Our first book for 2020 was ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus - very apt we told ourselves 2 months later!! It was acclaimed and an immediate triumph when it was first published in 1947 as it is in part an allegory of France’s suffering under the Nazi occupation and a story of bravery and determination against the precariousness of human existence. The townspeople of Oran are in the grip of a deadly plague, which condemns its victims to a swift and horrifying death. Fear, isolation and claustrophobia follow as they are forced into quarantine. Each person responds in their own way to the lethal disease: some resign themselves to fate, some seek blame, and a few, resist the terror.
We did find it a rather depressing read.
In February we moved on to ‘The Silk Roads’ by Peter Frankopan - The sun is setting on the Western world. Slowly but surely, the direction in which the world spins has reversed: where for the last five centuries the globe turned westward on its axis, it now turns to the east.... For centuries fame and fortune were to be found in the West - in the New World of the Americas. Today it is the East that calls out to those in search of adventure and riches. The region stretching from Eastern Europe and sweeping right across Central Asia, deep into China and India, is taking centre stage in international politics, commerce, and culture - and is shaping the modern world. This region, the true centre of the Earth, is obscure to many in the English-speaking world. Yet this is where civilisation itself began, where the world's great religions were born and took root. The Silk Roads were no exotic series of connections but networks that linked continents and oceans together. Along them flowed ideas, goods, disease, and death. This was where empires were won - and where they were lost. As a new era emerges, the patterns of exchange are mirroring those that have criss-crossed Asia for millennia. The Silk Roads are rising again. A major reassessment of world history, The Silk Roads is an important account of the forces that have shaped the global economy and the political renaissance in the re-emerging East.
In March we had ‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ by Madeleine Thein. However although this novel was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s prize for fiction in 2017, also for the Man Booker prize in 2016 and the winner of the Scotiabank Giller prize in 2016, none of the group were fans of it and several of us did not finish reading it. Lockdown came 2 weeks into March and the library closed. The instructions were that books could be put through the letterbox of the library or retained until they reopened.
In July I received an e-mail from Hampshire Libraries informing me that from 1st August book sets could be re-ordered if we so wished. After discussing via e-mail with group members whether they wished to continue it was decided that we would and we began in August with Edna O’Brien’s ‘Little Red Chairs’. We all felt that although the author is an acclaimed writer over several years, this novel could surely not be one of her best. She wrote it in 2015 at the age of 85 and after a gap of 10 years since her previous book. We were unanimous in not enjoying the book at all, feeling it was very disjointed, dark and depressive.
We do read a variety of books, chosen each year by the group from the lists of New Additions that are on the Hampshire Libraries website. I then e-mail the choices to Matthew at Hayling Library and he orders them for the year for us and kindly tries to ensure that as many of the group as possible get one of their choices. There are 10 books in a set and there has for several years been 10 in this group. However just before lockdown one lady decided she wouldn’t come any more; although she had always enjoyed it she felt her age had caught up with her. Another member is unwell at the present time, but we hope she will return to us. When we are back to some sort of normality again I will advertise the vacancy.
We all enjoy the afternoons; after discussing the book we have all read (or not), we talk about other books we have read during the month. We then enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of home-made cake while catching up on what else we have done during the month. Things are a little different now and for the meetings since re-starting we have been able to space out in my garden.
However now we are limited to 6, it is a little more difficult. Two ladies in the group have decided they will take the book each month but not come to the meetings, they will send in their reviews. If any of the other members cannot come for any reason then one or the other of them can stand in. Hopefully this state of affairs won’t last for very long.
This is an article published in the Autumn 2020 edition of the Hayling Island U3A newsletter .