Yesterday, one of my two book groups met for our annual Christmas dinner (at the Catch Seafood restaurant in Holmfirth). Since 2011, I have made Christmas cards for the other members, showing the books we have read during the year. They are a nice reminder - it's hard to remember what we read in what year otherwise (especially when you are in more than one book group).
This year's books were:
- The Mask of Dimitrios, Eric Ambler
- A Thousand Paper Birds, Tor Udall
- Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev
- A Death in Summer, Benjamin Black
- The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
- The Sealwoman's Gift, Sally Magnusson
- The Return of the Soldier, Rebecca West
- Cakes and Ale, Somerset Maugham
Unusually for us, most of this year's books were not new, going back to the Hardy and Turgenev books which are 19th century classics. I have read several other books by Thomas Hardy, but hadn't read The Mayor of Casterbridge before, and I don't think I have ever read any of the Russian classics. Fathers and Sons was fascinating, painting a picture of an alien society, with its own strange rules. Also fascinating to read in an afterword of how it's viewed in modern Russia.
The Return of the Soldier was a surprise hit - I think most of us had never heard of it before. It was published in 1918, and so was a story about a WW1 soldier published while the war was still in progress. Although published much later (1930), Cakes and Ale is set around the end of the 19th century, I think, but depicts the same class system, of strict social rules and stifling snobbery. I read a lot of Somerset Maugham's work at one time, but had never read this one - it was very entertaining. It's supposed to be about Thomas Hardy and his wives (not very secretly), but I tried to ignore that.
I think the book most of us liked best was The Sealwoman's Gift. It's a fascinating story based on actual events, of a raid on Iceland in the 17th century to capture a shipload of slaves and take them to North Africa. Some of them were eventually ransomed and went back to Iceland. It's a bit hard to understand why the main character chooses to leave her relatively comfortable life in North Africa, where it's easy to be clean and warm, and you can eat dates and oranges, and she can be near her one remaining child, and instead go back to her husband in cold, dark Iceland and eat dried puffins. Except that in historical fact, she did.
Our next book, for the January meeting, is The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach.