paul reacting to his wife during a crucial, indeed relationship-changing episode: 'Paul had expected that reaction, and remained patient in the face of it' - note that formal 'remained'.) Hadn't anyone else found it a really tedious read? Jo and Ann immediately said yes they had, in fact neither of them had managed to finish it. All those long sections describing the machines and people's lives in such plodding detail...  And, I added, the awkward dialogue. Jenny said that she hadn't engaged much with the book at the start, but the further she'd read the more she'd liked it. She and Doug said they hadn't found it badly written: surely, they said, to agreement from Trevor, it was nicely satirical? I couldn't agree: I found the attempts at satire rather self-conscious and forced, even a bit amateur; I thought this was really obviously a first novel. Well, said Jenny and Doug, what about the phone conversations between Paul and his wife Anita that always ended in the same way, with Anita saying 'I love you,' and Paul replying, 'I love you':  Jenny and Doug had really enjoyed that - a pattern which Jenny pointed out was reversed once Anita started cheating on Paul. I must say I hadn't noticed this reversal, as I had found the repetition so overdone I had stopped paying attention to it by then. John said he hadn't found the novel as tedious as we three had, but even Trevor, the book's champion, said it certainly wasn't one of Vonnegut's best-written books. And he agreed with John that one thing the book had failed to envisage was the increasing status of women: its doctorate-qualified women work only as secretaries (and are being gradually replaced by machines), and even the rebels hope to return to a society where men do proper men's work and women do women's. The ambitious Anita is only ambitious for Paul's career and comes over as a kind of Lady Macbeth figure.

Then Jenny said, Ah yes, but one thing the book did accurately predict was the corporate wife! Jo and Ann and I said, But surely in 1952 the corporate wife already existed, though Jenny argued that after that there was a rise in the corporate wife as a significant social phenomenon. She and Doug and Trevor also very much appreciated the satirical portrayal of a corporate morale-boosting, male-bonding weekend, which Doug found amazingly accurate as an account of such events to this day. However, I found it tediously overdone, with nothing of the light touch you find in Slaughterhouse 5.

They also appreciated the device of the visiting Shah of Bratphur, who views the supposedly advanced society with an uncomprehending and usefully fresh eye, significantly unable to distinguish the Reeks and Wrecks workers from slaves, although Doug said he was disappointed that the Shah wasn't more radically worked into the development of the plot.

I said that to me the book didn't actually feel very original, even for 1952, but because I've read so little science fiction I couldn't support my case. Others agreed, but Trevor said I may as well accuse Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four of being derivative - which in fact it was, he said, being actually a rewrite of We, the novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which Orwell had actually previously reviewed. All of these books have similar predictions, anyway, he said. I answered that if a book is not particularly well written, which I didn't think this one was, and if it sets out merely to predict the future without much further theme or subtext or much deep insight into the human condition - another way in which I think this book fails - then it better be damned original in its predictions. However on reflection since, I have decided that the reason I felt that the book lacked originality was that its intent, like that of much science fiction, was not so much to make predictions as to satirise social trends already in motion at the time of writing, and I suppose whether you think the book succeeds depends on whether you think the satire is successful, which I don't.

This discussion didn't last very long, and we very soon ended up talking instead about the issues it had raised...

Our archive discussions can be found here and a list of the books we have discussed, with links to the discussions, here

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bookshops I love: Waterstone's Deansgate (again)

Well, the top floor of Waterstone's Deansgate in Manchester may now be mainly a restaurant, and its ground floor half given over to Paperchase, but look at this lovely sight I came across in the first floor fiction section this afternoon - all of my books in a row! - and on the ground floor there's a section of local authors right next to the main door! Pretty good, eh: supporting local authors and small presses, with everything Waterstone's is facing?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Getting radical about the question Why Write?

Today on the Faber blog, Faber Academy's Ian Ellard takes up the debate - Why write? - at its most radical level, with an historical and extremely thoughtful exploration of why on earth we actually do it. I urge you to click on over and read.

Meanwhile, it's still possible to leave any questions you may have for previous posters on Fictionbitch, Sue Gee and Marcel Theroux. You can leave them on the comments thread here.

Also join in on Twitter  #whywrite? #whynot

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

No thanks

There's one thing that really gets me. Every so often I get an email from someone writing about writers - the writing life, writers and publishing, that sort of thing - and they'd like me to answer some questions to help them with their surveys and essays. These requests can come from right across the board, from schoolchildren, from undergrads, from people writing theses for PhDs. In the first instance the senders are invariably polite, they nearly always express awareness of the hugeness of the request and the demand on my time.  Well, it's nice to be helpful, and good to engage with readers, so I look at the questions, and if they're sensible and literate, which they usually are (though I've had one or two crazy semi-literate corkers!), I take the trouble to think about them and send answers. And know what? Having got my answers, those students hardly ever reply, leave alone say thanks!

