Last night, between trips to the bar and checking the progress of the ill-fated France-Ireland game, I was in my second meeting of the Well Red Book Club. We’d had two books to read, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, and Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, and in both cases we seemed to generally agree.
The Sarah Waters was shortlisted for the Booker Prize this year, and yet I, along with most of us, didn’t like it at all. While the prose was very well written, and the descriptions of places was detailed (maybe a little overwrought at times), the actual story was fairly turgid. Over five hundred pages long, and with a slow pace for most of the book, reading it was like waiting for something to happen. When things did happen, the pace then went back to slow again, rather than building any momentum, and it was hard to keep going. The characters described were not exactly sympathetic either, and seemed to be mainly stereotypes.
And after ploughing through it all, the ending didn’t really resolve anything, or even present a means for the reader to come to a confident conclusion. Is there a ghost or poltergeist visiting horrific damage upon the Ayreses? Is it the collective madness of a family in decline from comfortable upper-middle class life? Was it a combination of improbable but totally rational events? Certainly among the half-dozen or so of us, we didn’t come to a common agreement about what was going on. Overall, it was pretty disappointing.
Tuesdays with Morrie was, by contrast, a far easier read, even if it is telling the story of a man dying from the wasting disease ALS (also known as Lou Gehrigs disease, and the same thing that has afflicted Professor Stephen Hawking). A true story, it tells of how the author discovers his old Sociology Professor, Morrie Shwartz, is dying, and has been giving advice about the lessons of life and death. Albom contacts him for the first time in years, and starts to visit him every Tuesday. Each week, they discuss aspects of life and explore each other’s past. Prof Shwartz encouraged Albom to write the book as a new ‘thesis’ project.
While at times it was perhaps too full of wise aphorisms – coming across as a self-help manual, even though Albom discusses not intending to write one – it does make the reader think about their own life and what they find important. What does come across is the warmth that Albom feels towards his teacher. For some people, I think it could be life-changing, although for me it hasn’t had a major effect on me. Not because I’m perfectly contented, but more due to the fact that my life is changing a lot already what with relocating to a new town, working at a new place and waiting for the point where my girlfriend and I can move into a new place together. But it is the kind of book that I could read again in several years’ time, and perhaps I may need a little nudging then.
We’ve now got four (!) books to read over the next couple of months: Beowulf as translated by Seamus Heaney, The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien, After Dark by Haruki Murakami and Terrorist by John Updike. I’m looking forward to the Murakami, as I’ve read a few of his books before. I might prep for the Anglo-Saxon epic by watching the film version (nothing to do with Angelina Jolie being in it, of course)