I’ve been leading a real-life book group for 5 years now and we’ve just read our 50th novel together! During that time it’s become clear that to be a success the book must have some or all of the following qualities:
1) It must divide opinion. This is something that really ignites the discussion and ensures that all (in my case 15-20 group participants per session) can pitch in.
2) There must be strong characterisation whereby a dastardly villain is much more interesting that an saintly heroine.
3) There must be hooks to extraneous discussion – we quite like to digress into related news events or other reading.
Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair ticked (tickled?) all three of those boxes.
Box 1 – Following on from last month’s read Mrs Gaskell’s North and South, it retained the C19th century theme but in an absolutely mind-boggling way for those who hadn’t known what to expect. There were those who failed to complete the course because it was so radically different, those who went along with the ride and enjoyed it and those evangelical converts to Fforde’s wacky universe who now want us to read the whole series! We compromised on that and decided that we’ll take on The Big Over Easy during December – something light and frothy and not too challenging during that time of year when everything lies heavily on the stomach. And they’ll need something light to follow Karen Connelly’s magnificent but emotionally devastating The Lizard Cage.
Box 2 – not one but two dastardly villains. Acheron Hades and Jack Schitt (how can you not smile at that?). Thursday Next, the heroine, not so saintly either.
Box 3 – Fforde’s plot contains a plethora of literary allusions and an alternative ending to Jane Eyre. There are hooks to further conversation on every page. Some obvious allusions, some more obscure but you can be sure that a group of 15 spotted more than I’d clocked in two readings. It was also a good excuse to get out the poetry anthology and “wander lonely as a cloud” with Wordsworth while beating off Poe’s ominous raven. Fforde proving that literature can be fun.
January’s group will be interesting. In 90 minutes we’ll solve the mystery of Humpty Dumpty’s death, deconstruct crime fiction and discuss the etymology of our favourite nursery rhymes. I can’t wait.