Monday, March 18, 2013

Reading group: Ian McEwan's Saturday

Warning: plot spoiler.

Mark suggested this book which he said he really admired, considering it a truly great book:  a novel set, like James Joyce's Ulysses and Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, in the course of a single day, the day here being the momentous one of Saturday February 15th, 2003, when hundreds of thousands of protestors converged on London to demonstrate against the Iraq invasion. It concerns minutely the experiences and thoughts of neurosurgeon Henry Perowne, from the moment he wakes before dawn in his beautiful and beautifully appointed several-storey town house on Fitzroy Square - when he sees from the tall window a plane on fire and hurtling down towards Heathrow - to the moment he falls asleep at the end of the day. In between, he watches the news for information about the plane he saw (by lunchtime it turns out it was a cargo plane that landed safely and its fire was put out; it was after all no terrorist event), and makes his way through the rituals of his own private day (comfortable chat in the kitchen with his amenable blues-guitarist son Theo, lovemaking with his beautiful lawyer wife Rosalind before setting off into demonstration-clogged London in his top-of-the-range Mercedes for a squash game nearby, shopping for, and later cooking, a fish stew for an evening family get-together, a routine visit to his mother suffering from dementia in a nursing home, and a visit to a rehearsal of Theo's band), rituals punctuated and threatened, along with the whole of Perowne's extremely comfortable life, by two dramatic events concerning a thug, Baxter, and his henchmen, and indirectly caused in the first place by the peace march. All of these events are filtered through Perowne's highly introspective and visually observant consciousness, his thoughts about the state of the world and his appreciation of his own material comfort and relish for the modern technology that facilitates it.                                                                                                                        

Mark began his introduction by reiterating his admiration for the book. He said it was full of wonderful set pieces: the lengthy descriptions of brain surgery, and most especially the 16-page description of the squash game. The writing was superb, the sentences brilliant. Mark said he found stunning the brilliant and accurate way the squash game was conjured up, and thought it just an amazing feat of writing. He thought the book was exceptional in capturing the atmosphere and preoccupations of our times. Finally, though, he said that he did have to concede that the denouement is ridiculous, in which Baxter - having invaded Perowne's home, threatened the family with a knife, forced Perowne's daughter Daisy to strip and demanded that she read a poem from her own newly-published book of poems - is put off his guard by being overcome by the poem she does actually recite, Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach.

There was now a huge chorus of derisive agreement about this last, and expressions of strong dislike for the book. Everyone else had found it tedious, the squash game in particular, which some said they had skipped; many had found the descriptions of brain surgery ridiculously preening and self-congratulatory as well as tedious, Ann saying she had skipped all but the first (Mark said that McEwan had done two years' research so of course he had to use it! and was met with howls of protest that Of course he didn't!), and someone, I think Jenny, roundly said that the book was smug.

John expressed a certain doubt about this last: was the book really smug, or was the author McEwan, a famously controlled writer, perfectly aware of Perowne's potential smugness and distanced from it? McEwan has insisted that, in spite of the novel being set in a house identical to his own Fitzroy Square townhouse, he isn't to be confused with Perowne and his views, as some critics have assumed. John noted that at times McEwan points to Perowne's potential failings: the fact, for instance, that he can't relate to literature in spite of his rising-star poet daughter and his very famous poet father-in-law John Grammaticus, and the fact that his son Theo needs to point out to his ridiculously un-streetwise and possibly patronising father  that he may have made a mistake in humiliating Baxter (in his first, morning encounter with him). While Perowne presents his daughter with arguments for the invasion of Iraq, his daughter's opposing view is also carefully presented, and elsewhere, towards the end of the novel, Perowne expresses doubt about the pro-war position he has espoused in the argument. But John said he simply couldn't decide while reading precisely what was the attitude of the author to the character. I said, In fact, Perowne expresses a fair amount of doubt about his own actions and perceptions, he's constantly turning them over and questioning them, but I too felt there was a certain air of smugness, a self-congratulatory satisfaction about that very self-questioning characteristic.

