Tag Archives: ebook

Jennifer Maiden’s George and Clare, the Baby and the Bikies

Jennifer Maiden, Play with Knives Four: George and Clare, the Baby and the Bikies (Quemar Press 2017)

pwk4The first page of this short novel –– just over 157 pages – drops the reader in medias res, that is to say into the middle of a long-running story. Arguably that’s what any decent novel does, but in this case you could go back and read a lot of what has gone before. See my post on Play with Knives: Three: George and Clare and the Grey Hat Hacker for one synopsis.

In the first few pages, George Jeffreys and Clare Collins, once Probation Office and convicted child murderer (that is, convicted when nine years old of murdering her three younger siblings), now lovers thirty odd years later, are languishing in a heatwave in Mt Druitt in Sydney’s western suburbs. In a break from working on a report for their NGO employer about Indigenous children in custody in Sydney’s Western Suburbs, they chat about a draconian policy at the Cobham Juvenile Detention Centre (a real place, real policy), and then Clare looks up an extract from William Hazlitt’s Liber Amoris on Project Gutenberg and reads out a passage, which makes them both cry – and which they then discuss in erudite terms, before indulging in some erotic play.

pantherThe book continues as it has begun: whatever else may be happening, George and Clare are always good for a bit of literary chat, some sharing of random information (George refers to his ‘op-shop mind’), commentary on international politics (the Grenfell Tower fire of June 2017 is particularly upsetting), plenty of erotic carry-on (the word ‘foreplay’ features frequently), and lots of mutual introspection. Quotes from poetry and references to visual art abound: in this book, prints from Rosaleen Norton, the ‘Witch of King’s Cross’, play a significant role (there’s an example on the right, and you can click on the image for more). Not everyone would agree with Clare’s description of Roie’s work as mostly sweet and pretty.

The story unfolds in chapters that mostly alternate between prose narrated by George, and third person narration in verse. The baby great granddaughter of their Aboriginal friend Ruth has gone missing, and the quest to find her, alive or dead, involves, among others, a bikie gang (the Warriors of Hell), a super-criminal named Schmidt and his three diverse lovers, a number of George’s former Probation clients, an inmate of the juvenile detention centre (up on the roof, echoing recent real-world headlines), Idris the Grey Hat Hacker from the previous book now in Moscow, and George’s contact in the CIA in Langley. There’s a boxing match between two men who are old enough to know better (in which Jennifer Maiden, through George, reminds us of the second line to Muhammad Ali’s ‘Floats like a butterfly stings like a bee’), a witchcraft ceremony, a fabulously tense shoot-out in the Jenolan Caves, a number of deaths and a birth.

It’s good fun, it sticks to the tropes of the thriller genre, and could make an excellent movie. Some difficulties are solved a little too easily, and some of the connections between events aren’t clear, but I can’t say I mind. It’s full of surprise twists, not in the plot so much as in the telling: you never know where George and Clare’s minds will go next. For just one example, here’s George in the middle of the climactic cave scene, where people are dead and dying and things could hardly be more urgent:

… in front of me was a formation of such irresistible fineness that it stopped everything else in me for a second. The plain clear light was floating on a white inclining bank of intricately furrowed but luminously smooth limestone, with a cluster of long tasseled objects like sea plants embedded in the top. These showed delicate tints from iron, but in the sweet colours of skin, not its usual salty rust.

I remembered Proust writing that one can’t appreciate beauty when in severe sadness, but I wanted to add something about that point in which one is wracked with anxiety, and beauty is the only thing one can experience, perhaps just as those in grief always obsess on details. I wanted to tell that to Clare, and the need to do so reincarnated me – or maybe disincarnated me enough for me to continue.

Through it all, George and Clare’s relationship develops and though it may be a bit prim of me, I’m not going to say how. I will say that the last two short chapters, while completely within the conventions of the genre in having the world back to normal now that the threat has been dealt with, are deeply satisfying in terms of Clare’s long story arc: she can never forget that she killed her younger siblings when she was nine, has never asked forgiveness, but she does seem at last to have found a possible way to move on.

aww2017.jpg

George and Clare, the Baby and the Bikies is the tenth book I’ve read for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. I obtained it, as you can, as a free download from Quemar Press.

Jennifer Maiden’s George and Clare and the Grey Hat Hacker

Jennifer Maiden, Play with Knives: Three: George and Clare and the Grey Hat Hacker (Quemar Press 2016)

pwk3This is the third novel in the Play with Knives series, and like the earlier volumes it’s not a straightforward thriller as the title might seem to imply.

As well as the earlier novels, it is preceded by more than a decade of poetry featuring its two main characters. You probably don’t need to have read any of the previous novels or poems to enjoy it – a teasing curiosity about the back-story would be part of the enjoyment, and anyway parts of the history referred to in the text exist only in those references. But just for the record, here’s a chronology (I’ve listed the 25 poems in order of publication at the bottom of this post).

Chronology:

1990: George Jeffreys and Clare Collins first appear as the leads in Jennifer Maiden’s novel Play with Knives. He’s  a probation officer and she’s his client, a young woman who murdered her three younger siblings when she was nine years old. There’s a serial killer on the loose in Western Sydney, George gets involved with Clare in an ethically dubious way, and they begin an apparently endless conversation.

1991: A sequel, Complicity, is written but only excerpts are published in literary magazines. George and Clare’s relationship as lovers and conversers firms up, and there is more violence. (Quemar Press published it as an ebook in 2016.)

2005: After a fourteen-year absence the characters reappear / are resurrected in Friendly Fire (Giramondo). Maiden says in an introduction that soon after 11 September 2001, she thought, ‘What are George and Clare thinking?’ The question begins to be answered in a prose narrative set in Lower Manhattan on 9 September 2001, and then in six ‘George Jeffreys’ poems, each beginning:

George Jeffreys woke up in [xxx].
George Bush Junior was on the TV, obsessed
as usual with Baghdad.

The first four of these poems pretty much sticks to the question of what George is thinking – about post–911 events up to and including the invasion of Iraq. Then, in the fifth and sixth poems, he moves beyond just thinking, to chat with George W Bush (in the White House, in #5) and Saddam Hussein (in Baghdad, in #6).

2010–2016: Another 14 ‘George Jeffreys’ poems appear in Jennifer Maiden’s next five books. There are also four poems named for Clare: ‘Clare and Paris / Manus / Thessaloniki / Nauru’. Both characters make an appearance in ‘The Year of the Ox’ in Liquid Nitrogen (2012) – George watching Obama on TV, Clare in contact with the ghosts of her murdered siblings, both watching Gillard on TV. George w Bush fades from the scene, and so eventually does the TV set.

While George and Clare continue to provide a medium for reflections on world events, they also assert themselves as characters, turning up at hotspots all over the world working for an NGO called Prisoners of Conscience. They are great talkers, to each other of course, but also with political figures ranging from the Master of the Crossroads in Louisiana and a brace of ancient Chinese philosophers to a CIA operative and, in a poem published the day after his electoral victory, Donald Trump.

The poems are embedded in a compelling body of work, only one of a number of conduits for reflections on the constellation of themes in each book – war and violence, ‘ethical security’, government surveillance, Maiden’s version of ‘the problem of evil’, culling of feral animals, and more. Other pairs of characters appear in similar series, including Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt in 14 poems, Tony Abbott and Queen Victoria in six. But only George and Clare’s poems develop progressively into more rounded fictions*. There are Hitchcockian shoot-outs in spectacular settings, dramatic rescues of abused women, a spot of arson on Manus Island. People and animals rescued by Clare become part of their domestic life back in Mount Druitt.

2016: It seems a logical progression, almost a response to pressure from the characters themselves, when the novel series comes back to life. Quemar Press reissues Play with Knives, publishes Complicity for the first time, and then Play with Knives Three: George and Clare and the Grey Hat Hacker, all as ebooks in PDF format.

End of chronology.

This third novel in the Play with Knives series differs from the previous two by being mostly in verse. It differs from the poems of the previous decades by having room to focus on the characters’ intimacies (which it does in explicit detail) and space for their conversations to veer off down innumerable byways.

