Friday, 18 December 2009

Books of the year

"Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we must ask ourselves not what it says, but what it means" Umberto Eco

I agree with Karen - the book group pushes me to read outside my comfort zone. This year Mr Pip, Snow Falling On Cedars and What I Loved were up there for me; all three informed and entertained, their authors obviously having expertise/love of a subject they wanted to share through storytelling.

Notes from the Underground surprised me and shocked me. What a character Dostoyevsky created! And finally, The Key proved a great read a second time around. A much deeper piece of fiction than I first thought. Which takes me back to Umbert Eco's quote...

Struggling to find the Key

This month's read was The Key by Junichiro Tanizaki, a short Japanese novel chosen by Andy, the long-suffering token male in the group. The narrative is constructed from the secret diaries of a husband and wife, who each assume the other is reading their diary, and the story revolves around their mutually manipulative sex life. But is it an erotic novel? Some of the women in the group found it deeply unerotic and, not for the first time, we fell into discussion about what sets men and women apart (both in literature and life?).

The book gave us much to talk about, and was, as Andy said, a multi-layered story of old and new Japan, family politics, jealousy, sexual dynamics - even a hint of murder. It was interesting to compare it with last month's read, Memoirs of a Geisha - this was a more modern setting(1950s) and the women had more control, but the contrast between public propriety and a certain alcohol-assisted looseness were similar. Andy said that the novel was most of all 'a vehicle for illuminating a marraige' and we agreed that the themes of deception and avoidance are common to many marraiges. The man's obsession with viewing his wife naked was maybe not that unusual, and June related a Shetland tale of a (drunk?) man mistaking a sow for his wife 'wi her goonie aff'! Someone commented on the loveless attitude to sex, and lack of foreplay - 'but did men do foreplay before 1956?' retorted Andy!

We also took the chance to look back at our reads over the last year. For me, the most rewarding are the ones I probably wouldn't have picked up had I not had to read them for the group. A Perfect Storm and Margaret Elphinstone's The Sea Road were two of those.