January – The Exact Opposite of Okay

I didn’t choose these two books with a theme in mind, but there is a definite ‘Strong independent women’ link. The books are very different, but both have a storyline that explores a threat to the progression of women’s rights. 

The Exact Opposite of Okay – Laura Steven

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This book is pretty much the exact opposite of anything that I would normally choose to read. It is a Young Adult book, which in itself is not a problem, as I have read some pretty good YA books, but the book being about the sex life of a teenage girl and the ramification of her choices, would usually make me walk away. I have little to no interest in what teenagers get up to sexually, and am acutely aware of how the internet can be used as a weapon by bullies, so what was to be gained from reading this book? In all honesty, it turned out, for me, not much.

Did I hate it? No! I thought it was pretty well written (though I think the author would have been wise to set it in the UK, as it didn’t feel like America), and I can see why it is very well regarded as both a cautionary tale and a feminist book for millennials. Firstly it’s easy to see how Izzy, young, free and independent would think nothing of sleeping with two guys, it is after all her business and hers alone. It is also easy to see how, in this day and age, when everyone has a camera in their pocket, a voyeur at a party might film these sexual encounters. Wrong? Totally. Likely? Unfortunately Yes! Teenagers these days have so much more to worry about than we ever did in the 1980s.

Is it okay to sleep with multiple men if you are a single woman? Is it okay to slut-shame women who do? Is it okay to film people being intimate and share this online? Is it okay that people share nudes with their partner and then after a split, these are shared online?  Is it okay that women are judged more harshly for having sex or being naked than men are? Is it okay that your text messages can be used as a weapon against you? Is it okay that once something is put online it can never really be removed? All of these questions and more are covered by this book, the answer is, of course, NO it’s not okay. But it happens, and if this book makes our kids think a little more and try a little harder to be decent human beings then it is a winner! I gave the book 3* because I think if I was target audience, it would really get to me. The rest of the group gave it 2 – 3*.

Stepford Wives – Ira Levin

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So, this book was on a list of books that I thought I should get round to reading at some point, I had no expectations really, just hoped that it would be well written. I did have some knowledge of the story, in that for most of my life people have referred to women that they considered to be perfect homemakers as ‘Stepford Wives’. I had assumed this meant women who were pretending or forced to behave in this way, having been brainwashed, drugged or beaten into submission. The story, however, is even more sinister. I will not spoil it in case you have never read the book, but I was hooked.

for such a short book this had a huge impact. I watched as Joanna’s perfect new life in the town of Stepford unravelled. I felt panic as I realised that the town was hiding a sinister secret and I willed Joanna and her friend to discover what was going on and to get out of there. I loved this book, I read it in one sitting, It is a perfect rainy afternoon read. Even better, stick it in your bag when you are going on a train or plane, it isn’t heavy and is definitely worth a couple of hours of your time. I gave it a score of 5* and the rest of the group 4 – 5*, a little gem of a book which will keep you on the edge of your seat!

Happy Reading!
Mel x

October – Vox

Urgh it’s getting cold again, the only joy is that curling up in a blanket with a cup of tea and a good book is one of my favourite things to do, now where did I put my blanket?

Vox – Christina Dalcher

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Vox is yet another dystopian future book, which tells of a future in which an extreme right-wing government are responsible for the regression of human rights in America. Women and girls are fitted with wristband counters which limit the number of words they can speak per day to 100, after which they receive electric shocks. The concept is interesting; what happens to people if the ability to communicate is taken away? Unfortunately, the book was incredibly slow in getting started, so much so that I honestly thought I would give up on it. At page 50 I decided to give it another 50 pages so that I could join in the chat at book club. At page 100 I still didn’t love it, but there was enough going on to keep me reading, so it did pick up.

The story focussed far too much on Jean and her relationships and Dalcher left several characters, who had a lot of potential undeveloped. I wanted to know more about the mailman, his wife and the neighbours, however, the author sadly seemed to think it unimportant. The story is decent, though not particularly well written, and the main part of the book kept me interested enough to keep reading. Then it ended, I mean it just ended, and for me, (and the other book club members) the ending was deeply unsatisfying. I found it hard to rate this book because it wasn’t good, but I did get hooked for a while, so I rated it 2.5* and the others agreed. It’s an ok book that could’ve been much better.

