2019-2020 Bookclub

Oct. 2019

Colum McCann



Nov. 19

Tana French 

The Wych Elm


Dec. 19

Jan. 20

Seven book club members attended this meeting which was host by Liam.


Though the discussion, like the book, covered many topics, the one that stood out was the treatment of Northern Ireland, possibly because it made some of us feel so old to realise that the Belfast Good Friday agreement now fits into a historical novel although we remember it well, and possibly because it has been in the news again because of Brexit and the backstop/customs border arrangements.  


Some of the non-Irish members felt they were a little at a disadvantage as there were many references that went over their heads. Instead of helping them get to know Ireland (the aim of the Ambassadors’ list where we got the idea for reading this book from), it made them aware of how little they knew about the country, which for Axelle spoilt the pleasure of reading the book. Poppy on the other hand, for whom as the youngest member of the group it really was history, didn’t find it bothered her at all.  

Focusing as it does on three momentous moments in Irish history, it was probably to be expected that we all agreed that events were much more important than the characters, and with perhaps the exception of Lillie, the Dublin maid who leaves for America and develops into a strong and independent woman, the fictional characters were not particularly well drawn enough to elicit any sort of emotion or attachment from the reader. Allison was interested enough to research the real historical characters to get to know them better, but one of the fictional characters Hannah was found to be a disappointment, and even downright annoying for Elena. New member Nicole made the very valid observation that the female characters existed only in the private sphere, whereas the men were all very much public heroes, a reflection of the times he was writing about or an oversight by the author? Poppy however pointed out that she was impressed by how a male author managed to write believable female characters. Nicole found the teenage son a little too perfect to be true though.  

 It was generally agreed that although the various strands of the book may have been interesting (except the NI part for Mary) the links were tenuous, even preposterous. While generally it was agreed that the writing was good, the overuse of a staccato style of three and four-word verbless sentences in the first chapters was irritating.  

As the first Saturday sitting of the Westminster parliament was happening as we were speaking and as we all knew that the meaningful vote could turn out to be meaningless, the talk veered off onto the topic of Brexit before we got back to the book to vote. Votes were surprisingly similar, the range only being between 6 and 7 – it actually felt like watching an ice-skating championship 6/6.5/6/7/6.25/6.5/6 to give an overall score of 6.28/10.  

There 7 book club members at this meeting which was host by Elena.

The general consensus was the pace was slow and even though Tana French is a well-established author in her genre, most members felt that she doesn't follow crime / thriller conventions and the ending was disappointing and/or unsatisfying. They also felt there were major plot-holes and a lot of extra and unnecessary information. For these reasons, the book scored a fairly low average of 5.37
However, the Irish members, despite very different opinions on whether or not they liked the book, were unanimous in that the author captures dialogue and characters extremely well and the portrait she paints of contemporary Ireland is definitely realistic, though whether that is a good or a bad thing was open to debate. The other members seemed quite impressed by this, as it was something they didn't feel they could judge as accurately themselves.
The discussion was interesting. There was some debate about description. Some people felt her descriptions were very vivid and well-written while others found them a bit uneven. A number of members enjoyed the opening and were disappointed it didn't turn out to be a bigger part of the story. Most people found the main character unsympathetic and many people found the secondary characters also unsympathetic and felt the story lacked warmth. 
It's true that Irish fiction generally has a warmth and nostalgia about it, and while I think Tana French explores the whole concept of nostalgia in detail, she doesn't go for the cosy romantic glow. Personally, I really admire the honesty of her writing, but I suppose it does leave the reader unsatisfied.