Can you spare an hour in West Ealing on Monday? Your reward – as many books as you can carry!

We’re all about sharing books, and we now have a huge opportunity to share a whole lot more. Peter Owen Publishers had made 14,000 books available to West Ealing Neighbours, and in collaboration with Book Swaps for London, we will be receiving 14 pallets worth on Monday at midday. These are being delivered to OPEN Ealing, where we’re going to store them while we work out a distribution strategy.

As we’ve never unloaded an 18 tonne truck before, we need people to help us load the boxes of books into a lift and then taken them up one set of stairs to where they’re going to be stored. Waitrose West Ealing is also very kindly loaning us a pallet truck to help with the unloading as well.

Where: 113 Uxbridge Road, Ealing W5 5TL

If you can spare an hour or two from midday on Monday to help, please contact Chris Gilson by email at chris.hj.gilson@gmail.com, or tweet us @weneighbours.

Your reward for helping will be – as many books as you can carry home!

We’ll be book swapping on West Ealing family day!

Hungry for something to read? Come along to the West Ealing Neighbours stand on Family Day on Saturday and take part in our Book Swap! We’ve got lots of lots of books that you can take for free, or you can swap one of your own that you think someone else might like. This follows on from West Ealing Neighbours’ incredibly successful book swap scheme in West Ealing Station.

LexnGer (Creative Commons NC)

Chris, who is also running the Book Swaps for London campaign will also be there to chat about book swapping and books in general. You can also join our popular book club, too.

So pop along to our stand on Saturday and see what new books you can discover!

WEN Reading Group is involved in a research project

In August 2010 we read Iris Murdoch’s ‘The Bell’ for one of our monthly meetings.  As always our book choices are suggested and discussed by members of the group before being agreed upon.  This has led us to some interesting reads, things we haven’t always liked, but others that have been riveting and an experience we wouldn’t have ventured upon on our own.

‘The Bell’ was an interesting choice not just because it was an enjoyable novel to read or that it led to an interesting discussion but also because it has been taken as the novel for Liz Broomfield, a freelance copy editor, to centre her research around.  Interested in the book choices made by reading groups Liz has noticed that these tend to be those in the media, recently published or promoted, prize winners or classics.  This misses out an enormous amount of fiction that would make great material for a reading group.

As we’ve read ‘The Bell’ we are in the process of answering Liz’ questionnaire which will become part of her research which is a private project but one that the Iris Murdoch Society is interested in and may in due course publish a summary of the project in their newsletter.

Take a look at the project blog:  http://libroediting.wordpress.com/irismurdochproject/

Or the website for the Iris Murdoch Society: http://fass.kingston.ac.uk/research/iris-murdoch/society/

Book Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

It’s a common literary tactic to have a young child as the narrative device, with often prestigious results. Witness recent Man Booker winners DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little and Yann Martell’s The Life of Pi, both which focus on precocious young children in very adult circumstances, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time with its young narrator, garnered a slew of awards several years ago. Setting a novel in this way lets an author challenge accepted points of view or make a difficult point. And there are few more difficult points (even now) than 9/11 and what has followed.

Continue reading “Book Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer”

Book Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

For November, the WEN book club turned to a new genre – science fiction. Though it must be said that famously Margaret Atwood doesn’t refer to her books as science fiction, but speculative fiction. Oryx and Crake, our book for November, certainly fit into this category, with Atwood taking modern themes such as genetic engineering and projecting them forward into the near future.

The novel introduces us to a post-apocalyptic landscape inhabited solely by the main character, Snowman, and a group of genetically advanced not-quite-humans, the Crakers. Departing with the traditional idea of the post apocalyptic hero, as in Mad Max and similar, Snowman is feckless, often drunk, and is in constant fear of his environment, fending off genetically engineered wolvogs and pigoons. We are immediately left with questions – who are the Crakers? What has happened to society? Why is Snowman the only human left?

Atwood’s narrative weaves in Snowman’s somewhat Quixotic journey back to the ‘Compounds’ where the rich used to live to find supplies, with the story of how society came to collapse. It turns out Snowman once lived in the Compounds and climbed his way up through the corporate world. As he works his way through school, then university, and then into his career, he encounters the title characters Oryx and Crake; tellingly both are named after extinct animals.

Through Snowman’s eyes we are shown a vision of the current world gone just that little bit more mad. Segregation of rich and poor (the poor live in relative squalor in the ‘pleeblands’), rampant use of genetic engineering and life-enhancing drugs with dubious side effects , and the pervasiveness of corporations in all aspects of society. By creating an alternate world of her own with ubiquitous brand names such as ‘Happicuppa’, ‘Helthwyzer’, and ‘Anooyoo’, Oryx and Crake makes for frighteningly realistic reading. It is this story that is the most engaging, but Atwood’s way of switching between the two narratives can be quite jarring – the book could have been written in a straight chronological fashion and would not have lost a great deal.

Both of the parallel stories in this book build towards what become rather obvious denouements, and Atwood often includes too much detail that seems to be padding. Characters too are thinly drawn, with Snowman being the best fleshed out. It may be that she has done this to draw attention to the emptiness of the characters’ lives (they are near owned by corporations), but this makes the book harder to like at times.

As Atwood attests, Oryx and Crake and is certainly not science fiction – it is far too grounded in the real world to be that, and it’s for that reason potential readers shouldn’t be put off. It’s an engaging read that keeps you interested, hoping that your questions will be answered – and they are for the most part. The issues the book raises about how we use science and technology are certainly thought provoking and will stay with you for some time.

Review by Chris Gilson

WEN book club update – November

Credit: Cellar Door (Stanford.edu)
Credit: Cellar Door (Stanford.edu)

Update: the WEN Book Club review of Oryx and Crake is now available at Ealing Today.

The book for this month is ‘Oryx and Crake’ by Margaret Atwood. We’re meeting on Tuesday the 30t at 7:30pm in the Drayton Court pub to discuss.

Copies are available on request at West Ealing library.

There will be no meeting in December, but we will meet on 10 January to discuss Marina Lewycka’s ‘We are all made of glue.

Click here for more information on WEN’s book club.

Book Review: The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis

June’s meeting was on a gloriously hot day, and the lounge room of the Drayton Court made for a cool reprieve. WEN readers were decidedly not as hot under the collar as protagonist Keith, but quite cool towards ‘The Pregnant Widow’.
The story is the narcisstic account of a summer holiday at an Italian castle told by Keith’s older conscience looking back on his younger self. There was little to give the story a sense of place, however the sense of time was more relevant.

Set in 1970 at the beginning of the sexual revolution, Keith’s conscience reflected not just on himself but on 3 female characters too. Amis has said there are autobiographical elements in the character of Keith and as the female characters take very different stances within the sexual revolution these should have made for interesting characters

.
The new possibilities and social change of the 1970’s were explored by Amis through characters we found tedious and two dimensional. Keith, a horny English Lit student, spends his summer trying to take advantage of the sexual opportunities he sees arising for himself. This behaviour continues into adulthood with lasting destructive effect. Given the perspective of time, were we the reader to consider whether men were traumatised by the sexual liberation? We weren’t sure if this was what Amis was driving at, partly because of our disconnect with the characters and writing.

The language is unrelentingly crude, and the female characters described and defined by their physical peculiarities; the desirable two, ‘big tits’ and ‘big bum’, or the plainly not beautiful and therefore cynical. The thoughts of Keith rarely veered from sexual gratification with the result that rather than gaining insight into the character and time being lived through, the characters were unbelievable and therefore inaccessible.

As a feminist text, did it work as a discussion around the ‘equalitarian phase ‘ of the sexual revolution? With girls acting like boys, arguing that there is no difference between men and women, this was a failing in feminism which was portrayed by Amis, unfortunately using patronising language to describe the sexually active woman as a ‘cock’, that didn’t work for us either.

So, as a novel it’s readable, there is much that is interesting and we liked the novel in varying degrees. None of us connected with the characters and overall felt that we were the wrong audience for the book, but weren’t sure who would really enjoy it. Perhaps those who lived through 1970 might meet this book with a different reception…

Book Review: The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell

It was the first time that I had been to a book group (You might suggest I needed to get out more often… which is exactly what I did and really enjoyed the night) and I have to say that I would not have ended up reading this title to completion if I hadn’t read it with the purpose of sharing it with a group of unknown strangers. (Who I can now confirm were very welcoming, diverse group and good company.)
A word of advice when you arrive at the Drayton is that some of the staff aren’t aware that a book group meet there each week but don’t be put off – they are there and they meet in a lounge area in the pub; a fitting room to chew the literary fat in.
The novel is an account of the Indian rebellion of British subjects in India during 1857. Based on these events, but fictional in style, this novel was an intriguing mix of satire, parody, the sublime and deliberately ridiculous. Some of us were tempted not to complete the book principally we felt it was at times a slow-moving story that took some time to reach its zenith. Some felt many of the characters came across were initially farcical and pompous.
When the story really shows its flair and starts earning its Booker kudos is when the siege begins. Arguably these privileged and dandy characters reach their most interesting when under duress and siege conditions – and therefore a social observation by Farrell on the complacency and entitlement of the age. These characters come alive and gain substance and interest once given a challenge and purpose – a daring and controversial form of satirical comment from Farrell.
Once the siege begins this is when Farrell was at his best.

What I most enjoyed about the story were the moments that Farrell conveys with such intensity and conviction; the claustrophobia and decay that permeates the very foundations of their community and engulfs Lucy entirely until she becomes a mass of seething black flies – a particularly well conveyed and realised moment in the novel for us all. An omniscient narrator provides some form of social comment or opinion on these characters and this is a challenging element of the siege.

The narrator conveys their misery and wretched end but avoids a moral tale or sense of pathos for the characters created. In this sense Farrell took some risks in exposing these characters; showing no sympathy for the colonialists as the siege tears them apart with carrion, pestilence and decay, we suspect this is representative of how Farrell felt about some aspects of the Victorian existence. We see the Victorians as they suffer and melt in the heat and fury of their trials and sense that Farrell enjoys their fall with gusto.

Farrell’s depiction of the fictional characters and town of Krishnapur also serve as a social comment on the society of the time. Religious fervor turns out to be unfounded or simply feverish, scientific advance is mis-employed and philosophies unfounded or the stuff of pomp and nonsense. Essentially the society is as flimsy as the bookshelves that are devoured by legions of ants in the residency and its occupants are devoured by pests and vermin, famine and disease. The entire story is an extended metaphor for the excess of the age, gluttony so extensive it consumed its very self.

The Siege is a complex story and it’s a tribute to the novel that as I write I find that I could continue endlessly to try to encapsulate the very varied and paradoxical nature of the text. It is comedic, hilarious and implausible – something that would seem to jar with the very bleak content and essence of the story; the siege. It is also a comment on an age, situation and a historical satire. Some remind me of Candide by Voltaire in its satirical and relentless tone. Some of the group noted that elements of Farrell’s style provoke comparison to Louis De Bernieres’ as he weaves a splendid and hyperbolic story; at the height of the narrative there are moments that are glorious and are testament to the power of Farrell’s expression and the sheer quality of his writing.
Read it for the impressive narrative style and characterisation. Stick with it for when the story really gets going; wait for the siege because that is when Farrell’s sharpest social observations take place. By the end of the process you come to love these ridiculous characters and in the end ask yourself are we any different or and indeed if our society has progressed any further than theirs. I believe this is what Farrell would have wanted – by examining the society of others we inevitably question the worth of our own with fresh eyes and less presumption – that in itself is a tribute to the book.

Review by Celia Walsh