|| Book Club || Hagseed - Margret Atwood ||

For this month’s book club we read Margaret Atwood’s ‘Hagsed’.  This book is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest  and is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project which sees today’s novelists re-imagine Shakespeare’s works. The series was launched in October 2015 and will be published in twenty countries.

A bit about the Author Margret Atwood

Margret Atwood is so well known and her writing is so prolific that she really doesn’t need an introduction. To date the Canadian writer has written almost 20 novels, 7 children’s books, plus numerous nonfiction, short story and poetry collections. She has been recognised through frequent honorary degrees and a number of awards including winning the Booker Prize in 2000 for her novel The Blind Assassin.  

Questions

1.      Have you read The Tempest? How did having read the Tempest affect your experience of the book. Do you think you could read this book with no knowledge of The Tempest?

2.      Have you heard about the Hogarth Shakespeare project?

3.      Have you read much of Atwood’s previous works? How does this sit with them?

4.      Miranda is there but not there – discuss Miranda and Felix and Felix’s relationship with reality..

5.      How do you feel about the rap songs that are incorporated into the book?

6.      What was your favourite relationship in the book and why?

7.      Felix is trying to make Shakespeare relevant for convicted criminals – Atwood is trying to contemporise Shakespeare in her own way. In what ways to both Felix and Atwood succeed and where do they struggle?

8.      In the film, who would play each of the main characters?

|| Book Club || Buried Giants - Kazuo Ishiguro ||

This month for book club we chose The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. As usual here is some background and some questions to start your book club discussion:

A bit about the author

  • Ishiguro is a Japanese-British novelist, screenwriter and short story writer.
  • Born in Nagasaki, Japan; Ishiguro’s family moved to England when he was five in 1960. 
  • He has received four nominations for the Man Booker Prize nominations, winning the 1989 award for his novel The Remains of the Day. 
  •  The Buried Giant is his 7th novel.

Questions

(Note: I borrowed pretty heavily from Like Bears to Honey and Knof Double Day Reading Center which actually have much better, more eloquent versions of these questions)

  • Was this book what you expected?
  • Who was your favourite character?
  • What was your favourite scene?
  • Discuss Ishiguro’s portrayal of the memory loss associated with the mist. What worked for you, what didn’t? What is this story saying about memory? 
  • The book has a very specific tone and has bene criticised for the overtly flowery, unrealistic dialogue. What did you think of the way the characters spoke?
  • This is a quest style story. How is the idea of the hero’s quest portrayed in modern culture? How does Ishiguro’s story conform to the standards of this literary trope? How does it defy it?
  • What did you think of Axl and Beatrice’s relationship? Did the revelations about their relationship, as they gained their memory back surprise you? 
  • Discuss the scene under the monastery in the tunnel. Each character sees different things - bats, dead infants. Why? 
  • Discuss Gawain and Tristan. Which character was more interesting/better drawn.
  • There is a repeating story about a boatman in this book. What does it mean? Why is it included?
  • The perspective changes in the last chapter to be first person. Why did Ishiguro do this? Also – lets discuss that ending!
  • Talk about the horrifying scene with Beatrice and Axl in the boat, trying to travel down the river. What is the significance of Axl’s interaction with the woman on the boat? Why do you think Beatrice’s memory is so greatly affected during this scene? What does this part of their journey reveal about their relationship?

 

 

|| Book Club || Shtum by Jem Lester ||

A bit about the author, Jem Lester:

  • This is his debut novel.
  • He was a journalist for nine years.
  • He was a high school teacher for nine years, teaching English and Media studies. 
  • He has two children, one of whom is profoundly autistic.
  • Many of the stories elements are based on truth, he and his former partner went through a similar court case with their local council to get their son an expensive residential program. Lester’s father also went through cancer around the same time.

Questions to think about:

  • How does this depiction of autism compare to your previous experience with autism, either in real life or through books and films?
  • Favourite moments? Highlights/lowlights?
  • This is very much a book about male relationships however there are some female characters. How were Emma, Ben’s mother and Jonah’s teacher drawn and was it successful?
  • At the end of the book we learn much more about George, how did you feel about what you learnt?
  • What did you make of Emma and Ben’s relationship? 
  • How did you take Georg’s final message to Ben?
  • How did you find the use of official letters throughout the book?
  • How does the fact that much of this is based on real life events change the way you read the book. Did you know that was the case while you were reading? Did the end note from the author have an effect on you?
  • Talk about your favourite scene.

|| Book Club || Superabundance By Heinz Helle

For book club this month, we tried to move away from stories of women trying to find freedom (which was becoming a bit of a theme) and picked the first book from German author Heinz Helle. As usual, if I were you I would read the book before looking at these questions. Just a suggestion, I don't want to ruin anything!

SOME FACTS ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND THE BOOK

  • He was born in 1978.
  • He studied Philosophy in Munich and New York. 
  • He works as in advertising copy-writer. 
  • He is a graduate of the Swiss Institute of Literature in Biel, where he lives. 
  • Superabundance was originally written in German and is also known by its literal translated title : The soothing sound of exploding kerosene (The Reassuring Sound of Exploding Kerosene). 

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • The narrator has no name. What effect does this have on your reading of the book and connection with this character?

  • The first scene in the book describes a young boy playing football - what is going on here? Why did Helle choose this as the opening scene?

  • Football comes up a few times in this book, are there any parallels that you an draw - for example football/masculinity, football/community?

  • Consciousness and perception are ongoing themes in this book. What is Helle saying about them?

  • Helle's style is repetitive, he presents a lot of lists and uses many short, sharp sentences. He also writes cyclical lines such as "The words in my head do not exist, I tell myself with the words in my head." What is the effect of his style? 

  • Do you like the nameless creator? Do you think he is funny or just downright awful? How important is likability for a powerful narrative? 

  • Each chapter has a title, some are pulled from somewhere in that chapter but some do not and are actually at odds with the content of that chapter (see p83 'I wonder if I should quit smoking'). Why does Helle do this? Are the chapter headings useful?