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

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Wow! What a fantastic, well written, beautiful, heart-breaking book. Conor lives alone with his mother, and his mother is ill, very ill. Conor is only thirteen and he has been caring for his mum for over a year. He is mature in so many ways, but he is still just a child who is trying hard to be strong, to look after himself, to support his mum and to cope with the fear of the very real possibility of losing his mum. Conor is plagued by regular nightmares that he tries to push away, in these a creature tries to drag his mother over the edge of a cliff, and Conor is unable to hold onto her and save her.  His guilt over these calls the monster, which takes the form of a huge old yew tree. The monster says that it will tell Conor three stories during their next meetings, after which Conor must tell him a fourth tale in return.

The story is filled with emotion, difficult relationships and tough decisions, it is magical, yet real and human all at once. This young adult book is hard to read but utterly divine and it’s not difficult to see why it has been made into a film and a play. Ness wrote the story based on an idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd (whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself). I gave the book 4.5* and so did Carly, who was the only other one at the meeting who read it.
Happy Reading!
Mel x

July – The Psychology of Time Travel

Ooooh, it must be Sci-Fi month. This was not intentional at all, but it seems that we travelled into the realms of science fiction in July and for me, it was a refreshing change.

The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas

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A book about time travel and psychology, I’m in! Throw in a murder mystery and a romance out of time and I am hooked. Yes, this book grabbed my attention right away and held it until I finished the story two days later.  Was it perfect? no, but it was fun and it had so many twists and turns that I wanted to unravel that I really enjoyed reading it. The good: It’s a female-led novel with some really strong characters, a romance out of time and a murder that seems impossible. The main characters are well developed and for the most part very likeable and lovely relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter. The bad: There are too many characters and no time to develop some of them fully. The story is complicated and though I read the book quickly and it was hard to follow at times, if I had read it over a month or two I suspect I would be totally lost.

At the book club meeting, one of the girls suggested that it was too short and could easily have been much longer, maybe even a trilogy. This would have given the author scope to develop some of the other characters and maybe the plot could’ve been less rushed and therefore less complicated. It is a great holiday read but beware, our copy did not fare well in the sun, the glue became brittle and pages started to fall out, so if possible keep it in the shade. I really liked this book and would definitely recommend it, scoring it 4* and the other members of the group gave it 3.5*.

The Word for World is Forest – Ursula K Le Guin

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A fascinating wee book which takes the reader far into the future to a time when humans have destroyed the earth and are now taking over the planet Athshe. The humans have enslaved the placid native Athsheans and are destroying vast areas of the forest cutting down the trees to send wood back to Earth (Terra). The alarm bells started immediately for me; have they learnt nothing from destroying the Earth? Can you just colonise a new planet and make the natives work for you? How do they know that these Athsheans are non-aggressive? I mean it seemed like a recipe for disaster before I had even read the first 10 pages.

I will give nothing else away, but I will say that although it didn’t change my life, I really enjoyed reading this book. The way Le Guin writes is beautiful even when the subject matter is ugly and the joy of this book is that you can read it in a day, so if you are dragged into the story, as I was, you don’t have to put it down. I did find it a little predictable at times and would’ve liked more in the way of character development but I guess that’s difficult in a novella. I gave this book 3* and the only other member of the group who read it gave it 4*, so it’s a definite yes from us.

Happy Reading!

Mel x

April – The One

We had three books this month because it’s a holiday month and holidays mean more time to read, so I took ‘The One’ with me to Greece.

The One – John Marrs

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The blurb for this book really drew me in. It was a great idea for a novel; what if there is one person that is truly meant for you and what if you could find that person with a simple DNA test? Well yes, I want to read this book, sign me up! The book follows five people in their journeys to find ‘The One’ using the DNA test. You’d be crazy to think that these stories go well for each of the five right? Also, that would make for a very boring book; they met, the loved each other, everything was perfect… No, I wouldn’t want to read that book at all, the problem is the book I did read wasn’t great either.

The best thing about this book is that it was several stories in one and that made it easy to read. The problem was that without exception the stories were disappointing. They were predictable, utterly cringy or completely unbelievable. I spent most of my time shouting ‘please don’t go down that route…’ at the author and then rolling my eyes thinking ‘yeh, he did’. It is just naff.

I gave this book 1.5* for having a good concept, but the others in the group gave it between 2.5* and 4* and it has been very highly rated on Goodreads. This time I think you might just have to read it and let me know if you agree with me or not, as it may well be your kind of book.

The Old Man and The Sea – Ernest Hemmingway

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Sometimes I pick up classic books and as soon as I start to read I can see why they are so highly rated, not so with ‘The old man and the sea’ in fact I just don’t understand why it is even considered a classic. I read this book on the train to London with my daughter, she asked me what it was about and I said “a man is trying to catch a fish” half an hour later I looked at her and said, “he is still trying to catch a fish”. This book goes nowhere and although Hemmingway clearly writes well I was utterly bored by the story.

I did not read it looking for a deeper meaning than the obvious ‘Man needs to prove himself by catching a fish in spite of adversity’ and I’m glad I did not as Hemmingway himself said “There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”

Honestly, I would not recommend this book at all to anyone. I gave the book 1* and that was because of the style of writing, not the substance, the others gave the book a maximum 2*. The best thing I can say is that it only takes a couple of hours to read, so it’s not a huge waste of time if you fancy a book about a man and a fish.

The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

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This was cute. Was it perfect? no, but it made me smile and it had some really sweet moments. Yes it is sentimental, and yes there are storylines that make you roll your eyes, but actually, it has a lot of heart and some great characters that are likeable. The relationship between Bomber and Eunice was lovely, and his despair over his sister’s writing was fun, but I think I fell for the book with the introduction of Sunshine, not only did she add to the story but she also humanised Laura and made her more than just a romantic heroine.

Yes, it is fluffy, it is at heart a romance novel, which is odd because I liked it and romance really isn’t my thing, but this book was easy to read and mostly happy. I may be overrating this book because it was much better than the others this month, but I would give it 3.5*. None of the other members of the group read this one, so maybe just trust me or you can check the reviews elsewhere before giving it a go, I don’t mind at all.

Happy Reading!
Mel x

August – Caraval

This was a long hot summer, but with three books to read this month lying around and melting has never been easier. Luckily my mint plant loved the sun more than I did, so a long cool mojito and couple of hours on the sofa with a book in my hand became the saviour of my summer.

Caraval – Stephanie Garber

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I had such high hopes…

Caraval promised magic and mystery with a touch of jeopardy, and it delivered very little. This New York Times bestseller soon began to irritate, with its blah story and weak heroine. I chose this book for the book club on the grounds that it was recommended as being in the same league as ‘The Night Circus’, which is a wonderful book. Caraval may well have been inspired by this book, or by one of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy worlds, but that is where any similarity ends.

I had not realised that it was young adult fiction, but that became clear quite quickly, as it is full of teen angst and fluffy nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to suggest that all teen fiction is fluffy shite, it’s not, and there are some YA books that are amongst my favourite reads ever (Holes and THUG for a start), but I can imagine teen girls going weak over Julian in a way that I never would.

The main characters are underdeveloped, the romantic interludes are tedious, and everything is over-described with an overuse of metaphors and similes. How somebody managed to use so many words to describe so little is beyond me, if you cut half of the content from this book, it might have stood a chance of being a nice little story. The most disappointing thing is that this magical world just didn’t have any magic for me (aside from one fairly interesting dress). We gave this book 2* and I think that was generous tbh. Do yourself a favour and read ‘The Night Circus’ instead.

The Invisible Man – H G Wells

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It was about time that we threw another classic in the mix and The Invisible Man, being short and easily squeezed into a stuffed suitcase fitted the bill perfectly. The Invisible Man doesn’t start slowly, it begins with an already invisible ‘stranger’ arriving at an Inn, heavily bandaged. As the story develops, we discover more about Griffin, who he is, and how he became invisible.

