Roberta Recommends: June 26 ’07

June 26, 2007 at 8:27 pm (Book clubs, Book review)

I’d like to suggest six contemporary novels for book clubs to consider discussing. I have a very scientific method for deciding what would be a good choice for book groups. Here it is:

Step One: I read the book.

Step Two: I grab the first fellow book lover that I encounter and exclaim, with the utmost urgency (and preferably while shaking him/her by the shoulders): “Have you read [Whatever]? Please read it immediately – I HAVE to talk to someone about it!!”

Well, there you have it. And here are the suggestions:

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. I’ve recently posted a review of this novel. All I can say in addition is: It’s a tiny little book that packs a huge wallop. The shoulder-shaking urge mentioned above was powerfully upon me when I finished it.

peterackroyddegree.jpg lambs-of-london.jpg The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd. Many of us from my generation grew up with Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb being urged upon us by parents and teachers. The first misconception that Ackroyd’s lightly fictionalized account of their lives clears up concerns the relationship between these two: They were brother and sister, not husband and wife. And Mary had some serious mental and emotional problems, which ultimately manifested themselves by her committing a horrific act of violence. This novel provides a vivid picture of life in early 19th century London; moreover, it is extremely readable – a quality I often find lacking in historical fiction. (Peter Ackroyd is one of my favorite writers and will be appearing in future posts about books that I treasure and wish specially to commend to fellow readers.)

nunez_elizabeth.jpg prosperos-daughter.jpg Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez. In this novel, Shakespeare’s Tempest is re-imagined in the Carribbean. Forced to flee England with his infant daughter, Dr. Peter Gardner commandeers an island, setting himself up, Prospero-like, as the sole ruler of his small tropical realm. Characters analogous to Caliban and Ariel duly appear in the course of this absorbing narrative. This novel might profitably be discussed alongside the Shakespeare play. And Nunez’s descriptions of the tropics are simply gorgeous!

jane-gardam.jpg old-flith.jpg Old Filth by Jane Gardam. I admit, this is really a novel for hard core Anglophiles – like me. The title is unfortunately offputting. I’ve known the word “filth” to be applied by various low life characters to the police – at least, in the British police fiction that I have read. In this case, it is a nickname for a retired barrister, Sir Edward Feathers; the nickname came about as the result of an acronym: “Failed in London, Try Hong Kong.” Having spent almost his entire professional life in that distant city, Sir Edward, now widowed, has returned to live out his retirement in Dorset. These bare bones facts don’t begin to hint at the riches that emerge over the course of this novel, which is in a sense a retrospective of England’s age of empire, now almost wholly over, as mirrored in the life of one seemingly ordinary man.

mary-lawson.jpg other-side-of-the-bridge.jpg The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson. In 2002, Mary Lawson’s Crow Lake, a slim volume of considerable power, became a great favorite with my library colleagues. It was this Canadian author’s first work of fiction, and in such cases, readers are understandably anxious lest the follow-up be less than stellar. The good news here is that if anything, The Other Side of the Bridge is even better than Crow Lake – deeper and richer. Set in rural Canada (as was her first novel), Lawson’s tale of the fatal rivalry between two brothers has Biblical resonance. Her characters are intensely alive; her storytelling powers are formidable.

The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers. I’ve already written about this book in two previous posts. If I had to choose a book that I myself would like to lead a discussion on in the near future, this would be it.


  1. Summer reading list, 2008 « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] a pleasantly eclectic list. A number of my own suggestions have already appeared in these pages: The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson, What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman, Never Enough by Joe McGinniss, The Tinderbox […]

  2. Books to talk about – a personal view « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] – Penelope Lively Second Honeymoon and Other People’s Children – Joanna Trollope Prospero’s Daughter – Elizabeth Nunez Digging To America – Anne Tyler The Emperor’s Children – Claire Messud […]

  3. Roberta recommends: an eclectic group « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] and irony that many of us treasure in the British novelists. In a prior post, also entitled “Roberta recommends,” I briefly discussed Old Filth, the story of retired barrister Sir Edward Feathers. The Man in the […]

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