I thought that the clue lay in the fact that I found the viewpoint of the novel hard to grasp. In a long 2009 interview with Daniel Zalewski for The New Yorker which I have read since (culled over months of meetings with McEwan and running to 14 pages), McEwan talks of using a 'free indirect style' to stay close to the thoughts of a character but also to be able to comment on that character. He is referring in the interview to his novel Solar (then in progress) but I presume the comment also relates to Saturday. Although I had agreed with Mark that the novel was good on the level of the sentence - the sentences sound beautiful, elegant, and their meanings ring with clarity - I don't think McEwan employs this mode as cleverly as his reputation as a master manipulator of prose would indicate. Perowne, the only character whose perspective is presented throughout, is established early on as introspective, a 'habitual observer of his own moods', and the use of the intimate third person leads us into his introspections. Very early on, he thinks back over the previous day and the surgical procedures he performed. But as I read I found myself instantly wondering, What neurosurgeon describes to himself the procedures he conducted in quite this wide-eyed, detailed and instructive way? The overall perspective, however, seems very intimately Perowne's: going over one patient's medical history, he remembers, 'The tumour was remote from the frontal lobes. It was deep in the cerebellar vermis' which seems to me accurate doctor-speak. But then the next sentence follows thus: 'She'd already suffered early-morning headaches, blind spots and ataxia - unsteadiness,' and one is tempted to ask: what neurosurgeon needs to explain to himself what ataxia is? In other words, rather than the free-flowing effect of a double viewpoint (of both author and character) for which McEwan is aiming, we get one (unconvincing) viewpoint disrupted by a clumsy authorial intervention, a direct address to the reader. Throughout I often found myself wondering, Whose viewpoint is this supposed to be? Whose musings, at any moment, are these really, Perowne's or the author's? I also found a clumsy clash of fiction and fact, and a consequent disruption of suspension of disbelief, in the way that John Grammaticus, a fictional character, is meant to have publicly competed with our real-life well-known poets for their prizes and professorships. This section, in which real-life poets such as Heaney are name-checked, and which seemed while I was reading it to be Perowne's introspective memories of  Grammaticus' career, ends with a statement that none of the names mean anything to Perowne - which of course makes it unlikely that he would remember them in such detail, and once again there's a skewing of perspective, and a suggestion that we had not been quite as intimate with Perownes' consciousness as had seemed. And what about this use of the protagonist's surname, Perowne? Who ever thinks of himself by his surname? (Or indeed thinks of his father-in-law by his surname, as Perowne does?) It's a distancing which signals the viewpoint of the author rather than the character. But then what novelist getting inside the mind of a character thinks of that character by his surname? Perhaps McEwan moves in a different world from mine, where people do still think of themselves and their close friends and colleagues by their surnames, but to me it struck a psychologically false and possibly pretentious note.

Now other group members exclaimed that they found smugness in the fact that everything about Perowne is so perfect: his house, his car, his perfect marriage - his wife so beautiful and dynamic that he has never once had a moment's thought of being unfaithful and with whom he still has such an active love life that they make love twice in the day - the second time after Baxter's traumatic intrusion! - his so, so talented children and of course his famous father-in-law. People said they couldn't stand any of the characters, John (to cries of agreement) said that in any case the women were just fragrant objects - Rosalind, Perowne's wife, is freqently referred to as 'childlike' - and Trevor said he couldn't stand the unrealistically benign Theo. I said that Theo was a character I liked (I didn't find him unrealistic, but then I know some really nice young men!), but I did find that the novel carried a certain self-congratulatory note about the fact of his benignity. People found a lot of things - beside the risible denouement - highly unbelievable. Why, John said, would you bother to get out your car just to go a few streets in London to play a squash game (it's a crunch in the car that begins the trouble with Baxter)? Ann, who had actually been on the demonstration, said, And especially on that day: all the roads were closed and no one would have tried to drive! And what about Perowne managing to play a really hard game of squash after the thumping and immensely bruised chest he's received from Baxter? And as for the fact that in the end, after throwing Baxter down a stone stair, from which Baxter incurs a broken skull, Perowne (full of wine!) would have either wanted to or been allowed to operate on the man who had just broken into his house, threatened his daughter with rape and held a knife to his wife's throat...!

Mark said, Come on, you're all being far too pedantic - it's fiction! And Trevor joined in and said Yes, you can do anything in fiction! Ann said, Yes, you can as long as you make it believable, but none of the rest of us had found these things believable. I said, it's particularly problematic because of all the very minute realistic details: it's a novel that seems dedicated to realism, so you need to have psychological realism too. Mark said, But these aren't mistakes, McEwan knows what he's doing, he's very controlled. Doug and I replied, Yes, he's very controlled, but that's the problem: everything is manipulated (for the sake of both ideas and plot), over-controlled; it's not organic and it doesn't work. I said that I had felt that the hold-up scene was particularly manipulated: the dialogue seemed ridiculously, even embarrassingly unrealistic and I could feel McEwan straining to decide who would do or say what next in this scene that he had decided (intellectually) to set up. As a result, I found obscene the moment when Baxter makes Daisy take off her clothes, manipulated as I felt this moment was by the author. Doug referred back to the stair-throwing scene, and the unrealistic fact - in view of recent real-life events - that there was no question of Perowne and Theo being in any trouble with the police for their actions in so seriously injuring their intruder: the hat-tipping air of 'Don't worry, guv, there'll be no problem' which, in spite Perowne's self-questioning, adds to the general air of unquestioned privilege hanging over the novel. I also noted that while Baxter is actually tumbling down the stairs Perowne takes the leisure not only to compare the man's bad fortune with his own privileged life, but to actually itemise his own blessings: 'the work, money, status, the home, above all, the family - the handsome healthy son with the strong guitarist's hands come to rescue him, the beautiful poet for a daughter, unattainable even in her nakedness, the famous father-in-law, the gifted, loving wife'. Early on in the novel McEwan tries to prepare for this by saying that 'a second is a long time in introspection' and in the New Yorker article Martin Amis is quoted as commenting on McEwan's brilliance in slowing the action down in moments of crisis and noticing things that others wouldn't. This is a classic technique, but it needs to be the author's viewpoint slowing things down. This is one passage that strongly primes us to believe we are firmly in the mind of Perowne - as Baxter first tumbles away 'Henry thinks he sees in the wide brown eyes a sorrowful accusation' - and as Doug and I said, it's psychologically unconvincing that the character would be so introspective in a moment of such crisis.

John and I were also made uncomfortable by the fact that, although Perowne struggles with his own prejudice against the thuggish Baxter and displays a certain sympathy with him for the fact that he's suffering from Huntington's disease, the prose refers to Baxter twice, without any apparent authorial irony, as 'simian' and once as 'monkeyish'. One of the biggest flaws, people noted, was the fact that Perowne could be so very introspective and yet care so little for and have so little understanding of literature - and someone noted that, since Daisy had spent her childhood learning poetry by heart, including the Arnold poem, it was unlikely that Perowne should fail to recognise it, and indeed not even have heard of Arnold - unless, that is, he had been a pretty distant and/or absent dad, which would rather give the lie to his supposed loving relationship with her, and maybe explain its air of somewhat sentimental artificiality. Someone now said that it was pretty unlikely anyway that a surgeon should be so introspective, that in fact they tend as a profession towards the opposite, and indeed although some of us in the room had known many doctors we had never yet come across an introspective one, leave alone one of such depth of introspection, which leads one to suspect the conflation of author and character that McEwan so strongly denies. Even Mark agreed with this, and by the end of the discussion, although he still thought the book good, I think he had shifted a little in his view.

Jenny said, to general agreement, that the one bit of the novel she liked was Perowne's afternoon visit to his mother in the nursing home, in particular her dementia-induced speech with its fragmentation and blurring of past and present. Her speech contrasts sharply with the dogged realism of the rest of the prose, and in fact has the unexpected and poetic associations and perceptual disruptions which are very often the chief pleasures of fiction.

Clare, who had been unable to attend the meeting, and was later told that many of the group had hated the book, responded that she certainly hadn't hated it, but 'on the whole enjoyed reading it and wanted to finish it'. She said though that she had liked others of McEwan's novels better and thought this one was uneven. She hadn't really had time to formulate her thoughts, but off the top of her head she said she thought that in many places McEwan was working very hard to fill in enough detail to conform to the structure he’d given himself, ie all action in a single day, and that the detail was at times tediously obsessive, for example in the squash game.

