The Fiction Faction - Archive - Sept-December 2002
Elizabeth Baines

September-October 2002 - Setting up the group

It was quite hard to set up a book group.
I met Don in the village, hurrying off the bus, and stopped him and suggested it. He said he'd wanted to be in a reading group for years, but the last thing he fancied was being outnumbered by a load of women, which as far as he knew was what book groups were like.
So, frankly, John and I set about scouting for men, and though we thought we'd never find any, in the end they outnumbered the women.
By the time we'd found enough members, Don had his diary heavily booked.
Mark was keen, but he's a long-haul flight attendant, and kept being off on trips. Trevor was quite mad on the idea, but was so busy fixing someone's kitchen and making someone else's sideboard he forgot and missed the planning meeting.
In the end, we got it together, and decided on our first book: Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.

November 2002 - The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2002)
We met at mine and John's. We had to bring chairs down from upstairs.
Everyone brought red wine.
Mark didn't turn up; he was on a flight to Hong Kong.
I introduced the book. Trevor hadn't read it (because he'd only just remembered about the group), so I recapped the story: an elderly couple try to get their family together for one last Christmas, while the history of the fraught family relations is unpicked.
I said I thought it was brilliantly written, with amazing empathy for all of the characters, and that as a writer I was dead jealous of it, and Jeanne, who is a fiction writer too, agreed.
Everyone liked it, nearly all loved it. Don thought Jonathan Franzen was exceptionally clever, and was very impressed by the depth of his knowledge about so many subjects, finance, railway engineering, restaurants etc.
Jeanne then said that, actually, she wasn't so impressed by that, she could have done without all those technical details, and in fact found herself skipping them.
Sarah then said that she'd skipped, too (she's a doctor and doesn't have a lot of time) and that basically she found the book too long. She also said that she wished the characters' different stories had been more intertwined, and not presented in discrete clumps as they are.
All in all, though, we gave it a big thumbs-up.
Then Don and Jeanne, who are married and live some way from the rest of us and like to get up early to write, went home.
We opened another bottle and Trevor said that though he hadn't read it he was very impressed by the book from our discussion, especially the old-bloke father character. He said there are people like that, and told us about a guy he knew who was.
Then Sarah said how nervous she had been about joining a reading group with literary types like me and John and Don and Jeanne, and Doug who is an accountant agreed with her, and they both said it had turned out fine after all.

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December 2002 - True History of the Kelly Gang
by Peter Carey (2000)
We met at Sarah's. Her house is very neat and tidy, unlike mine and John's. She had a huge Christmas tree with lights that faded and brightened and some very classy baubles and also some gaudier ones she's had since she was a child. She had made mulled wine and little mince pies with leaf-shaped pastry on top. We ate them all.
Mark didn't make it to the meeting, he was still on his way back from Calcutta.
I am sorry to say that none of us liked the book except Trevor, who only did so by changing his mind for the sake of argument.
Doug, who had chosen it, said he wished he hadn't.
I turned up late, because I'd been trying to finish it first, which I hadn't been able to make myself do beforehand.
We all agreed that the narrative voice was brilliantly and consistently done, but we were all bored by its one-dimensionality, and didn't have the same romantic interest in Ned Kelly which we suspected would override the problem for Australians.
We didn't find a lot more to say (and we couldn't remember the book well enough to refer to it in detail), so it was a fairly boring discussion, until Trevor changed his own mind by pointing out that, actually, life is like that for immigrants, and got us onto a more general discussion about that.
Don and Jeanne went home even earlier.
We had another bottle and then the rest of us left together.
We stood outside and looked up at the huge ash tree in Trevor's garden where an owl sits and hoots every night just before it goes dark. There was a big moon. The pavements were icy. Trevor followed us down the road in the wrong direction, away from the tree, still talking about immigrants' problems.
Then Sarah came out and called that Jeanne had left her glasses, and came and joined us, and we all stood in the middle of the road looking up at the tree again.

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