After a brief prose prologue from George (all the prose sections are George speaking in the first person), the first chapter begins in the well-established way, ‘George Jeffreys woke up’: he’s in Thirroul, just south of Sydney, house-sitting with Clare, in a house filled with Gary Shead prints of D H Lawrence and Frieda. (Thirroul is where Lawrence wrote Kangaroo. A number of the prints are lovingly described in the text: you can see images of them on this Pinterest site). As well as Lawrence on the walls, they share the house with a pet rat named Johnny Depp, canaries (Lily and Snape) and a blue tongue lizard (Hello Kitty).

It’s the night of a scheduled execution in Indonesia strikingly similar to the real-world killing by firing squad in April 2015 when of Myuran Sukumaran, Andrew Chan and six others are to be killed by firing squad in Indonesia. Clare and George have (of course) been involved with one of the prisoners and their emotional preparation for and then response to the executions is the central action of the first two chapters, which constitute more than half the book. Seeking distraction and human contact, they have quite a lot of explicitly negotiated and described, not entirely conventional sex, they swap stories about D H Lawrence and Norman Mailer, come close to using Assange as a term for a sexual practice, criticise Freud and de Sade, discuss Trump’s policies, quote A E Housman, Nye Bevan, A J P Taylor, and a lot more. There’s a recurring sentence:

The clock by the bed went round, but it wasn’t time.

This is all so absorbing that one hardly notices that some time in the night, they learn by phone that George’s grandson Idris is heading their way from England, where his hacking activities have put him in danger. The next night, still exhausted by events in Indonesia, well past the halfway point of the book, George and Clare go to bed:

They slept there for an hour, then George woke to a noise.
It was like a cat tapping to get out, except that he saw it was
actually his grandson, tapping to get in. He thought: If he
calls me ‘Dude’, I’ll kill him. He unlocked the door quickly,
admonished, ‘Don’t wake Clare.’ Idris hugged him, no different
to his exuberance as a child. George had always been his
favourite male relative. George locked the door. Idris still
hadn’t let his arm go, exclaiming, ‘Dude, how are you? You
look great.’ George hugged him back: ‘I’m fine. You seem in
quite good shape, yourself, boy.’

That’s the start of what in a conventional genre novel would be the central action (and the echo from the poems in ‘George woke’ suggests that we are indeed at a new beginning). But, once everyone has said hello and Idris has said he’s being followed by some ‘weird dudes’, everyone goes back to sleep. When Clare wakes in the morning she muses on one of the Shead paintings, remembers a Civil War song, looks at the sleeping George …

Sure, there’s a story to be told, but life is full of moments. Idris’s partner Sophie (whose life Clare saved in Paris years earlier) arrives with baby Florence, and there is a wonderful sequence of extended family domesticity.

In chapters 3 to 4, George picks up the narration in prose, and in what is only slightly less leisurely (there’s still time for a lit-crit discussion of Peter Pan, some wine-snob chat and a brief reflection on infant circumcision), the tension mounts to a climactic shoot-out on the Bulli Pass. That too, as much as the sex and the images on the wall, is the subject of Clare-and-George conversation. Clare asks:

‘How did you shoot that Frenchman?’

‘Apart from using withdrawal symptoms to concentrate? I remembered what you said about empathising. I knew where to aim for in his arm, and I didn’t feel as if my own arm existed. Fortunately, by the time his mate killed him, most of the empathy was over.’ Although I instantly remembered, very accurately, the screaming.

In [redacted to avoid spoiler], her eyes were lightning on rockpools. I thought of my finger in the sea anemone: that temporary sudden small ridge appearing from nowhere after the opening, testing itself against an invader, making the whole map change. She asked, ‘But how did you shoot him?’

I answered, ‘I am descended from the Hanging Judge, you know. It was easy. I just forgot everything I ever knew.’

Some novels are blatantly written with the Hollywood machine in mind. This is not one of them: it ignores the genre rules about structure, and its pleasures are in the detail of relationships – in sex, in play between adults and small children, in the joys of conversation, in the grief and rage of seeing state machinery destroy lives, in engagement on many levels with art, literature and politics. There is a twist at the end, in the last two short chapters, chapter 5 in prose and chapter 6 in verse,  which makes the whole hacker plot seem a little like an elaborate misdirection. The clock by the bed still goes round, but in these final chapters we have a different understanding of what that means.