EDITED IN (and developed from comments below): John has wondered since the meeting if the book is intended as more concretely symbolic than it has been taken. I remember now that he did start to try to say this in the meeting, but it's interesting that no one seemed to get what he was saying or took it up. Baxter, John suggests, stands for Iraq, which/who must be taken in line however much immediate damage this causes, but must be healed up afterwards by the agent doing so. Perowne stands for the liberal, cushioned West which is forced into an act of aggression for the sake of a greater safety. In this scenario, John suggests, the squash game between medical colleagues, conducted under the banner of friendship but expressing some real antagonism and aggression, is symbolic of the pre-war position-jostling between Bush and Blair. This interpretation also gives a symbolic meaning to the fact that the crunch in the car is caused indirectly by the peace march and its traffic-flow alterations: a symbol of the notion that peace moves would only facilitate the violence in Iraq. Contrasted with this is the plane Perowne sees on fire from his window: a counterpointing symbol of the notion that those arguing for the war are overestimating the terrorist threat to the West.
This does seem like the kind of thing the highly intellectual McEwan would do, but as John says, It's not very good if it isn't clear (or people find scenes too tedious to bother to read), and the whole message is undermined if on the human/character level the novel isn't psychologically convincing.

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

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Reading group: A Jew Must Die by Jacques Chessex

Once again other commitments have kept me from writing up the reading group report, and once again, I'm afraid, I have to rack my brains to remember the discussion.

The book was John's suggestion, a very short novella - perhaps really more of a long short story - set in April 1942 in the author's home town, the Swiss cattle-market town of Payerne, and recounting a true incident in which, as a 'birthday present' to Hitler, a group of Nazi locals (known to Chessex who in school sat next to the children of their leader, the thuggish Ischi) lure a Jewish cattle merchant into a stable and kill him with an iron bar.

My first memory is of John opening the discussion by saying that, short as the book was, it was certainly value for money, a statement with which I fully agreed, sensing others agreeing around me. He then went on to say what made it so: the spare prose, the calm, indeed stark way in which the author recounts the horrifying events, including the detailed process of the murder of Arthur Bloch which throws into ironic relief the town's previously homely tradition of butchery, a sobriety of narration which, as Jenny would say later, made the events somehow even more horrifying; the way the beauty of the surrounding countryside is contrasted with the moral ugliness at the heart of the town, and the way, especially, that the book anatomises the evil of idealism: the fact that the perpetrators saw their crime as an act of glory and wanted to be found out - Ischi walking towards the arresting policemen as if towards triumph and believing that once the Nazis took over Switzerland their action would make them heroes.

My next and main memory is of being most surprised, even shocked, to discover that Mark didn't think much of the book at all, and that to some extent he was backed up by Doug. Mark said it had left him absolutely cold, and he couldn't understand why it has had such a great critical reception. One thing he strongly felt was that it was banal and unoriginal. The book makes vividly clear that the main 'justification' for the murder - apart from the perpetrators' personal desire for political advancement - is the historic European resentment of the success of Jews in the professions and in business (Arthur Bloch being a supreme bourgeois example), now given impetus by Hitler's anti-Jewish campaign taking place beyond the Swiss mountains. Mark said, but we know that this is why there was general resentment of Jews, and he compared the book to the film Conspiracy in which the Nazi party plot their extermination campaign without ever referring to the imagined Jewish Conspiracy to dominate, but simply taking it for granted, which Mark found much more chilling. I was too stunned to gather my thoughts and say what I have thought since: that throughout history anti-Semitic propaganda set out precisely to deny the Jews any right to bourgeois or professional success by presenting them as dirty and subhuman, and inevitably (surely) in the process erasing or at least diminishing in many non-Jewish minds concepts of the Jew as bourgeois and professional. In addition, it seems to me that the shock I often still hear expressed about the middle-class and professional status of so many of those sent to the death camps implies that not everyone has an understanding that the notion of a Jewish Conspiracy fuelled European anti-Semitism and Hitler's Final Solution. Indeed, Trevor proved this by wondering suddenly during the discussion why, out of all the racism there is and has been in the world, Jews should have been so subject to such a sustained concerted campaign, and had to be reminded by Mark of the historical roots, the occupation of money handling falling to Jews in a time when such an activity was forbidden to Christians.

The book's revisiting of this historic and wartime prejudice is therefore to me salutary:
 A Jew has a bank account and a big belly - nothing surprising in that... The Jew grown fat from robbing us with his banks, pawnbroking and dealing in the cattle and horses he sells to our army. Our army!
and I find moving the contrasting depiction of Arthur Bloch as a typical yet exemplary and very human Swiss cattle trader:
With the point of his stick he presses on the flank of one of the animals from Villaz-Saint-Pierre, reaches out a hand, moves back to feel its haunch and gently strokes its neck... Arthur Bloch is deliberate, never peremptory or imperious. Unruffled and perspicacious, he displays the same wise caution as the local farmers. Rubbing shoulders with them, despite his difference he has long felt at one with them, that they esteem and respect him.
All I could think to say to Mark at the time was that just because we know things doesn't mean that they can't be anatomised in novels, but Mark retorted that in any case, and above all, the book didn't move him. Here Doug came in and said that for most of the book he found the same. I now remembered, and John reminded me, that while I was reading the book I had also commented that it wasn't moving - until, that is, I got to the end, to a years-later chance encounter between the author and the unrepentant pastor whose Nazi agitation was central to the plot, which I found devastating, and finally to Arthur Bloch's funeral: by then I was in floods of tears. Doug conceded that he too found the end moving, but he said it was hard to see why, with which I couldn't help but agree, as the prose at the end is rather declamatory.

There is probably a clue in the manipulation of viewpoint in the novel, which John commented on, saying he thought it brilliantly done. While adopting to begin with an omniscient third person and looking down on the town from an omniscient visual perspective, the book segues subtly into the viewpoint of the Nazi thugs, as in the first quotation above. Finally, we get the angry, grieving years-later viewpoint of the author confronted by the pastor's continuing hatred, and looking back on the whole affair. It is the contrast between the earlier cool anatomisation of the situation and the author's final outpouring that is so devastating. As John pointed out, far from being unoriginal, the book is special in being written by someone who was at the time embedded in anti-Semitic Swiss society. At one point Jenny commented that the book is about shame.

In response to Mark's objection, Ann also pointed out that the book is about far more than the single incident of the Nazi murder of one man by a handful of thugs in a single rural Swiss town, but (I think she said) wider issues of racism and prejudice and the way that the poison of seemingly distant events can filter into the smallest communities and make all of us culpable.

People commented on the title of the translation, A Jew Must Die. Jenny said she had been reading the book on the bus and it had suddenly occurred to her how it might look, and had felt the need to cover it up. It was generally agreed that the original French title Un Juif pour l'example (A Jew as an Example) was a more apt title for the book, although I can't help thinking that the English title is a clever way of endorsing, indeed enacting, the book's message of our culpability.

[EDITED IN: Ann has reminded me that one comment we made at the end of the evening was that the shortest book we have ever discussed had given rise to one of our longest discussions.]

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

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Guest post: Report on reading group discussion of Oranges are not the Only Fruit

I wasn't at the last meeting when the reading group discussed Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the well-known and acclaimed autobiographical first novel by Jeanette Winterson, in which a protagonist with the same name as the author is brought up to be a preacher by an adoptive and fanatically evangelical Christian mother who burns her books, but, discovering her lesbian sexuality, finally rebels and escapes to university.

Here is the report of the discussion written by John:

Jenny chose this book. Or rather she suggested two other books and was met by a number of people very obviously not keen to choose either of them. She then mentioned she’d seen a programme with Jeanette Winterson talking about her memoir, recently published, which she found interesting. There was then the suggestion that we read Oranges and general agreement.
Jenny, whose initials, like JW’s, are JW, said she felt very close to the book, being adopted herself in rather similar circumstances – she was adopted into a “working class” home and became a university lecturer. Jenny said her mother was not like JW's – but that she was nonetheless a mother with a mission.
Jenny said she had enjoyed the book, and that it is very funny. She (hailing from Stoke), Mark (Moston), John (Skem and New Mills) and Trevor (Bolton) all agreed about the interesting and vivid picture of life in Northern towns it presented. There was general agreement that the women were particularly well portrayed. Trevor said he could exactly imagine the cafĂ© – and at this moment Mark phoned to apologise for being late for the meeting. He was, he said, in the chippy with his kids and would be along soon (typical northern life!).
Jenny said she liked the book because it is short and sharp with no long words. I pointed out “marmalade” and “Factory Bottoms”, but she still insisted there are not many long words. Ann also admired what she called the matter-of-fact tone, “No violins”, no in-depth analysis of personality. Clare said the characters are great, and Ann added, Particularly the women, in general strong women, in an environment where the men are absent or weak. Ann and Clare agreed the mother was mad, gloriously mad.
Two particular incidents were mentioned: the father’s carefully wrapped birthday present to his wife, a catapult, I think to get rid of squirrels or some such, and another incident, typical perhaps of northern life, or perhaps of the non-rich everywhere: the pressing of a glass against a thin partition wall to hear what’s going on next door. Surprisingly, this was not the mother’s glass for her false teeth, but a wine glass! This led to a discussion of the mother’s background. She is not typical of the working classes in small northern towns, but has at least one wine glass, knows some French and has had a French lover, a relationship that seems ended for her with some regret. She is also a fan of the Brontes. However she tells JW her own versions: Jane Eyre ends early, with Jane marrying the preacher man, St John!
The mother’s husband is introduced early, but takes very little part in the book. JW refers to him early on not as her father, but as “her mother’s husband”. He oozes supressed aggression. The first paragraph of the book was discussed, in which the mother wrestles with God.  This is highly significant in terms of what we are told about the father. A man who says nothing and has such a wife, and spends much time watching wrestling must surely be someone who is suppressing aggression? The mother says nothing to him, and very little about him, one of her main statements being “He’s not one to push himself”.
Jenny said she wondered if she hadn’t previously read the book after all as she had thought, because she couldn’t find it in her house and wondered if she knew the story well because she knew it from the television series. It was agreed that the TV adaptation presented a more dramatic storyline. Ann wondered if the book is a memoir rather than a novel. Most agreed and it was stated that there is no central drama, but an attrition of information. The book drifted rather than focusing on the story. It was agreed there are non-memoir elements, that is the Arthur and the Knights stuff and the cod philosophy. It was felt that these last were “showing off”, though they had not particularly bothered any one – most people had skirted over them.
The symbolism of the title was discussed, and the large number of references to oranges in the text. The title [a favourite saying of the mother's] suggests that there are alternatives, and ironically the mother did not believe in alternatives but in good/evil, friend/enemy dichotomies.  Two possibilities for the meaning of the title were discussed: that there is the religious view of life and the non-religious, and  that there is not just one type of sex. The mother is well aware of lesbianism, having stopped the young JW going to a particular newsagent's shop, run by two women she “suspected”. The link between oranges and Nell Gwyn was mentioned, and after the group meeting a Google search of  “Jeannette Winterson” and “lesbian” brought up something like a million references. However “Nell Gwyn and lesbianism” brought up more.
I mentioned that in spite of any faults the book is a great achievement for an author who was so young when she wrote it, having been able to absorb much painful material.
It was agreed that JW was given a remarkable degree of self-confidence by being moulded by her mother – Ann mentioned the Jesuits, give me a child until he is 7... The groups’ attitude was that JW was both to be admired and pitied. Her famous entry for book of the year for a newspaper was mentioned, and the fact that most people put forward their friends, whereas she put forward only herself.
It was said that she seems in a way like Mrs Thatcher, but more vulnerable than was usually evident. Various members of the group seemed to think she’d had a hard time about 15 years ago, and had tried suicide.
This was one of the more popular books recently discussed by the group.
It was generally agreed that the last paragraph of the book is brilliant. “This is Kindly Light calling, come in Manchester, this is Kindly Light.”

The group went on to discuss its own possible claim to fame. Nicholas Royle’s recent novel, First Novel, set in our area and referring to real-life characters, mentions a reading group. There is the implication that this is a mainstream group, with possible negative connotations. I read out some passages from the book, which had been sent to one group member, directing them at Mark. It gradually dawned on him that he and his wife bore some remarkable similarities to a couple in the book, the wife having 'meringue-like breasts', which seemed to be intended as a compliment. Clare suggested that the group should choose to read and discuss the book. This was met with howls of horror and laughter. One member of the group is Elizabeth Baines whose blog this is. She wasn’t present however. She appears named in this book, with some physical description and apparent life details – and to no precise purpose it seems. All the group were shocked by this. They asked me, as a friend of hers, what she thought. * I said I didn’t really know. Three group members were enraged on her behalf.

* Elizabeth Baines: You can read what I did think about it towards the end of this post on my Fictionbitch blog.

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