September was the season of the dreaded lurgy, and alas NO ONE could untuck themselves from bed and make it to book club to discuss Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘The Signature of All Things.’ But they didn’t get out of it that easily, as the 8 of us who met for the October meeting had to discuss TWO books this month!
To start with, we discussed our newest book ‘Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett. I have been enchanted by this book before, and was very excited to share it with the other members and see what they thought of it.
Joe, Miles, and Harry are growing up on the remote southern coast of Tasmania – a stark, untamed landscape swathed by crystal blue waters. The rhythm of their days is dictated by the natural world, and by their father’s moods. Like the ocean he battles daily to make a living as a fisherman, he is wild and volatile – a hard drinker warped by a devastating secret. Unlike Joe, Harry and Miles are too young to move out, and so they attempt to stay as invisible as possible whenever their father is home. Miles tries his best to watch out for Harry, but he can’t be there all the time. Often alone, Harry finds joy in the small treasures he discovers by the edge of the sea – shark eggs, cuttlefish bones, and the friendship of a mysterious neighbor. But sometimes small treasures, or a brother’s love, simply are not enough…
Past the Shallows is a bleak, but stunning book about 2 brothers, Miles and Harry, and their violent, alcoholic father who live in poverty in a coastal town in Tasmania. Their father is an abalone fisherman, who is in trouble with the fisheries, and Miles and Harry more often than not have to take care of themselves. We were surprised by how much we enjoyed the book, despite the fact that it “didn’t have much of a plot, and what it did have was heartbreaking.” We were incredibly interested in Parrett as writer, as she is a young attractive woman who has so beautifully and effectively written a brutal story with practically no female characters (with the exception of Aunty Jean who we had some very harsh criticism of indeed). This book encouraged us to discuss issues in small communities, alcoholism, bereavement, jealousy and domestic violence. Considering it is an extremely quick read which most of us finished in one sitting, ‘Past the Shallows’ packs quite a punch, and stays with you for a long time after finishing it.
Overall, we awarded ‘Past the Shallows’ a whopping 4.5/5 stars, our best rating to date.
Which leads us to Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘The Signature of All Things’ which was quite a different experience altogether..
A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed.
In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction — into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist — but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.
While we unanimously adored ‘Past the Shallows’, opinions and emotions differed greatly for Elizabeth Gilbert’s sweeping, historical novel.
One of our members who could not join us, kindly wrote us an email review which had most of the group in stitches. This review contained hilarious phrases such as ‘Fifty Shades of Moss’, ‘Very boring, in a nice sort of way’, and ‘before it gained any momentum, she was back staring at mosses or locking herself in the binding closet!”. Allow me to wipe away my tears of mirth.
With that review reminding us of the premise of the book, all bets were off. Those who loved it defended it to the death, while others insisted they couldn’t bring themselves to finish it, as it was just so dreary and monotonous. A large part of the problem that people had was that the characters were not likeable and that sections of the book were extremely unbelievable, despite the clear amount of research that went into it historically.
With one of our members defiantly rating it a zero, the book scraped in at 2.5/5. Ouch.
Join us in November when we meet to discuss Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’.
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.
Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.