I won’t spoil things by telling you if Idris escapes safely to Moscow.
—–
Jennifer Maiden poems featuring George Jeffreys and Clare Collins 2005–2016
In Friendly Fire (Giramondo 2005):
George Jeffreys 1: George Jeffreys Woke Up in Kabul
George Jeffreys 2: George Jeffreys Woke Up in Kandahar
George Jeffreys 3: George Jeffreys Woke Up in London
George Jeffreys 4: George Jeffreys Woke Up in Berlin
George Jeffreys 5: George Jeffreys Woke Up in the White House
George Jeffreys 6: George Jeffreys Woke Up in Baghdad

In Pirate Rain (Giramondo 2010):
George Jeffreys 7: George Jeffreys Woke Up in New Orleans
George Jeffreys 8: George Jeffreys Woke Up in Rio
George Jeffreys 9: George Jeffreys Woke Up in Beirut
Clare and Paris
George Jeffreys 10: George Jeffreys Woke Up in a Pirates’ Ship

In Liquid Nitrogen (Giramondo 2012):
The Year of the Ox
George Jeffreys 11: George Jeffreys Woke Up in Langley
George Jeffreys 12: George Jeffreys Woke Up in Oslo
George Jeffreys 13: George Jeffreys Woke Up in Beijing
George Jeffreys 14: George Jeffreys Woke Up in Sharm el Sheikh

In Drones and Phantoms (Giramondo 2014)
George Jeffreys 15: The Fourth Terrace
George Jeffreys 16: George Jeffreys Woke Up in South Iceland
Clare and Manus

In The Fox Petition (Giramondo 2015)
George Jeffreys 17: George and the Holy Holiday
George Jeffreys 18: George Jeffreys Woke Up on Kos
Clare and Thessaloniki

In The Metronome (Quemar 2016, Giramondo 2017)
Clare and Nauru
George Jeffreys 19: George Jeffreys Woke Up in Thredbo
George Jeffreys 20: George Jeffreys Woke Up in Washington

There are more to come, in Appalachian Fall, due out from Quemar in October.
——
aww2017.jpgGeorge and Clare and the Grey Hat Hacker is the ninth book I’ve read for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. I obtained it, as you can, as a free download from Quemar Press.

Jennifer Maiden’s Complicity

Jennifer Maiden, Play With Knives: Two: Complicity (Quemar Press 2016)

complicity

This is a sequel to Jennifer Maiden’s Play With Knives (Allen & Unwin 1990), taking up the action maybe ten years later. The manuscript has been circulating  for decades, and excerpts and commentary have appeared in literary journals, but it seemed destined to remain unpublished. Then Quemar Press made a PDF available as a free download last year.

The main characters of the Play With Knives novels (there are two more after Complicity) are George Jeffreys and Clare Collins, who have featured powerfully in at least fifteen of Maiden’s poems in her last half dozen books. The first novel begins with George, the narrator, as a probation officer assigned to Clare’s case, having to decide whether to recommend her release from prison, where she has served time for murdering her siblings when she was a young girl. There’s a plot involving a serial killer in western Sydney, but the heart of the novel is in their developing intimacy, and their almost obsessive questioning of what it means for both of them to live in the long shadow of Clare’s act.

In Complicity they have both moved on. George begins the novel working for an NGO (Prisoners of Conscience) monitoring dubious legal proceedings in third world countries; Clare is living with a journalist and runs a small business. George returns to western Sydney and their mutual probing recommences, along with a couple of lovingly detailed sexual encounters. As before, there are thriller elements: people are dying from poisoned benzodiazapines, and someone assaults Clare a number of times with escalating violence. As before, these elements are secondary to the ebbs and flows of relationships, and to George-as-narrator’s ruminations. The characters return again and again to  Clare’s childhood crime and to the climax of the first novel, analysing their meanings and their emotional impacts – much as real people might, rather than like characters in a TV thriller.

Lynda La Plante this isn’t. (I love at least some of Lynda La Plante’s TV shows, but one novel was enough.)