The story, another to explore the relationship between science and morality has a different take on this. Other books of this ilk tend to conclude that science and the power that comes with scientific discovery will lead to corrupt morals (Jekyll & Hyde), The Invisible Man turns this on its head. The story takes an already morally corrupt man and through science gives him the power to do as he pleases. Either way though, we come to the same conclusion; science in the wrong hands is dangerous

I will not give anything away here, it’s a short book and it does what it says on the tin. I rated the book 3* and everyone else at the meeting gave it 4*, so it’s definitely worth the few hours that it takes to read it.

The Vanishing Futurist – Charlotte Hobson

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Never judge a book by its cover! No, DO, sometimes, just sometimes it pays off. I would never have bought this book had I known the subject matter before I fell in love with the beautiful cover. A book based on the Russian revolution really wouldn’t have caught my attention, but I am so glad it did. The book started well and then drew me right in. I was not in the mood for reading when I started this book (yes it happens sometimes), and was just about to flip on Netflix and find something mindless to binge on. I picked up The Vanishing Futurist, in an attempt to avoid the last minute reading book club panic, and in three pages I was stuck firmly in the story.

Gerty is a lovely character, written well, with a great mix of strength and naivety. Leaving rural England as a young woman to work as a Governess for a wealthy family in Russia in 1914 took a great deal of strength. The changes in the country over the four years covered in the book are immense, and her life there is nothing like the life that she anticipated when she took the job in 1914. Life with the Kobelevs was comfortable, she was well fed, well paid and happily, miles away from the Mother with whom she had such a poor relationship. The journey that Gerty takes both physically and spiritually over her four years in Russia is a journey that would mould the rest of her life, though she chooses to tell it only when she reaches old age.

The mystery of Nikita Slavkin (The vanishing futurist), which is the story that Gerty sets out to tell her daughter was secondary for me, but I am really pleased with how it was wrapped up in the book. Gerty’s story is fascinating and gives a great insight into the beginnings of communism, and the ideals that gave birth to it. I loved this book for its story, it’s characters and it’s historical and political commentary, which I thought was hard hitting at times, but isn’t that the point? I don’t often share quotes in my blog posts, but this really hit home, it is as true when describing 2018 as it is in the historical context of the Russian revolution.

“If all that our imagination can summon up is some limp, apathetic, cynical vision of a world just like the one in which we now live, then frankly that’s all we deserve.”

I gave this book 4.5*, for enveloping me in a world of which I knew very little, and for keeping me on the edge of my seat. The rest of the group agreed, and we would all recommend the book.

Happy Reading!
Mel x

June – Eleanor Olyphant is completely fine.

June is otherwise known as the ‘month of chaos’ in education, so for me even finding time to read was a challenge. I did manage to read both books but found myself with fifty pages of Brave New World left to read with only hours to go before the meeting.

Eleanor Olyphant is completely fine – Gail Honeyman

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It was one of those books, you know, the one EVERYBODY is reading this year. Everywhere I went it was being recommended, the reviews were phenomenal, and there were posters up advertising it, in fact being unaware of this book would only be possible if you were living on a deserted Island or perhaps on the moon. This is usually enough to make me run a mile away from any book, but for some reason, this time I gave in to the hype and I put this on the book club list.

The first thing of note is that the cover refers to how ‘funny’ the book is. I did not find this book funny at all, in fact, I was nervous as I read it, I was concerned and worried about Eleanor pretty much permanently, and this did not give me the room to laugh. The way I felt whilst reading this book is a reflection of how well written it is, and how well written Eleanor is. I cared about this wonderful oddball, I wondered why she was so socially inept, and I wanted only lovely things for her. Eleanor’s romantic interest in the singer of a local band makes her seem like a teenager with a crush and had the effect of making me feel very protective of her.

