Last Saturday our bimonthly Room To Write Book Group had its latest meeting to discuss our last set of books in the Reading Down The Decades project where every two months we read three iconic novels which represented in turn the Sixties, the Seventies, the Eighties. And now we were onto the Nineties. The books, chosen by our leading muse Gillian Wales were: Reading Turgenev by William Trevor; Amongst Women by John McGahern and Regeneration by Pat Barker.
I own all these books, having had read them when they were current but – being a swot! – I read them all again, This time my treat was a to read them on my new, customised Kindle. These novels were still a joy to read and appreciate again. I loved reading them in this fashion. I found the process absorbing and at the same time surprisingly swift. It was so easy to concentrate on the words.
I particularly liked the fact that I could highlight and make a separate set of verbatim notes of lines, phrases and paragraphs as great phrases struck me, Reviewing these notes on Kindle was like reading the novels all over again and they made good notes for the meeting. (These notes would make a good basis for an article on any or all of these books…)
Our group consists of ten compulsive readers, including three senior librarians,one biographer four writers and one aspiring poet. In one way the discussion was easy.These novels were all by great writers. They deserve their iconic status. This was a given. We did not need to re-invent some literary wheel.
Our opinions were quite varied and reflected the individual insights of our members but one conclusion was how entirely fresh and relevant these novels were for today, twenty years later. Regeneration brings to mind similar moral issues regarding fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the plight of military returners. Both Reading Turgenev and Amongst Women brought up the politics of both domestic and historical repression,. Most interesting was the discussion swerving to the issue of gender and writing, not just in the content but in the style and structure. For instance we thought Pat Barker and John McGahern had more similarities in their muscular, dark style than they had with William Trevor, whose brilliantly understated allusions have a gratifyingly feminine apprehension of the balance of dark and light even in a stultifying situation. We even got into a tangle about whether being passive could be an act of defiance and enabled the retaining a secret sense of self.
This is a great group. Very inspiring company for a Saturday afternoon..
My favourite verbatim quotes from my Kindle:
from Amongst Women: “Rose’s tact was so masterful that she resembled certain people who are so deeply read that they can play with all the ideas without ever listing the books,..”
from Reading Turgenev: "A person’s life isn’t orderly, Sister Hanna maintains; it runs about all over the place, in and out through time. The present’s hardly there. Only love matters in bits and pieces of a person…”
rom Regeneration: “Sometimes when you’re alone in the trenches, I mean at night, you get a sense of something ancient. As if the trenches had always been there …it had skulls on the side … like mushrooms …. it was actually easier to believe they were men from Marlborough’s army,…”
On a personal note I still think – as I thought in 1991 – that Billy Prior in Regeneration is the most compelling original character of the latter part of the 20th Century. And Rivers, the psychiatrist, is the most original, well imagined rendering of an historical person.
Looking forward to the next Kindle read for me: : Nicholas Nickleby for the next Bishop FM Writing Game.
My own books on Kindle: Paulies Web; The Romancer; A Woman Scorned, and Gabriel Painting.
Posted in Kindle, Mary Ann Cotton, Pat Barker, Paulie's Web, Room To Write, The Romancer, Writing Style Tagged Great novels, Pat Barker, Reding Group, William Trevor, Writing Style