On 24th November Yasmin and her deaf daughter Ruby arrived in Alaska. Within hours they were driving alone across a frozen wilderness -where nothing grows, where no one lives, where tears freeze and night will last for another 54 days. They are looking for Ruby's father. Travelling deeper into a silent land they still cannot find him. And someone is watching them in the dark.
Why did we chose this book?
The group have previously discussed "Sister" and enjoyed it so when Lupton's new book was published, people were keen to read another of her novels. It is also part of the "Richard & Judy" Book Club Spring Reads which the group generally feel are well chosen titles that always suit busy mums who are looking for an enjoyable, engaging and well written read but not something that requires too much commitment or is overly intellectually challenging! As a popular paperback, it also means it's readily available, generally on offer in WHSmiths, available in the Library and a few copies were discovered in the charity shops! The book is also set in Alaska so it felt like a timely read for the winter!
How long did we have to read the book?
Six weeks - plenty of time! Everyone had managed to read it!
Where did we meet to discuss the book?
Our location varies depending on babysitting and our husband's unpredictable work commitments! Sometimes we meet in a pub at a central location - pubs are often able to reserve an area for a big group and it also takes the pressure of anyone having to host a larger gathering- it's also a bit of a treat and means people can nibble / eat. Otherwise, we alternate between people's sitting rooms. I prefer this as it makes it a really informal evening and there's nothing better than curling up on a friends sofa with a bowl of doritos, talking about books! However it also depends where everyone lives and how well you all know each other. If you are a more disparate group, a neutral location might suit better. If you are a group who know each other well and are very comfortable together, there is the danger of relaxing a little too much and "forgetting" about the book (!) so it is helpful if someone is happy to "take charge" a little to direct the conversation - obviously you should still make sure there is plenty of time for socialising after the book has been reviewed!
It was an all round hit! A very rare occasion! Everyone had enjoyed it and most of the group said they would rate it at least 4/5 star - a few said higher. We all agreed we would recommend it.
What did we like about the book?
- The location - it is a very dramatic backdrop, very atmospheric and such a complete contrast to our own environment. We liked the sense of isolation, desolation, darkness and "sound of silence." It was easily the most captivating aspect of the novel. Some discussion of Davina McCall's TV series about survival ensued!
- Imagery - the setting is beautifully evoked. The imagery of stars and their use as a repeated motif was particularly effective. The description of the weather - particularly the wind - creates a lot of menace and the lack of night and day allows both the characters and readers to become completely disorientated and lose any concept of how long the journey is really taking.
- The role of deafness and communication - we discussed this at great length, along with the relationship between Ruby and Yasmin. In fact, everyone found the exploration of both these themes as intriguing as the crime and possible murder plot line which felt a little bit of a sub plot or mere back drop! Someone picked up on the notion that the imagery describing the isolation of the landscape was also repeated through the isolation felt by Ruby with being deaf and Yasmin's isolation from her daughter through her misunderstanding of what Ruby really wanted or needed to feel "heard" and "normal" and her misinterpretation of what was "best" for Ruby. We also talked a lot about hands and words and how they took on a much deeper significance within this story.
- The theme of being "found" - both in terms of searching / needing to be found in a very physical sense, as well as the mother and daughter needing to find each other on a much more emotional level.
Were there any disagreement or differing of opinions about anything?
A lively discussion of whether Yasmin was right to take Ruby away with her to a barren and unknown country where her husband was assumed to be dead.....What would you have done?! Who is more dependent on who?
The ending! Should it have finished earlier without the final scene? Was the ending ambiguous? Had they survived? What did the hares represent - happiness or death? Were the stars real or metaphorical?
In summary -
- People are already buying, sharing and recommending this book! A few people said it was the best thing they had read this year and probably the best of Lupton's novels to date. Everyone agreed that they had enjoyed the poetic style and the found the location fascinating.
- The group agreed they would describe it as an easy read that could be read quickly and fitted in to a range of genres - may be more of an adventure story than a crime novel but essentially was also about love, families, mothers and daughters.
- It is a huge compliment to Lupton's writing that everyone enjoyed the book - and enjoyed it so much! It's rare for the books we choose to have such a universal appeal across a group of (albeit all female) readers whose preferences range from Chick Lit to Sci Fi to Grip Lit and Literary Classics! Such an animated and long discussion of the book is also proof of its resonance and thought provoking content.
How do we choose the next book?
It's very informal and quite haphazard at times! Generally everyone is encouraged to bring along a book they'd like to put forward and then a vote is taken. As long as it's not always the same person bringing along a whole hoard of titles (I mean, who would do that? Seriously!!!) and the books vary in subject, style and genre then it doesn't really matter how the choices are made. Sometimes it's good to follow a theme or something topical or relevant to someone in the group. It's also good to choose something you might not normally go for - one of the best things about a book group is discovering a new genre or author. However, it is worth considering the dynamics and purpose of the group - is it more about re-establishing a reading habit and enjoying something? Meeting new people and socialising? Or is it about broadening your reading repertoire and literary criticism? Keep choices appropriate for the group and be fair! I've been part of groups before where there's been a rota to ensure fairness but it really depends on the formality and seriousness of your readers!
What are we reading next?
Love Anthony by Lisa Genova
Sounds like an interesting read with potential for good discussion. It deals with mothers, children and autism -of which several people are very interested- and a few of us already it had it on our "to read" pile. It also seemed like enough of a contrast from Lupton's book. We have another 6 weeks in which to read it.
Thanks so much to the Book Group for letting me blog about our lovely, relaxing evening that was really interesting and included a lot of laughter! And a fair amount of chocolate too! Looking forward to the next one ladies! Happy Reading!
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