It is apparent early in the book that the relationship between Eleanor and her mother is destructive, and that there is a story there that we are not quite privy to, but it does give a dark undertone to the story. As this relationship unfolds later in the story we begin to understand Eleanor more and how the past has shaped her. I loved this book, and could not put it down, in spite of having a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched Eleanor stumble through various difficult situations. I gave the book 4.5* and the rest of the group rated it between 4* and 5*, so yes, it did live up to the hype and I am very glad I read it.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

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Brave New World is a Sci-fi classic and often appears on 50 or 100 books to read before you die lists. I would argue that it should be on a ’50 books to avoid for the rest of your life’ list. Having read 1984 with the group and enjoyed a fantastic discussion on how Orwell’s vision of the future is so remarkably visionary in many ways, I could not wait to discover Huxley’s take on the future.

This is a dystopian society, masquerading as a ‘perfect’ world. In their world happiness is fake, caused by being fed propaganda and drugs and never looking for new information or challenging the system. There are no books, and the information is limited. For us, happiness is found in family, in freedom, in being able to be different and being able to read books and think for and educate ourselves. Huxley’s world does not represent happiness, it merely shows how easily people can be made to conform and believe that they are happy. It is a dark take on the future and could have been fascinating, but it was not, it was just a bit dull and depressing.

It was the conditioning that was closest to life in our world. For the BNWers information  (a forced agenda) is repeated while they sleep, for us, it’s in social media and the gutter press. If you hear something enough more often than not you will start to believe it! 1984 is definitely a much better book, it is written well, and is so terrifyingly similar in so many ways to our world that it shocked me. Brave New World was more sci-fi alternate reality and not very well written. It had some interesting ideas but failed to capture my attention. I also didn’t care about any of the characters, they could’ve all died for all I cared.

I gave Brave New World 2* and the group mostly gave it between 1* and 2* with only one member of the book club enjoying the read. Personally, I’d suggest you read or re-read 1984 rather than waste your time on this one, however, it’s a free world, so read it if you want to, just don’t say I didn’t warn you! 😉

Happy Reading!

Mel x

January – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I remember my Mum watching ‘Hitchhiker’s’ on TV when I was quite young, it was big, everyone knew about the book, the TV show and the Radio play version. Quotes from the book were part of my growing up, I KNEW that the meaning of life, the universe and everything was 42, people often said ‘so long and thanks for all the fish’, and I KNEW that Marvin was a paranoid android, but I never read the book until now….

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

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The book started well; the bit on Earth was witty, and I had high hopes. I loved the way that Ford Prefect manipulated those around him, without seeming to be manipulative, or smarmy, he just knew how to achieve his desired outcome. This is seen early on in the story when the builder is trying to destroy Arthur’s home, and Ford has an unusual request. There are things that I liked about the book, it was easy to read and the characters, although not fully developed in this book are at least interesting. I loved the justification for ensuring that you pack a towel above all else when hitchhiking through the Galaxy, and I loved how resilient Arthur was given the circumstances.

Overall, I was disappointed! I remember it, I never read it, never heard it, never saw it, but it was there, pretty much all my life. I remember the names Arthur Dent and Trillion because it was HUGE, MASSIVE, everyone knew it, everyone quoted from it, it just was! SO I was sure I’d love it… I didn’t, it was okay, but not okay enough for me to want to read on! It did not live up to my expectations, and that makes me sad! I gave the book 3* and the rest of the group gave it an average of 4*, which makes it worth reading if you’re looking for something light-hearted and humorous.

Brighton Rock – Graham Greene

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Brighton Rock is a book that I first read when I was just 17 years old, at the time I loved it, I raved about it, I told everyone to read it, I have not read it since. I was a little concerned that it would not live up to my own hype, but it was only the 2nd book, so it’s not like I was forcing people to read it. I do remember it being pretty dark and that Pinky’s character was really well written, and I have read other Graham Greene books, and I know that he is pretty good at creating tension. I thought I remembered the end but was unsure whether I was misremembering, and worried that it wouldn’t be as powerful as I thought it was.

As soon as I started reading this book again, I was hooked. I love how well the characters are written, Ida is a force to be reckoned with. I love that the book has strong, female leads, as well as the obviously strong male gang members. I believe that Ida is inherently good, yes, of course, she is on a little adventure, but it is fueled by the need to uncover the truth. Something happened to someone that she connected with, however briefly, and she wants to make sure that justice is served, and that makes her morally superior to the other characters.

