Reading Group 1 Reviews – Dec 23 – The Boy Made of Snow by Chloe Mayer

The Boy Made of Snow is inspired by the original story of The Snow Queen and each chapter of the novel starts with a quote from a well known fairy tale.

In a sleepy English village in 1944, Annabel and her son Daniel live in the shadow of war. With her husband away, an increasingly isolated Annabel begins to lose her grip on reality.
When mother and son befriend Hans, a German POW consigned to a nearby farm, their lives are suddenly filled with thrilling secrets.
To Annabel, Hans is an awakening from the darkness that has engulfed her since Daniel’s birth. To her son, a solitary boy caught up in the magical world of fairy tales, he is perhaps a prince in disguise. But Hans has plans of his own and will soon set them into motion with devastating consequences.

Member Reviews:

M – This book covered the whole perspective of village life during and after war. A lonely, depressed mother left by herself with a child she doesn’t bond with when her husband is called up. Parents, on both sides know she is unwell but live a distance away and because of circumstances are not on hand to help. She had been in an institution after the baby was born but was discharged.  The mother lived in fairy tale book world and passed this on to her son who at the age of nine, when most of the story took place, was just escaping into the real world. The German POW was a novelty for them and filled a gap in their lives, but the jealousy between mother and son about him just went too far and the boy decided to do all he could to keep Hans to himself.  The huge snowfall showed the resilience the boy had acquired and his determination to stay alive.

J – The Boy Made of Snow took a lot of perseverance to get into. I felt that the moving from 1st to 3rd person by chapter didn’t help with this and helped to confuse the storyline. Daniel was a very strange boy who seemed to lack a moral compass and lived through the fairy tales he was told – partly due to his mother’s lack of reality due to her depression brought on following Daniel’s birth.

The book was set during the 2nd World War with Annabel’s husband serving in the Forces. A group of German prisoners of war were brought into the village and put to work- Annabel struck up a relationship with one of them who was tasked with chopping wood for a farmer and selling it to villagers.  Daniel came across one of their liaisons and became jealous resulting in him creating a friendship with Hans.

As the story unfolded  Daniel tries to move a tramp on by burning his belongings as he thought he was a Troll and would cause harm to his mother and him. By telling lies the tramp eventually is beaten to death by the local Home Guard. The action is very unsavoury and seems so different to the tone of the book.

Daniel’s mother walks out of the house barefooted where she and the boy have been trapped by the volume of snow and does not return. Meanwhile his father has been in hospital with PTSD, eventually recovering sufficiently to be discharged.  After Daniel is rescued he takes on the care of the boy – I would wonder if having such a condition would have allowed this to happen.

Although I completed the book I wasn’t captivated by the story and would not recommend it as a great read.

A – Not really one for me, I didn’t finish,  gave up half way.  All a bit depressing and could see there was unlikely to be much hope of the story improving.  The style with the two tenses was irritating and so were the fairy tales!

S – I didn’t  enjoy this book.  Found it quite depressing to read over Christmas so actually didn’t finish it. It was a very unusual book  set during WW11.  Annabel and her 9 year old son, Daniel live in Kent.  Annabel has post natal depression since her son was born and struggles to care for him.  She bonds with him the only way she can which is  by reading him fairy tales.  So Daniel lives in a fantasy world.  They meet a  German prisoner of war called Hans whom they befriend.  Basically I missed a big chunk out after this as it was not my sort of read.   The reference to the book’s title was because he was stranded in his house, on his own, as his mother had gone missing, during heavy snow which lasted  for three weeks.  After this chapter I completely gave up.

LS – Obviously the heroine was suffering from post natal depression. At the time the book was set she would have been confined to a mental hospital as there were insufficient resources to cater for the situation. She obviously inflicted her situation on her child and made him most ‘strange’. He lived in a fairy-tale as his father ,whom he loved, was away fighting so he had little help in coping with his environment.

He loved visiting his grandparents where he had  friends so I think his life could have been normal. He was probably bullied at school, obviously he was neglected and by today’s standard would be considered abused.  He was cruel to the tramp mainly because he had no role model in how to treat others and he was frightened of strangers.  I am unsure of the liaison with the prisoner of war.  I did not enjoy this book.

Reading Group 1 Reviews – Nov 23 – The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

Two teenagers, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, meet at a taverna on the island they both call home. It is 1974 on the island of Cyprus. The tavern is the only place that Kostas, who is Greek and Christian, and Defne, who is Turkish and Muslim, can meet, in secret.  This is where one can find the best food in town, the best music, the best wine. But there is something else to the place: it makes one forget, even if for just a few hours, the world outside and its immoderate sorrows.
In the centre of the tavern, growing through a cavity in the roof, is a fig tree. This tree will witness their hushed, happy meetings, their silent, surreptitious departures; and the tree will be there when the war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to rubble, when the teenagers vanish and break apart.
Decades later in north London, sixteen-year-old Ada Kazantzakis has never visited the island where her parents were born. Desperate for answers, she seeks to untangle years of secrets, separation and silence. The only connection she has to the land of her ancestors is a Ficus Carica growing in the back garden of their home.

Member Reviews:

L – I enjoyed this book, I like the way the writer tells the story of the history of Cyprus and  how she tells the story of both sides.

D – I found it a difficult read, rather disjointed with no flow.  And I couldn’t get to grips with a talking fig tree!  Interesting subject which could have been related and explored chronologically, rather than flitting about in different time frames.

Reading Group 1 Reviews – Oct 23 – Middle England by Jonathon Coe

This novel is an account of the years immediately before and after the UK’s 2016 European Referendum, seen through the eyes of a disparate group of old and young, academic and non-academic, politically engaged and would-rather-listen-to-music people, all centred on Benjamin Trotter, a struggling writer living a quiet life in the English Midlands. Beginning eight years ago on the outskirts of Birmingham, where car factories have been replaced by Poundland, and London, where frenzied riots give way to Olympic fever, Middle England follows a cast of characters through a time of immense change.

There are newlyweds Ian and Sophie, who disagree about the future of the country and, possibly, the future of their relationship; Doug, the political commentator who writes impassioned columns about austerity from his Chelsea townhouse, and his radical teenage daughter who will stop at nothing in her quest for social justice; Benjamin Trotter, who embarks on an apparently doomed new career in middle age, and his father Colin, whose last wish is to vote in the European referendum. And within all these lives is the story of modern England: a story of nostalgia and delusion; of bewilderment and barely-suppressed rage.

Member Reviews:

L – I didn’t get to grips with the characters and storylines.  It said on the front cover that it was meant to be a comedy, I  didn’t think it was that funny.

D – I thought it was brilliant!  Tongue in cheek amusing, and also slightly depressing at the same time.  A very honest view of the rather sad state of affairs in this country.  I expect that one’s view of the UK following the EU referendum may depend upon which way one voted.  It’s a struggle to explain the phenomenon of populism sweeping through western society since 2016, leading to the election of Trump and the result of the referendum. It is with the subject of Brexit, however, that we really see the value of a novel in exploring human experience.