Review of Before The Coffee Gets Cold, by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

What is the message of the book? You can’t actually change the past, or influence the future, all you can do is realise the truth and trust yourself. And most importantly, perhaps, talk to one another before it’s too late.
July 08, 2020 by Linda Murray

Leonard and Hungry Paul, by Ronan Hession (May 2020)

A wonderful ' still life' with humour and sensitivity, greatly enjoyed
July 08, 2020 by Linda Murray

Girl, Woman, Other - review, April 2020

Without going into the details of the stories, positive adjectives abounded when we were discussing the overall effect of this book - “touching”, “emotional”, “contemporary”, “clever”, “diverse”, “sympathetic”, and “humorous” all cropped up.
May 05, 2020 by Linda Murray

Where the Crawdads Sing - review

Whilst some have said the murder mystery element was a bit weak, and the likelihood of actually creating bestselling books unlikely, and it was all a bit #resiliencefiction (OK, I made that up) … but overall the widespread popularity of this book is fully justified.
May 05, 2020 by Linda Murray

Wounds, Fergal Keane

“People don’t get their morality from their reading matter, they bring their morality to it” ( Clive James, who died the week we reviewed this!)

Keane’s skill is absolutely this, he is not our moraliser, he simply brings the facts to our attention and lays them out to demonstrate his points.

December 12, 2019 by Linda Murray

The Fire Starters, Jan Carson

Review – October 2019 BPS Bookclub - The Fire Starters, by Jan Carson

Even before Jan Carson dropped in to fill us with additional insights, not to mention lots of further reading suggestions, this book had created plenty of discussion. For all of its good points, there was still a relatively high ‘ irritation factor’ for about half of our readers.

The Irish Times argues “ her surrealist style works well to tell grim tales of violence and loss” but this drifting into magical realism, or surrealism, is what most divides her audience.

There are 3 quite distinct narratives – the Tall Fires and the immediacy of Belfast in July; the parallel stories of Sammy and Jonathan as parents, and the vignettes of the Unfortunate Children. Some felt the book was too disjointed with all these different elements, others that it did all wrap to a satisfying close after all.

Taking Sammy and Jonathan first – everyone thought these characters were excellently portrayed, even the dark and violent Sammy elicited our sympathy for the relationships he‘s struggling with. The post Troubles ‘anger and guilt’ is very obvious in Sammy, and well expressed.

Whilst Sammy seems ‘full of badness’, Jonathan is the innocent, the victim of truly appalling parenting and perhaps even susceptible to fantasy and make believe himself?  Each human is on the edge of rational self-control and appears to be living a false reality, keeping many secrets and being dishonest with themselves and others.

Then we get the background narrative of Belfast, and what is going on with the ‘fire starters’ – the language and context of the city is so good, so perceptive – but perhaps too  parochial? Does the book in fact paint too dark a picture of East Belfast altogether? The ‘fire and water’ theme works well in building tension in the streets, then to be washed away by the torrential aftermath after the Twelfth.

And finally, the various vignettes of the children. Classified as ‘Unfortunates’, but arguably gifted in their own ways, and interestingly all quite warm and positive children (especially Ella) despite their parents being stressed and secretive about their ‘gifts’. Jan explained that her deliberate use of magical realism is what allows her to explore the background of conflict and paradox that is Belfast, at ‘arm’s length’ and this is what makes the book also more interesting than a pure ‘realism’ narrative.  

In the course of our conversation she inspired us with a wealth of other writers, many of whom are using magical realism to comment on something more real, and I hope I’ve captured them all here. We spoke about the need for a beautifully concise short story, and how it is a particular art close to the hearts of the Irish. She also encouraged us to read more European writers in translation. A very inspiring and encouraging session.


Jan’s Best Reads !

 Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Women Talking, Miriam Toews

Birthday Stories, and The Elephant Vanishes, Haruki Murakami

The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro

There There, Tommy Orange

The Redemption of Galen Pike, Carys Davies ( the perfect short story)

F is for Ferg, Ian Cochrane  ( a fine example of ‘Cullybackey Gothic’ !)

Fever Dream, Samanta Schwabin

Heads of the Colored People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires

In Persuasion Nation, George Saunders



December 07, 2019 by Linda Murray

Middlemarch, George Eliot (reviewed Sept 2019)

Huge sense of achievement in completing the novel, a fine and pleasurable read, but unless bedridden or on a desert island, it’s hard to imagine picking up another any time soon….
October 30, 2019 by Linda Murray

The Country Girls, by Edna O'Brien

1960’s Ireland objected to it, but for different reasons  - that in fact it gave a voice to the young sexual awakening of an (unmarried) girl, and that was seen as unacceptable in literature at the time. This, I think, is what makes it dated and uncomfortable reading for some in 2019.
June 22, 2019 by Linda Murray

The Only Story, by Julian Barnes

Well, this was an interesting one. Very rarely do two groups differ quite so markedly in their assessment of the same book!

It was definitely a book that prompted a lot of discussion, often far-reaching beyond the scope of the immediate story, so that in itself gives the book some merit.

May 29, 2019 by Linda Murray

Larchfield, by Polly Clark

John Boyne, in his review of the book, spoke of “ the joy of (poetry) and the novel ” and there are numerous clever motifs, repetitions and parallels throughout the book. The Guardian praised it for its “technical accomplishment, multiple plots and subplots, real lives, invented lives, complex and criss-crossing timelines"
May 29, 2019 by Linda Murray