I have a few things to talk about on this cool, sunny autumn morning as I enjoy a cup of chai: a book, a book club meeting, and a film.
I am in the middle of a psychological suspense novel by Sophie Hannah called A Room Swept White. This author’s name may seem familiar to you if you are a regular visitor to Julie’s Reading Corner, as I recently read her newest novel, Kind of Cruel, for review for the local paper and wrote about it here. A Room Swept White is an earlier novel of Hannah’s, published in 2010. It tells the story of three women, Helen, Ray and Sarah, who have been charged with and/or convicted of murdering their infant children on different dates in different areas. Their main connection is the expert witness, Dr. Judith Duffy, who played a significant role in each court hearing to convince the jury that natural causes could not have been a cause for death in each circumstance, that murder was the only cause they could consider to be reasonable. Years later, with the help and guidance of JIPAC, Justice for Innocent Parents and Caregivers, spearheaded by Laurie Nattrass, a brilliant, eccentric documentary director and social activist, they have been released from prison or acquitted of the charges. One day shortly after Helen’s release from prison, Nattrass calls Felicity “Fliss” Benson, a TV producer at Nattrass’ media company, Binary Star, where he suddenly and inexplicably offers her his job, as he has decided to leave the company and work elsewhere. She has just received an anonymous letter, a card with 16 numbers arranged in a grid pattern, that appears to have no meaning. On the same day, Helen is found murdered, and it is revealed that she, too, recieved a card with the sixteen numbers, which was left in her bathrobe pocket during or after the murder. Fliss also has a deep personal secret, which she is reluctant to tell her friend, the police, or us, the readers, but which she alludes to regularly. It is a real page-turner, filled with increased suspense, as the more that is revealed, the more it seems there is to uncover. When I read her most recent novel, I had difficulty keeping the mismatched, eclectic members of the police investigation team straight, and I found it interesting that the same police investigators are also working on the case in this novel. So while it is not really a series, the same police seem to feature in some or maybe all of her novels. I find her writing a bit confusing, but the stories are so compelling that I will definitely read others she has written, if they prove to be as suspenseful and interesting as these last two have been. I hope to finish this novel by early next week.
I had my first meeting with my newest volunteer book group yesterday, where we discussed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Hadden. This novel is told from the point of view of Christopher Boone, a 15-year old autistic boy in the UK who is living with his father. It opens with Christopher’s discovery of the neighbour’s dog, Wellington, lying dead on her lawn with a pitchfork sticking out of its body. He determines to solve the mystery of Who Killed Wellington?, and the reader is treated to a look at his unconventional thought processes as he undertakes this challenge to solve the mystery and find the answer. When I discussed this novel with my other volunteer book group, everyone loved it. They thought that it was a real success story, that the writing and story were creative and interesting, and that the characters were flawed but believable. My husband loved the book, too, as did my good friend, a huge reader who learned about this title from my blog post last year. But the ladies in my group yesterday did not love the book. There were three members besides me, and they all agreed that they found the book “disturbing”. One women said her former husband, who spent time in jail and was, shortly after his conviction, diagnosed as autistic, used to send her letters from prison that included diagrams similar to those featured in the novel which were drawn by Christopher to help the reader understand how he thinks. She also felt worried for Christopher, being all alone on his quest, with seemingly no support in his efforts to find his mother. She wondered where the Social Services were, and why no one was ever called to help the family deal with their situation. I also felt this way occasionally throughout the book, and we discussed whether a book like this could be instrumental in bringing to light the inadequacies of the support systems offered to families who have members with special needs. Another woman in the group has a son who is autistic, so she didn’t really enjoy the book. The third woman found the opening scene, featuring the murdered dog, to be disturbing, but she enjoyed most of the rest of the book, particularly the creative, unorthodox way it was written, including diagrams, Appendices, and lists. In the end, they were all glad to have read the novel, and were looking forward to our next meeting. I thought that this was a good example of the ways in which our personal history and experiences influence our responses to books we read.
And I had a small “Hedgehog Party” last night. Well, only one person was able to make it, one of the women in my “Friends” book group who recently discussed The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I purchased the DVD of the film adaptation of this novel (French with English subtitles), and I had a box of Mini-Hedgehogs from Purdy’s Chocolates (YUM!!) purchased specifically for this occasion, and so last night we sat down and watched the film while my husband was away at a “`Boys Night Out”. I tried hard not to compare the film with the book, and I think it would be an impossible job to do justice in a film adaptation to a book that was so filled with internal thought processes and abstract discussion. In the end, we both wondered if we may have enjoyed the film more if we hadn’t read end enjoyed the book so much. It was pretty good, and I guess I would recommend it to anyone who has not read the book, as it is an interesting and moving story, but I would definitely caution anyone who loves the book to be prepared for significant differences and omission in the film version.
That’s all for today!
Bye for now…
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