Book Critique - The Reading Group

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: The journey was not exciting to begin with but it turned eventually into a sort of interest without boring me. Slow and steady the plot gets under your skin and you are unable to keep the book down. If you are planning to read it, I would say give it time and you will like it.

The Reading Group is a stand-alone novel by Elizabeth Noble published in U. K. in 2003 and in USA in 2004. This is the first of her novels and she has written eight more since then. This book reached #1 in Sunday Times' Bestsellers Chart when it was released. 

The story-line follows a group of women belonging to a book reading club, their ups and downs, and how the books they read tangle with the lives they lead; as well as with each other. The plot is set in some British town that I couldn’t put my finger on. 

This is the final book in the list of books that my dear friend, Patty, gave me a month or so ago to read. She said that this was in interesting book. I concur with her opinion. This certainly was an interesting read. Oh, and she has a few more already lined up for me to pick up next time I meet her. :) Cant wait to see what she has in store for me. 

Harriet, Nicole, Polly, Susan and Clare are members of the book reading group. As they read books each month and discuss them, they also go through issues and celebrations in their own lives - some giving them joy, some giving them closure, and many others giving them a way to tackle them.

At first it felt like reading a soap opera without the dramatic dialogues or expressions or camera angles; almost like these characters are our neighbors and we know them for real too. We get to see love & heartbreaks; weddings & divorces; pregnancies & abortions; fears & successes of their families; dealing with death & conflicts between siblings - a plethora of emotions all rolled under the guise of characters' daily activities.

Noble opens her book with a list of books that the book reading group would read for each month from January through December. And she added more books to my list to read, for some of them that she listed are of interesting tone. Of the books she picked for each month for the reading group, the ones that caught my eye were Atonement by Ian McEwan; The Memory Box by Margaret Forster; Eden Close by Anita Shreve; An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears; and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

She also gives a brief analysis on those books in the form of the reading group's discussion. It was interesting to Noble's point of view on those books from five different character's mouths meaning five different opinions of a book. But in some cases she gives away the suspense or key points of those books. 

Noble also gives us an introduction to all the key characters we would come across in the plot, in the beginning like an index. What caught my attention was that she listed out favorite books of each of those characters. Every thread she wove into the plot, she connected with books one way or the other. 

The plot comes heavily loaded with references and mentioning of several books and movies, their characters, and sometimes plot-lines. Having a central plot of reading group, it is expected to see these references. However, it felt a bit overloaded. 

Just like how it takes a time to get into the lives of each and ever character in a soap opera, form our opinions on them and get ourselves immersed in their lives; similarly it was a slow transition for me into the lives of this reading group.

The journey was not exciting to begin with but it turned eventually into a sort of interest without boring me. Slow and steady the plot gets under your skin and you are unable to keep the book down. If you are planning to read it, I would say give it time and you will like it.

Spoiler Alerts:

1. Plot Reveals:

a. Noble mentions one black & white movie where a scene has a heartbroken girl fling fur coat after fur coat saying "I'm counting my blessings, Mammy, I'm counting my blessings". I couldn’t figure out what movie this was from.

b. Noble also mentions about a Danielle Steel's made for TV movie about a recently widowed heroine who was being watched by her going to be next lover. Couldn’t find which one of Steel's books was made into this movie. 

c. Literature referenced in the story: Heartburn by Nora Ephron - January Book for the group; It was made into a film of the same name in 1986; Sense & Sensibility - in particular to Willoughby's character; Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence; Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens; Sue Barton books by Helen Dore Boylston; Lace by Shirley Conran; Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres; A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford; Love Story by Erich Segal; Philip Larkin's poem How is so Sad (specifically to the lines "left, Shaped to the comfort of the last to go"); A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; Georgy Girl by Margaret Forster; The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve; Books by Catherine Cookson; Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood; Destiny by Sally Beauman

d. Movies, Music & TV Shows referenced in the story: Sleepless in Seattle - screenplay by Nora Ephron; A Bug's Life - one of my favorite cartoon movie. Didn’t know there was a part 2 of this. Have to check it out; Sleeping Beauty; Crystal Tipps and Alistair, a British 70s cartoon; Carousel (musical) - in particular to Billy Bigelow's character; Top of the Pops, a British music chart TV program; Morecambe and Wise - a British comic duo; The Archers Omnibus - BBC TV Program; The Commitments (1991); The Sound of Music, specially referencing to Christopher Plummer (1965); Bridget Jones; Gone with the Wind; Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi; Coronation Street, British long-running soap opera.

2. Sub- Plots:

a. Clare Richards - her husband Elliot Richards; mom Mary & father Reg.

b. Harriet "Harry" Fraser - her husband Tim Fraser, kids Josh & Chloe; Charles Roebuck, Harriet's one time boyfriend before marrying Tim, & his new bride Imogen.

c. Nicole "Nic" Thomas - her husband Gavin Thomas, twins Will & George, a younger girl Martha; nanny Cecile.

d. Pauline "Polly" Bradford - her new fiancée Jack Fitzgerald; kids Cressida Bradford & Daniel Bradfod; ex-husband Dan & his second wife Tina; Joe, Cressida's ex-boyfriend.

e. Susan - her husband Roger, kids Alexander "Alex" & Ed; mom Alice; Margaret "Maggie", Susan's sister, & her ex-husband Greg.

3. Grammatical / Character / Location / Geographical / Historical / Mythological Errors:

a. On Pg. 35, Line 27, Crystal Tipps is mis-spelled as "Crystal Tips"

b. On Pg. 83, Line 8 from bottom, Clare talks about Sue Barton Books by Helen Dore Boylston and mentions one book titled District Nurse. However, there is no such book for Sue Barton series though. I did find a series of books under the name "The District Nurse Series" by Annie Groves. However they werent written until 2018, a good 14 years after this books was published, So I am sure Noble is not referring to that series.

c. On Pg. 183, Line 3, shouldn’t It be "…hoped that someone…"


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