In six books over more than a decade now, Maiden’s George and Clare have been materialising in political hotspots all over the world, encountering characters ranging from Somali pirates to resurrected ancient Chinese nobility, with George W Bush and more recently Donald Trump somewhere in between. In those poems, George and Clare have their own adventures, but they are mainly interesting as lenses through which Jennifer Maiden can look at the wide world. In this book, though George Bush Senior’s Gulf War is a significant backdrop, George and Clare’s relationship is the focus. But we come to understand, perhaps even more than in the first novel, what it is about them that makes them such a useful lens. We see them grappling intensely and honestly with Maiden’s version of ‘the problem of evil’: how people who are not monsters can perpetrate atrocities, and how to live honestly with that reality.

aww2017.jpgComplicity is the seventh book I’ve read for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. I obtained it, as you can, as a free download from Quemar Press.

Maree Dawes brb

Maree Dawes, brb: be right back (Spineless Wonders 2014)

brb A friend of mine once suspected her husband of having an online affair. He was spending an awful lot of time on the computer and she was fairly sure some of it was in chat rooms. Oh dear, I thought, I spend an awful lot of time online myself – just look at my blog output. What suspicions have I been arousing? While it’s true I’ve made some good friends thanks to the internet, I’m glad to report that chat rooms, multi-user fantasy games, bitcoin, and perhaps especially cybersex have never had the remotest appeal. So brb, a verse novella about raunchy chat room experiences, was a long way from presenting a temptation, though it was a bit of a titillation, and something of an education.

Maree Dawes’s protagonist is known only by her online ‘handles’, of which Boadicea (shortened to ‘cea’ in chats) is the main one. Her spouse, known to us only as ‘he’, is often away from home, and has given her a number of hours online as a gift. (How time flies, that such a gift marks the story as belonging to an earlier epoch! You can almost hear the dial-up tone.) Boadicea ventures into a chat room. After a rocky start she finds a warmly affectionate community, where people exchange an awful lot of ‘huggles’. We learn that it’s nominally a room devoted to books and literature, but from the beginning Boadicea is looking for adventure. She falls in love and has at least one torrid erotic encounter with a disembodied lover. There are hints of cyber-bonks with other, less emotionally significant chatsters, and there’s one piece of serious nastiness.

The narrative never really forgets that it’s all a bit silly, and the tone is generally comic. At the same time real emotions are involved, and the poetry explores a strange twilight state where relationships forged using only keyboard and screen can sometimes seem more substantial than those in the physical world, lacking as it does the delete key and the logout option. [If you’re worried about spoilers skip the next sentence.] For me the most powerful moments come when Boadicea is giving up her online life, tearing herself away from its addictive pull – in what feels like a cross between giving up cigarettes and losing faith in God. [End of spoilerish bit.] The poetry develops a deeper resonance, too, in moments that explore the relationship of words and sensuality, as in this non-computer moment from ‘me: 4 am’, rendered in online conventions:

me: ease under sheet

he rolls over grabs my breast, kisses my mouth smoothes my waist

me: stop
me: wait
me: back off
me: you have to tell me what you are doing
me: I need to know
me:  first the words
me: then the touch

me: these unplanned caresses
me: are too much

After eight lines in which she demonstrates the kind of words she means, there’s this:

oh forget it he says, I want to make love not lyric poems, it’s 4 am go back to sleep

And one is left wondering if ‘me’ was so wrong to want words. Do poetry and sex have to belong to different realms?

Appropriately enough, brb is published as an ebook, available from the pubisher as a PDF direct from Spineless Wonders or in Kindle-compatible or DRM-free ePub formats from tomely.com. I downloaded my complimentary copy to my tablet in the Kindle and ePub versions. The Kindle version was much friendlier. The ePub version made me yearn for the stability of words on paper. [Added later: The publisher asked me to enlarge on these comments, and I then did an experiment which I should have done before making these comments. Part of the difference was that the ePub version’s font size was very large, which played merry havoc with line breaks and even page breaks, whereas the Kindle’s font was of  a size that allowed the poems to sit comfortably within the page. This was not a fault of the file formats, but resulted from the different default settings on the apps I was using. What I said about the stability of words on paper still applies.]

awwbadge_2014brb is the fourth book I’ve read and reviewed as part of the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

The book group go to Bleak House

Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1852, Project Gutenberg version, prepared by Donald Lainsman with revision and corrections by Thomas Berger and Joseph E Loewenstein)

Unless you count comics or movie and TV adaptations, just about anything by Dickens is likely to win me a game of Humiliation (rules at the link). When someone suggested him for our next Book Group title I was happy, and even happier when we settled on Bleak House: Neil Gaiman has been going on about it on his blog recently, and my friend Cassandra Golds says it is a huge presence in two of her recent novels.

