I’m a bit behind the times here but, if you’re a British bibliophile, there’s a good chance that sometime in the last 24 hours you have tuned into the inaugural edition of Channel 4’s new TV Book Group. There’s an even better one that you didn’t like it. Consensus seems to be that it was pants!
Well, if it was bad on TV , it was excruciating via Channel 4 OD. Something wrong with the streamer somewhere, it took an hour to get through a 25 minute show. And I couldn’t give up, because I wanted to get to the book group discussion of the featured title – after all that’s what this show was meant to deliver – a book group. Well finally it did – all 4 minutes of it.
I’m very glad that I didn’t rush out to buy the book (I already had it) or tried to read it to this deadline. There would have been very little return on either the cash or time investment and I would have been fizzing.
So what went wrong? I’m not going to repeat what others including dovegreyreader, farmlanebooks and savidgereads have said. I agree with most of it. Fundamentally though it’s a question of mismanaged expectations. If Channel4 had marketed this as a literary magazine, I would have approached it differently. There were some items that were very enjoyable. Celia Ahern discussing the legacy of the Richard and Judy book club and some of the brilliant books that were on those lists. I can think of Cloud Atlas and The Secret Scripture to name just two. I enjoyed the long word item. But I feel cheated because, to quote Dave Spikey in the introduction of the show (never mind the prior months of advertising), they would be “discussing, dissecting and arguing a toss” about The Little Stranger. I suppose they did but they only scratched the surface – at least on the final program. I do wonder though if they really did discuss, dissect and argue for 4 minutes when recording the show?
What I found fascinating – really fascinating – was the dynamic established in that 4 minutes. It was like a real book group in microcosm. There was Jo Brand’s “I don’t like ghost stories, and I don’t like posh people” remark or it’s not my type of book so I’m not going to like it. Except I think she did despite her preconceptions but I couldn’t tell really as someone interrupted her. There was the quiet one who couldn’t get a word in edgewise. The other 3 fighting for attention and Chris Evan’s putting in a well-placed word here and there. But that could have been the way it was edited. Hard to tell.
I really hope Channel 4 listen to the feedback and give us what their marketing had led us to expect – or, if not, rename the program. In its current format, it must violate trade descriptions. I don’t hold out much hope for episode 2 – I believe it’s already been prerecorded with the book club members reportedly having fun. Why don’t we have a little fun and at the same time do a little something to motivate them? Assuming you’re going to continue watching, how do you fancy awarding a gold star for the most perceptive remark and a black mark for the daftest? Let’s do it as a poll -I’ve always wanted to play with this functionality. If you want to explain your vote, please do so in comments.
For the record Jo Brand gets my black mark for the previously quoted comment. Dave Spikey gets my gold star – not because he pronounces “cuuk buuk” like me – but for his remark about the narrator never being there when the scary stuff happens and how that diminishes the fear factor. Hhm, that intrigues me. I need to work out why Sarah Waters wrote it that way. I may just have to persuade my book group to read this. If we do, you can be sure I’ll report back.