Brighton Rock is not a light read, it is gritty, it is dark and it is brilliant. I still love this book, I gave it 4.5* and was yet again blown away by the ending (no spoilers). The rest of the group rated it between 3.5* and 4*, and I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but it is definitely a beautifully written and emotive book.

Happy Reading!

Mel x

November – Time and Again

So apparently, Pantomime season is crazy busy when you work in theatre production, who knew? This being my first chance to catch up with my old friend WordPress in two months, means that I may well bombard you all with two blog posts at once. That said, if nothing else it will take double the time to read, giving you the perfect opportunity to whack the kettle on and chill for 10 blissful (if somewhat filled with the ramblings of a bookish woman with far too much of an opinion on everything) minutes. HAPPY NEW YEAR by the way..

Time and Again – Jack Finney

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I have wanted to read this book for years. I cannot remember exactly how long, but I read a quote in the back of Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (A very ‘hard to put down’ book, if you can lift it at all in the first place), that suggested that this was the ultimate in time travel novels. Jack Finney writes beautifully, describing the New York of 1882 in such a way that you can easily lose yourself in the city sights and sounds. Some of the group thought the descriptions of past New York were laboured, but I did not find this at all, and for me, this was the beauty of the book.

Let’s come back to the more recent past, to be precise, to 1970. The book was written in 1970 and was set in the present day, so modern New York in the novel is, from our perspective almost half a century out of date. To look at it another way, the twin towers of the world trade center opened in 1970 and 1971 respectively, so they were just being built when the ‘present day’ part of the book is set. For the reader, who has travelled to New York recently, this gives us three New Yorks to consider, the one we know, the one that is developing into our modern New York, and a whole other place, where Central Park is home to many farmers, and few of the buildings we now know and love even exist.

Simon Morley, our main protagonist, is going about his daily business, happily in a new and blossoming relationship, when he is approached by Ruben Prien to take part in a secret government project. He agrees to take part and goes with Ruben to a huge warehouse where the project and its secrets unfold. I doubt I am spoiling anything by telling you that the secret project is time travel (if this revelation has shocked you to the very core I apologise, and respectfully suggest that you read the rest of the post again). So in an attempt to be part of something fabulous, and secret (and who doesn’t like to be part of something secret), and to curry favour with the new woman in his life, Si sets off on a time travel adventure.

The book is the story of a changing city, mixed gently with romance, mystery and intrigue. The writing is lovely, and the story kept my attention, but, it did not blow me away, in fact, it was a little disappointing. I LOVED 11/22/63 and when Stephen King said that he was inspired by Time and Again, I thought it would be mind-blowingly good. It was good, it rolled along, but there were issues, there were little things that irked and the premise wasn’t strong enough to overcome these in my opinion. I gave it 3* and this was also the average rating from the group.

Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

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Giovanni’s Room is a short novel, but boy does it pack a punch. The story was written in 1956, a long long time before being gay or bisexual was in any way considered acceptable, let alone natural (yeh I know there are still many places where it’s not). The story centres around David, a young American man, who has moved to Paris to explore his sexuality.

David is Gay (or bisexual if you consider that he is engaged to and sexually active with a woman) but has locked those feelings away for years, his one time encounter with a male friend in his youth remains his dirty little secret. In Paris, David meets and falls for Giovanni, an Italian waiter in a gay bar (yes in Paris they existed). With his fiance away, David embarks on a relationship with Giovanni behind closed doors, and all the time fighting his sexuality.

The book is dark, the closet is a very dark place, and what becomes obvious throughout the book is that when you pretend to be something that you are not, people get hurt. Giovanni’s story is as heartbreaking as David’s, and I found myself being thankful that I live in a (mostly) more enlightened age, and in a progressive society. I surround myself with people who encourage freedom of expression, sexuality, speech etc, and find it unthinkable that anyone should hide who they are, and this book illustrates clearly why freedom and acceptance are so very important. I gave the book 4* and the rest of the group gave it an average of 3.5*.

Happy reading

Mel xx