It really makes me consider ignoring all such requests. What do others think?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sharing and not sharing

They say, with good reason, that you should never take any notice of what your close relatives say about your writing. Now that the flu bug has receded from our family, John and I nipped over to Notts on Friday for a belated Christmas reunion, and I was able to give out my family copies of the new edition of The Birth Machine. Today my mum rang me to say that she is 7 chapters in. And she wanted to tell me that this new version is much, much better! Now, she said, with the new, or rather original, structure, it's a story about 'what people do to each other', whereas previously it was more of a one-sided, 'fighting' kind of book, and not nearly as good! But did she say that last when the first edition came out? You bet she didn't....

To turn to less personal matters, the Faber Academy discussion of creative writing on Fictionbitch, which has turned out to be a pretty busy debate, continues with a chance to leave questions for FA tutors Sue Gee and Marcel Theroux.

And, in a not unconnected matter, I'm grateful to Tania Hershman for a link to a Huffington Post  article by Anis Shivani, which provocatively suggests that writers shun all media and social aspects of the writing industry and by implication such things as creative writing classes and workshops....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reading group: Carry Me Down by M J Hyland

Because I have been so busy lately with promotion for The Birth Machine, Ann has kindly written up our November reading group discussion of this book. Here is her report:

Carry Me Down, by M.J. Hyland, was John’s choice for the book group to read.  He had heard the author talk about her major influence, Peter Handke’s novella The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty, which employs a plain, factual mode of storytelling, and was curious to read this novel.  The book is written in the first person and relates a period, (about a year?), in the life of eleven-year-old John Egan and is set in 1970’s Ireland, although this time period is not made explicit.  When the story opens, John and his parents are living with his paternal grandmother in Gorey, a rural town in County Wexford.  The family have been exiled from Dublin for lack of funds, with his father ostensibly studying for the entrance exams for Trinity while his mother works in a local shop and makes puppets.  It is clear from the beginning that John Egan is a child who feels ‘out of place’ and a ‘misfit’ both at home and at school – he is tall for his age, is obsessed with the Guinness Book of Records and becomes convinced that he is able to detect lies, recording all those told him in The Gol of Seil.  The unravelling events of the story form a narrative circle by which family relationships drive them back to Dublin into a council flat in an out-of-town multi-story block of flats and then back again to Gorey at the end.  The first person narrative implies that we are meant to view this circle of events through John Egan’s eyes.

John introduced it as a novel with a beginning, middle and end, with an over-long middle – the section in Dublin - and was not too sure what to make of it, asking the question -was the ending happy or not?  John and Elizabeth felt that it was a deliberately symbolic happy ending – implying closure for the family and allowing it to move forwards.  Doug and I disagreed, feeling that the ending was very ambivalent, while Jo took the implication of the ending further, suggesting that the sequel to the novel would be more interesting as, for her, John (the book’s protagonist) was clearly still troubled and his behaviour would get worse.  This led to a general feeling that there was little plot to the book – a theme introduced by Trevor – it merely related a series of unfolding events, but we wondered where the plot (as such) was going, leading or saying.  Or was nothing meant to happen and the whole piece created as a symbolic circle?  Doors and openings were touched on – were they symbols of future happenings and sequels? Many events in the book being related through closed doors – such as John and his grandmother discussing his father while the latter is behind the door.  Then we all began to wonder if we were all trying to read scenarios into the story that simply were not there?  Were we looking for symbols when in fact there were none?

A gender divide emerged, with the men in the group noting the total absence of adolescent hormones that they felt totally unconvincing.  This was something missing in a portrait of an adolescent boy, making it unrealistic. Trevor and Mark considered this particularly disconcerting as they both felt themes of Oedipal sex were implicit throughout.  Alternatively, Elizabeth and Jo, both mothers of boys, felt that that one aspect of adolescent change, where affection and distance co-exist and alternate, was realistic.  Was the (quite gruesomely described) killing of the kittens at the beginning of the novel a symbol of this withdrawal, indecision and ambivalent parent-child relationship?  I think an indication of our uncertainty about this was the subsequent discussion on whether the kitten killing was realistic – were kittens really killed like that?  I suspect that this discussion would not have occurred if the narrative and characters had convinced us.  Our lack of conviction here revived the question of whether we were trying to read too much into the novel.  Were signs really being positioned along route, while the easy prose enabled a fast read so we missed the signs? Why did we think there should be signs and symbols and should there be any if the story is in fact being related by an eleven-year-old?

Most of the group appreciated that a sense of menace was skilfully created, but that it often promised more than the actual event that subsequently occurred – such as towards the end when John Egan attacks his mother.  I was so convinced by the prose leading up to the attack I thought he would murder her, and thus make the story more dramatic – harking back to Jo’s conviction that the sequel would be more interesting.  Nobody, however, found the novel a difficult read, the prose being far easier and far less dense than that of The Leopard, our previous read, but we remained divided.  Most felt the book was too long, but Mark and Trevor voted for it, with Doug and Hans disliking it.  Jo and I remained ambivalent.  One issue that all (as I recall) felt was that John Egan was such a non-engaging protagonist.  Did he suffer from autism or Asperger’s syndrome or not?  As Mark Haddon has shown in A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, (read previously by the group), this should not affect a writer’s ability to engage the reader with characters.  Hyland’s character was repellent, and none felt we believed him or would want to support him. 

This indecisiveness meant that we took to asking questions about what was absent in the book.  Where was the local priest and the role of the Church?  This was 1970’s rural Ireland – and Hyland includes a single nun as a minor character?  Why was John Egan an only child?  Was the creepy teacher Mr Roche a potential abuser or was he a saviour?  Would social services and the psychologist really behave like that?  That we ended up asking all these questions suggests that we were so unconvinced by the characters and their lives, that we ended up looking for what we felt should have been there instead.  Clare had not finished the book and our discussion, sadly, did not convince her to so.

The more lively and passionate discussion of the evening was the one that segued from Carry Me Down – which involved Samuel Beckett and Waiting for Godot.  I cannot remember the content here – as everyone started talking at once ……!

This report was written by Ann. 
Our archive discussions can be found here and a list of the books we have discussed, with links to the discussions, here. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Faber Academy discussion hots up

The Faber Academy discussion on Creative Writing continues today with a more controversial post from Marcel Theroux, co-leader of the upcoming FA course Getting Started.

Several threads have emerged in the discussion, and Marcel is now asking the hard questions. Do pop over and take part - your views and questions are more than welcome, and in a later post Sue and Marcel will tackle the issues raised. You can also discuss the issues on Twitter on #whywrite.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Bits of news

I dipped my toe in the water of my new draft this morning, and I'm pleased to report that it felt just fine. Was a bit too scared to wade out very far, though. Feel I need this afternoon and evening to sit on the bank a bit and view the lake, and then maybe tomorrow I'll dare to dive in...

Meanwhile, the Thursday Faber Academy discussion re creative writing on Fictionbitch really went with a bang. I'm not sure we've got to the heart of the matter yet, though, and there's a provocative post by Marcel Theroux coming up on Monday.

In other news, I'm delighted to say that I've been asked to join the blogging team for the online version of the wonderful literary journal, The View From Here. It's a very impressive publication, and I'm honoured to have been asked.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Faber Academy discussion on writing begins

What's the point of writing? Or teaching writing? Novelist Sue Gee kicks off the Faber Academy discussion on Fictionbitch. Your comments on the issues are most welcome, and in another post Sue will answer questions raised in the comments thread. You can also discuss the issues on Twitter on #whywrite.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Beginning tomorrow: Faber Academy discussion on creative writing

I'm delighted to say that beginning tomorrow my Fictionbitch blog will host a Faber Academy discussion on the radical question, 'What's the point of creative writing?'

As many of you will know, the Faber Academy, a series of writing courses run by the publisher and which started only in October 2008, is now a very busy concern, running several courses a year. Here's the Academy's Ian Ellard on its aims:
People come to us at lots of different stages of their writing, looking for practical help... The emphasis is on nurturing rather than churning, on the personal, not the proscriptive.
Longtime readers of this blog may remember that I attended the very first Faber Academy course at the famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop on the Left Bank in Paris, tutored by the meticulous and thoughtful Tobias Hill. On that occasion several of us were fairly experienced writers, there to take stock and refresh our palates, and we had a most enjoyable and stimulating weekend, with two characterisically inspiring talks from Jeanette Winterson. (Posts about it here - scroll down a bit.)

Many of the Faber Academy courses are inevitably for beginners, since, as Ian Ellard says, many potential writers have ambition but are 'waiting to be encouraged and nurtured.' However, he points out: 'There’s one question that, somewhere along the line, they would need to answer: What’s the point?' and this is what the upcoming discussion will focus on. Central to the discussion will be the directors and tutors of a four-month course for emerging writers, Getting Started, which begins on 21st February: novelists Sue Gee and Marcel Theroux. Tomorrow Sue Gee will kick off by contributing her thoughts on the whole subject, and later Marcel Theroux will add his. Both will be prepared to answer any ensuing questions.