Before the meeting:
This is the first book I’ve read on iPhone and iPad, and it was a good experience. The iPad is more satisfyingly book sized, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the sense of continual progress that comes with the iPhone. One of the book’s 8041 screens had to be ‘turned’ every couple of seconds – so many words, but in such tiny portions!

I was probably out of harmony with the spirit of the book, not so much because of the electronic devices as because I read it in just a few weeks. It was originally published as a serial over 20 months: if you read one of its 67 chapters a week you would have kept pace. I doubt if anyone much reads at such a leisurely pace any more, and we’re probably the poorer for it. Anyhow, it’s a truly wonderful book which I recommend for when you’re in the mood for sustained, leisurely reading.

I’m confident I have nothing at all original to say about the book itself, so I’ll presume on a little of your time by ruminating on translation issues. Every now and then someone writes an article saying that each generation needs its own translation of [insert name of classic work here]. The idea is that we need to have ancient Latin or Renaissance Spanish served up in contemporary language. By this logic, Italian or Spanish readers need a fresh translation of Dickens every 50 years or so. If so, doesn’t it follow that we need an updating in English just as regularly? After all, the language has changed in the last 150 years, and early 21st century English speakers have a very different, and more diverse, take on the world than their mid-19th century equivalents. Where Dickens could assume that literate English speakers shared a vast set of references – the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, Shakespeare and classical mythology come to mind, and there’s plenty of each in Bleak House – we can no longer do that. Just for the heck of it, I thought I’d see how a hypothetical translator might tackle the opening:

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.

I thought ‘translating’ this would be a straightforward bit of fun, but by the second word I was in trouble. When I was at university we had three terms, Lent, Trinity and Michaelmas, but surely Dickens isn’t talking about university here? Did the English courts have terms? (Do they still?) What is Lincoln’s Inn Hall, and who is the Lord Chancellor again? And so on. None of this worried me at all when I read the book, but a translator might feel obliged to do something like:

London. The year coming to an end, and the nation’s most eminent judge, the Lord Chancellor, hearing cases in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the Flood had just withdrawn from the face of the earth, and it would not be surprising to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling up Holborn Hill.

There, now that’s more accessible, isn’t it? (No need to gloss the Megalosaurus for 21st century readers, I thought, but the edgy play on biblical and palaeontological versions of prehistory does need clarifying.) It’s not quite Dickens, but then what translation is? Interestingly enough, even being facetious I couldn’t bear to touch what comes next:

Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes – gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

In short, I found the novel irresistible, especially for the way it wallows in language. And Cassandra is right – it’s full of echoes of Clair de Lune and The Museum of Mary Child.

After the meeting:
It’s winter in Sydney, and half of us were away, either home sick or visiting warmer climes. Of the five who showed, three had read the whole book, one was a hundred or so pages from the end, and the last confessed up front that he’d picked up a copy in a bookshop, and then thought, ‘Nah!’, though it turned out he had read it 20 or so years ago.

It was a good book to discuss. We talked about Mr Guppy’s withdrawal of his proposal, the death of Little Jo, the use of catchphrases (‘Discipline must be maintained!’), the pleasure of reading bits aloud. Someone knew that the appalling Mrs Jellyby was based on Caroline Chisolm, and the execrable Skimpole on an actual person. We wondered about the politics, the anti-Jewish nastiness (‘Smallweed is a Jew’), the depiction of industrialisation. Someone had thought about this book in comparison to the other Great Works we’ve read, Anna Karenina and The Tree of Man, and found it suffered from the comparison. I don’t know what I think of that. I know I enjoyed it at least as much as the Tolstoy and quite a lot more than the White, but I suppose enjoyment isn’t everything.

I haven’t been deliberately secretive about this blog and its reports on the group, but nor have I deliberately drawn people’s attention to it. If anyone from the group does drop in, welcome! Please add a comment.