The Stopping Places by Damian Le Bas
We began the year with a memoir: The Stopping Places documents Damian Le Bas' journey through Britain, stopping at old atchin tans where his Gypsy relatives had before him.
We reached out to Damian and he was kind enough to give a fascinating talk for our magazine's talk series MBR Live on British Romani communities and language.
Our discussion at book club was immense, covering language and isolation.
No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
Certainly a controversial one, Lockwood's novel is written in a style reminiscent of scrolling Twitter, which (we discovered) had the capacity to thrill or disgust individuals in equal measure. Fortunately in our book club disagreements reliably spark interesting debate, so we had fruitful and thought-provoking discussions about the transience of social media "content", about being online versus reading books and about grief.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
As Disney had hired out Morocco Bound as a film set on book club night, we were conveniently relocated to The Leather Exchange pub down the road, which had a grand fireplace, old furniture and served whiskey - making it the perfect setting to discuss Donna Tartt's dark and intellectual (but hilarious) novel. This was a great chat, featuring intense analogising of Greek myths, quoting some of the more hilarious passages, increasingly outlandish theories about the characters and the odd confession of our own murderous impulses.
Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami
Our discussion of Kawakami's Breasts and Eggs spanned fertility, puberty and family relationships in Japan and elsewhere. It was especially interesting to hear from people with different histories, backgrounds and of different ages talk sensitively with each other about topics that can be taboo.
The Last One by Fatima Daas
This poetic and political autobiographical debut from Fatima Daas was showered with praise by the French when published in 2020. Hence it was an obvious choice for book club when the English translation appeared this year. It raised themes of faith, nationality, sexuality and heritage, which Book Club discussed with its unwavering sensitivity and curiosity. Again, it was especially good to have such a range of backgrounds and talk with respect for each other about subjects that can make people afraid to say something wrong.
The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson
In the name of honesty, this month's was not a popular pick. The Daylight Gate proved to leave most of our book clubbers wanting more. Aside from a rather surface-level and common-sense message about social exclusion and scapegoating, we spent most of this session lambasting the novel :-)
The Promise by Damon Galgut
Thank goodness, after the last pick The Promise was sweet relief. Style-wise, at least. Some found the content of Galgut's Booker-Prize-winner a little dark, but the consensus was that his writing makes this novel compelling (despite its tragic inclination) and, above all, distinctive. Unsurprisingly, we talked about South African history and politics, as well as family relationships and religion.
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
Universally popular, Open Water had us talking about living in London, the protagonist's experience of the city as a young black man, about music and Nelson's lyrical writing style.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Author of this blog post wasn't present :D blurb from a host is incoming... 👀
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
A divisive pick, suggested by regular book club member (and proud Brazilian) Raquel. For some this was the inspiration for entire life changes. For others, an outdated bestseller that fell flat...!
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
A devastating memoir about losing her mother to cancer, Zauner made many of us cry. She also made us hungry for Korean food, so it was fortunate that this month's book club was provided for by Bibigo, a snack company. We chowed on seaweed as we discussed growing up in the USA with Asian heritage, grief and the question of who qualifies to write an autobiography. To round off the night, we had a spontaneous viewing of one of Zauner's music videos.
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Mulled wine and Christmas snacks accompanied a discussion of this short story collection, mostly just awe at Adichie's faultless style and incomparable imagination.