It promises to be a very interesting discussion. Do go over there tomorrow and contribute or leave any questions you have for Sue and Marcel.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Adrenalin is what you need

It's a funny thing, talking about your work on the radio. The first time I went on Andrew Edwards' ALL FM Artbeat programme was when I was producing my play The Processing Room for the 24:7 Theatre Festival. Rachael Carnegie, who played my celestial nurse, and I went on and read a jokey little advert for the play I'd written. It went fine - Andrew seemed to think so - though hearing it back afterwards I thought I sounded a bit too arch, and I guess that was a problem with the thing having been scripted (Rachael, the professional actor, was great: she sounded really natural). Then last autumn Andrew invited me to go and talk about Too Many Magpies which had just come out, and I think the interview went well (you can hear it here).

Both those times I had that edge of nervousness that comes from being about to be publicly on show in a situation which is basically unknown to you, especially the second time, when I didn't know what questions I'd be asked. This November, when Andrew invited me in to talk about The Birth Machine, I went along with a different attitude: by now I was familiar with the converted house on the corner in Levenshulme with its higgledy little backroom, and with the people who were just coming off the previous show. And I had met Andrew on a more social occasion in the meantime, so I felt I was beginning to know him. I relaxed.

And what happened? I opened my mouth to answer Andrew's first question, and I hesitated, just the way you often hesitate when someone asks you a question in the pub, thinking it through, weighing up the possible answers. Ridiculous, because if anything I have marshalled what I need to say about The Birth Machine better, probably, than I have done with any piece of work previously (as I've got more experienced at promotion). Realising what was happening, and how it must sound, I panicked, the adrenalin kicked in, and as a result I got into my stride. Mad, eh? Seems nervousness is what you need to sound not nervous on radio. Or maybe sounding good on radio is just a very special art, and my admiration goes out to those who do it professionally.... (The Birth Machine interview here: it starts about a third of the way into the podcast.)

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Reading group: The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West and Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion

Mark suggested comparing these two novels which deal with the American Dream as experienced by the players at its Hollywood heart, the West dealing with Hollywood's very early days and the Didion with a period, the late 60s, when it had become characterised by emptiness and ennui.

This was a large meeting (very cosy under Mark's huge Christmas tree and candle-lit mantelpiece), but it turned out that only four of us had managed to get hold of the Didion, so the communal discussion focused on West's The Day of the Locust. First published in 1939, it concerns Tod Hackett, an artist who has been headhunted as a Hollywood set and costume designer, but who retains an objective eye on the illusions and pretensions of the place and its inhabitants, and plans a huge Biblical-type painting in which the hordes fly from a Hollywood on fire. To this end, he 'collects' characters to include in the painting - the would-be starlet and prostitute Faye (after whom, while understanding her shallowness, he lusts), her ex-music-hall-entertainer and now bit-player father Harry, the depraved wheeling-dealing dwarf Abe Kusich, the cowboy extra, the insufferable child actor and his unpleasantly pushy mother, and Homer Simpson, the awkward outsider who becomes unsuitably entangled with the rest of them, and thus, although sent there by his doctor for his health, one of those who in Tod's view (and that of the third-person narration) have 'come here to die'. The novel consists largely of a series of tableaux or set-pieces in which each of these specific Hollywood types reveals his or her situation and personality, but culminates in a stampede fueled by mass disappointment and resentment, echoing the concept of Tod's painting, and ending indeed in a death.

Those present were unanimous in liking the book. While it was clearly of mainly historical interest, depicting a very specific moment in Hollywood's history - a time when the countryside was still nearby and Hollywood still a place of hope, however illusory - the book was also prescient in envisioning its future. Everyone relished the vivid depiction of the characters, and the satirical narrative viewpoint. People spent some time recounting what they'd liked: the descriptions of people constantly dressed as if playing parts, the houses designed like fairytale film sets, the fact that Faye and Harry never stopped acting - Harry acting and putting on a show even as he is dying, a moment that Trevor really relished.

There were one or two criticisms: several people found boring a long cock-fighting scene, and couldn't see the point of it (someone suggested that the injured bird constantly flinging itself into the path of its aggressor was symbolic of the Hollywood hopefuls). Ann pointed out that the third-person narrative is a little uncertain: initially it is established in Tod's viewpoint, but it switches suddenly to that of Homer and then back again, at least twice. Trevor said he thought this was fine, but Ann, John, Mark and I felt that it wasn't done in a way that seemed entirely controlled. It was generally agreed that while enjoyable and notable for its comment on the Hollywood of the time, the novel lacked the linguistic and structural integrity of its contemporary, Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (which we discussed previously).

The four of us who'd read Joan Didion's Play it as it Lays - Ann, Mark, John and I - then talked to the group about it. It concerns Maria, a beautiful Hollywood actress married to the once-promising film director who gave her her first break (a film in which, significantly, she played the victim of a gang rape). The book begins with her ruminations in the psychiatric hospital where she is now a patient and then switches back to the events that led her there. It's a story of drugs, alcohol and wife-swapping, and an amorphous sense of failure: at its start Maria's marriage to Carter is in trouble, though in no clear-cut way - the summer she left Carter (the summer Carter left her...) - and their small daughter Kate is incarcerated in some kind of hospital for an unspecified neural condition. Maria is now finding it hard to get work: ...trouble was something no one in the city liked to be near. Grieving Carter who has absented himself filming in the arid Nevada desert, and conducting a secret affair with the married and thus rarely accessible Les Goodwin, Maria is already unhinged, spending her days endlessly driving the Los Angeles freeways. The crunch point comes when she discovers she is pregnant and the child could be Les Goodwin's. Carter issues an ultimatum: unless she has an abortion he will take custody of Kate. From this point on Maria becomes an impotent puppet in other people's plans, as the horrific abortion is arranged for her yet Carter drifts further away, and as Les Goodwin drifts away too, preserving his marriage.

All four of us were completely bowled over by this book, by its evocation of a cultural ethos and of Maria's state of mind via spare, rhythmic prose and short sections providing vivid and telling filmic glimpses. As Ann said, there's so much white space on the pages and what Didion doesn't say is as important as what she does. To the surprise of the others, we four said that we found it the far superior book.

One of the great ways that this book differs from the West is in its internal, psychological nature. It's an anatomisation of the deeply psychological effects of a world in which amorality rules, and where there is no acknowledgment of consequence and cause and effect. Nothing applies, says Maria at the start of the novel: To look for "reasons" is beside the point. One may as well simply accept the chips where they fall, 'play it as it lays'. It is an attitude she has been forced to adopt, but, ironically, she goes on - only because she has been asked to by her carers, she says - to describe a childhood and background steeped in a loss likely to induce the kind of yearning that Hollywood famously encourages yet thwarts. Two significant moments in the novel indicate the depth of the sense of loss and consequence she is forced to repress. Post abortion, Maria and Les Goodwin manage a rendezvous, but it is pervaded by a sadness signaling the end of their liaison. On the drive back they convince themselves that the causes were circumstantial: They mentioned everything but one thing: that she had left the point [her aborted child] in a bedroom in Encino. Towards the end of the novel Maria is told by BZ, the husband of her friend Helene, that Carter is sleeping with Helene. Presumably in response to Maria's facial expression, BZ comments that she's 'faking herself' if she cares, if it makes a difference who is sleeping with whom. Eventually Maria assents, but not before she has confessed: 'It makes a difference to me.' And subsequent events - the events that will end in Maria's institutionalisation - indicate that BZ too is more affected than he will admit.

In his introduction to the American edition we all had, David Thomson suggests that there is a flaw in the novel, taking his cue from a Paris Review interview in which Didion confessed to a prior indecision about whether to tell the story in the first or third person, finally plumping for first person for the present-day frame and an intimate third person for the backstory. He suggests that the more insightful institutionalised first-person Maria is closer to the author than the passive Maria of the third-person backstory, and sees in this a discrepancy. Personally, I disagree that this is a discrepancy (and think this shows the dangers of writers talking publicly about the trials of their process). It seems to me that the Maria of the first-person frame is in the process of freeing herself from the psychology of the backstory. She is no longer drugged; she is putting that past behind her: she refuses to see those past players when they visit her. And, while she denies the usefulness of looking back on the past for 'reasons', glance back at that past she does, at which it unfurls in all its cause-and-effect vividness. Insightfully, Thomson points out that the novel opens up the nature of film narrative and what the concentration on exteriors does in the way of Novocain-ing internal things. I would add that it is also paradoxically an enactment of the potential healing power of story.

The four of us were so enthusiastic about this book that others immediately wanted to borrow it, but when I asked for my copy back from Jenny in order to write this report, she said that it hadn't grabbed her: she'd enjoyed what she'd read (about half of it) but hadn't felt compelled to go on with it and had fancied reading 'something trashy', the latest Le Carre, instead.

Our archive discussions can be found here and a list of the books we have discussed, with links to the discussions, here.