Sunday 8 March 2015

Tea and books on a short day...

Daylight savings time begins on this gloriously nearly-balmy morning, as the weather seems to have turned from bone-chilling cold to more seasonal temperatures.  I know this makes most people happy, and I will admit that it’s been a bit too cold for too long even for me, and I actually like the winter!  But it's still chilly enough to enjoy a steaming cup of chai tea, and with my Vanilla Scone as a treat, it's practically a perfect morning. 
My book group met yesterday to discuss Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson.  If you recall from last week’s post, this debut novel, which was written between shifts while the author worked as an audiologist, tells the story of Christine Lucas, a women who wakes up each morning with no memories from the past 25 years.  Due to an accident when she was in her 20s, she has not been able to form new memories, although in her most recent phase, she is now able to retain new memories for approximately 24 hours, but these are erased once she goes to sleep.  Her husband Ben has been taking care of her for the past few months, since she has been released from the care home where she had been residing for about seven years.  She has no recollection of Ben, or her life, or even most of her early memories from before the accident, although these sometimes come back in flashes.  She has been seeing a neurologist, Dr Nash, for treatment, and upon his suggestion, has begun keeping a journal.  Christine has been keeping these meetings and the journal secret from Ben, again upon Dr Nash’s recommendation.  As more memories from her past come back to her and she tries to piece her life together, she begins to suspect everyone and doesn’t know who to trust.  We as readers, too, are unsure who to trust as we get drawn into the complex web of lies and deceit that form the backdrop for Christine’s search for the truth.  Two of my ladies had read this book before but forgot the ending, and two had not read it.  The ones for whom this was a second reading enjoyed it less than the ones for whom this was their first time.  This very much echoes my own experience - I really enjoyed it the first time, and don’t recall having a problem with the ending then, but the second time was a bit more of a flat reading experience.  In fact, I first read this book and wrote about it in a post from February 2012, concluding with “What a fabulous first novel by this British writer”.  I included it on my Top 10 Books for 2012, too.  So maybe this is not a good choice of book to reread, as so much depends on the suspense created in the story, the sense of not knowing what is true or who to trust.  Even though my two ladies who have read it before said they didn’t remember the ending, I think having previous knowledge of the story takes away from the reading experience.  We all felt that it was confusing and difficult to follow, and that it was somewhat repetitive.  After talking about this, we agreed that this was likely done intentionally to mirror Christine’s experiences and to put the reader “inside the mind” of the main character.  We thought the author did a good job of creating a complex plot with a myriad of minute details of which he was somehow able to keep track and explain.  We discussed Dr Nash’s character, his actions and motivations.  Despite being a fairly minor character, his character is interesting to dissect and discuss.  As an aside, in the book, his name is spelled Nash, but in the film version is it spelled Nasch.  We discussed this, and decided that this was done to make him sound more German, and so align him with Freud.  Seems like a rather silly thing to do, but I haven’t seen the film yet so maybe there’s another reason.  Anyway, we discussed memory, and the importance of memory in terms of one's identity.  We talked about Christine’s affair, and her role in the events that occurred because of her actions.  We discussed the ending, and wondered why the final act was planned and executed, what the character had intended (I’m being specifically vague here so I don’t spoil it for anyone).  When this book was originally published in 2011, it received high praise from most reviewers, but the main criticism was about the ending.  All of my ladies also felt that it wasn’t the best ending, that it was a bit too quick and contrived, but we felt that this did not ruin the overall reading experience.  So the book generated good discussion and was fairly well-received by everyone (one member said she couldn’t put it down!), so it turned out to be a good book club choice.  For anyone who has not read this book before, here is some information to help you keep track of the story:  Christine’s accident happened more than 20 years ago, when she was in her 20s; she was in a hospital for a number of years, then in an institution for another seven years or so, and finally at Waring House for another seven or so years, before she was well enough for Ben to bring her home, but she has only been home with Ben for a few months; the whole book takes place over less than a month.  If you keep these things in mind when you are reading, you may find it a less confusing story. 
And I’m nearly finished listening to The Maze-Runner, a Young Adult novel by James Dashner, read by one of my favourite narrators, Mark Deakin.  This novel, the first in a trilogy, tells the story of a group of boys who find themselves in a compound they call the Glade, surrounded by a maze of stone walls on all sides.  These stone walls move each night, closing off the entrances until dawn, and the walls within the maze shift and move each day, too, making the maze, and thus the escape route, nearly impossible to solve.  In addition to shifting walls, there are the nasty Grievers with their squishy bodies, metal spikes and countless stingers who live in the maze.  One new boy each month arrives in the Glade, and the novel opens with Thomas arriving in the box, which delivers him unceremoniously one day, equipped with no memory of what his life was like before and no knowledge of what his future holds (hmmm… I sense a theme in my reading choices here!).  As Thomas tries to fit into the group of boys already in the Glade, he does not experience flashes of memories from before, but rather he senses things that were part of his earlier life, as well as what he should be doing to work with the others to help escape this new reality.  I’m not a huge fan of Young Adult novels, but this is one I’ve been interested in reading for quite some time.  It was also recently released as a film, which I haven’t seen.  I have just one more Part to listen to, and hope to finish it today.  So far it is an interesting listening experience, but I’m not sure I want to listen to the next two books in the trilogy.  One of my library helpers really enjoyed this book and is now reading the second one, The Scorch Trials, which he said is not as good.
That’s all for today - time to get outside and enjoy the mild sunny day!

Bye for now…

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