“He had not understood, before battle, was that time could become a ribbon to be looped and pinned back to its center, the petals of a black rosette.”
27 Bookers safely escaped an “artillery shell dropping from the sky and the wind blowing knives” as they navigated to the home of Sheri Green, a secure distance from across the pond as in 1939 Londoners prepared to defend their homeland against the Axis forces directed by Hitler’s Germany. We are delighted new member, Brenda Karnofel, was able to join us and we hope she will become a regular.
When one of our own stares into uncertainty, we most often draw on our own strength to try to right the ship for those in need. All of our PWC members and especially Bookers are flexing our muscles to help Jane Freer and her family through this trying time – knowing our wall of courage will remain unyielding until Jane is strong again. She will be seeking a second oncology opinion on Monday to map out her treatment plan. Look for additional information on their needs via our PWC update emails. The Freers were touched and thankful for our outpouring of love in our cards and basket. We can’t walk in their shoes but we can be the Doctor Scholl’s insert that cushions each step.
Patsy Dehn gave a brief synopsis of the novel, ending with “It is a stunning examination of what it means to love, lose, and remain courageous” before introducing a surprise guest who took the red-eye in from London, author, Chris Cleave, impersonated by our own John Magee, who reportedly worried about how to look British!
Patsy, assuming the role of a Barbara Walters, questioned Mr. Cleave on a variety of issues… the difficulty of following up a wildly successful book like Little Bee… the intense research required to set the details and tone for the novel… the difficulty of switching scenes between London and Malta…the reward for the reader…the timing of eliminating characters…favorite moment…what he wants the reader to take from the novel…and does he have anything in the works for his next project. Mr. Cleave-Magee did his research, giving author-like answers to each of the inquiries with conviction, humor, and expertise. Maybe John should try writing, oh, By Jove, I think he has one in the works. Thank you Patsy and John for providing such creativity to this wonderful novel…it was a tutorial on how to from one of the best storytellers!
To summarize this masterpiece any better than the New York Times would be futile. “Cleave’s foray into historical fiction is both grand and intimate. The novel’s ability to stay small and quiet against the raging tableau of war is what also makes it glorious….an absorbing account of survival, racism, classism, love and pain, and the scars left by all of them….Cleave’s prose is imbued with a Dickensian flair, deploying brilliant metaphors and crackling dialogue.” Charles Dickens loved words often including powerful adjectives to describe people and their surroundings to develop a “feel” to the piece using his rhythmic style to evoke laughter or heart-breaking sentiment. Mr. Dickens would applaud Mr. Cleave’s creativity in using a ginger cat named Julius Caesar returned from the taxidermist unstuffed to pen a letter to one of the characters.
The author wrote an antithesis to a war story. His characters didn’t become spies, forfeit everything for love, or survive a serious but non-life threatening injury while saving dozens of men only to be triumphant and live happily ever after. Cleave wrote about what it means to be brave and will that courage be sustainable in infinity. With war on the horizon each character took a leap of faith to do all the “brave” things required during a conflict – giving up civilian comforts, risking their own lives, forfeiting their place in society to help those in need, running into burning buildings to save children, and fighting the Germans. The flip side of the bravery coin is weakness and none of his cast were immune to failure posing the question, “Who knows which takes more courage – to die in battle, or to live in vain?” Is the bar set so high for bravery as to eliminate the ability to forgive smaller acts of human behavior? Each character struggled to stay alive and/or to keep hope alive in an atmosphere where morality was not a simple choice and self-forgiveness difficult to reconcile. The Oxford dictionary identifies brave as courageous but it doesn’t designate where it applies. Bravery is not listed on a job description when a person enlists or is drafted into service, but the term assumes a person was brave if he gave up his life for his country, especially during war. Sometimes the brave ones are those who survived and have to live every day trying to forgive themselves for whatever they did in the name of bravery.
From the author’s notes, we learn the Malta siege is based on his maternal grandfather, Captain Hill of the Royal Artillery, who was assigned to mind the brilliant but overindulged son, Randolph Churchill, of the British Prime Minister. Cleave intended to write the novel by exploring the “power” dynamic between these two men, but as happens with best-laid plans he focused on his grandfather’s story in the character of Alistair. Mary North is inspired by both grandmothers to carry on a love affair separated by war “you must have enormous faith in life and in each other.” He says talking with his grandmothers about the war gave the impression, “it had been brief, uncomfortable, and not worth wasting breath on.”
The novel, well received within the majority of our group, did meet some resistance as it was described as dull, slow-moving, especially in the beginning with a love relationship between Mary and Tom that did not resonate with the reader. We discussed the impulsive actions of Mary and Alistair signing up to be part of the war effort as soon as war was declared; our opinions of the main characters; Zachery and Mary’s relationship; why Alistair couldn’t “weave himself into the new way” that London was moving after he returned; Mary’s thoughts on her “new freedoms” during the war; Mary and her mother’s relationship and the “sadness” Mary saw in her eyes; how everyone reacted during the first air raid; how Mary didn’t want London “put back the way we found it”; the significance of the jar of blackberry jam; where there moments of happiness in the novel; Hilda and Mary’s relationship; Mary’s reaction after seeing the minstrel show; and what drives the reluctance for service personnel who served during wartime to discuss their experiences.
We talked about the significance of the ending, which found Hilda and Mary waiting for Alistair at the Ritz. Mary and Alistair’s love affair wasn’t “slow with increments of dancing and dinner.” It consisted of an air raid and a farewell at the train station. Their reconciliation began with small talk as they each questioned whether love was real or were they actors on stage following a carefully written script. She was a teacher nobody needed, a daughter who embarrassed her parents, protected in her “nest” and only an “imprint in London clay, of inherited money and looks.” He stood up to the enemy while she was proud of standing up to her mother. Their cultures were colliding, but as they sat on the floor of the Tate museum, “daylight blinded her and she blinked until the world was restored….It was an unscrewing of tarnished brass plaques. It was one tile lost to the pattern. It was an air one might still breathe, if everyone forgiven was brave.” There was a chance for their relationship.
We ended with a hope for the future, “making forgiveness possible at a national level instead of only achievable between courageous individuals.” As Patsy quoted, “Choose peace – forgive to live.”
COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
December 7th: WEDNESDAY NIGHT @ The Pinnacle Club. We’ll celebrate the holidays in our decorated clubhouse with a plated dinner. Details to follow.
Seven Women by Eric Metaxas, inspirational biographies of what makes women great dwelling on a common thread of how these incredible women accomplished greatness because they are women, not in spite of being a woman.
Reviewer: Rebecca Brisendine
January 10th: Book TBD – Soon to be announced
Home of Donna Walter
February 14th: Miss Jane by Brad Watson, set in rural Mississippi early 20th century and inspired by his aunt’s true story.
Reviewer: Jean Alexander
Home of Pat Faherty
March 14th: Book TBD
Reviewer: Patty Evans
Home of Jean Alexander
April 11th: The Girl Who Wrote In Silk, by Kelli Estes, debut
The protagonist discovers an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in her deceased aunt’s island estate revealing a connection with a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before.
Reviewer: Pat Faherty
Home of Rokhshie Malone
May 2nd Earlier date due to travel conflict
Reviewer: Barbara Creach
Wine & Cheese evening meeting at the home of Melanie Prebis.
“The job of a novelist is to dig one small hole that must host a great number of men.”