Book Group: A love story, for crying out loud

A science-fiction novel, 'The Time Traveler's Wife' reduced our book group members to tears. Christina Patterson reports on an emotional month
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The Independent Culture

"Sometimes" as the poet Sheena Pugh said, in one of the most popular Poems on the Underground, "things don't go, after all,/ from bad to worse. Some years muscadel/ faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail". And sometimes, she might have added, contributions to the Independent book group are universally upbeat - glorious harbingers of sweetness and light.

"Sometimes" as the poet Sheena Pugh said, in one of the most popular Poems on the Underground, "things don't go, after all,/ from bad to worse. Some years muscadel/ faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail". And sometimes, she might have added, contributions to the Independent book group are universally upbeat - glorious harbingers of sweetness and light.

Well, this month, at any rate, it was something like that. Da Vinci-induced vitriol vanished in favour of a marvellous new commodity: enthusiasm. mrsboggart, opening the proceedings, set the tone. "I read this book about eight months ago" she announced. "After a slow start I remember being really gripped by it". She was"looking forward to reading it again". Mo245 was "just over half way through, and loving it." She was finding it "incredibly readable" and "fascinating" and thought the characterisations were "remarkably good". Confusingly for a book about time travel, she had a copy that jumped straight from page 186 to 235. Was this deliberate or an error?

An error, thought mrsboggart, who helpfully filled in the missing scene. She felt excited, she confided, just "remembering how beautiful and clever it is. The time travel device is just so well executed". Mo245 decided that she could "read around" the error for now and posted a message telling everyone that this was "an amazing book, in that rare category of books which are so well written that other books are shown up to be simply a flickering shadow". It had also, she said, made her cry - the "first time from a book". Jerry Springer, eat your heart out. Our book group is a much better place for embarrassing confessions.

Even Shirley from Sussex, a book group stalwart who has struggled to find the finer points in some of our choices, appeared to be hooked. "I don't know what it is about this book that's gripping me" she declared "but something is!" Although "nothing particularly remarkable" was happening, she thought it was "really good. Audrey" she added chummily "has a very good imagination".

Netty121 was also "thoroughly enjoying it", but had, at last, identified a jarring note. Unfortunately, it was just the cover. She "found the image of the small girl, alongside a grown man's shoes a little disturbing", conjuring up ideas that "do not at all reflect the beauty of the prose". Mo245 didn't like the cover either, but jellyfeeble hadn't noticed it. She'd just "picked up the book and started to read". She, too, was enjoying it so far, but she was also a bit worried about Henry's employment record. "When does Henry have time to work" she wondered "if all he seems to be doing is time travelling?" That's the spirit, jellyfeeble. Come and work here! The management would love you. More importantly, perhaps, she was worried that Henry had beaten up another character with "apparent enjoyment". mrsboggart leapt to his defence. "I think if I was Henry" she declared "I would have done the same thing".

Mehari was "only slightly alarmed by Henry's other skills in criminal directions". He was "fascinated" by the novel's "gentle humour and invention", but annoyed to find that Julian Clary had given away the plot on Richard & Judy. Luckily, he'd only videoed it, but his partner had watched and "come away fuming".

PhilDeans, a relative newcomer to the group, joined the swelling fan club. He'd picked the book up at an airport before Christmas, thought it looked "a bit Chick lit" and put it back down. "Just shows how wrong you can be" he added darkly. "The last chapters were so emotional" he confided "that when I had finished I just had to play a Nick Cave CD to capture the mood completely. The new one" he continued helpfully "is perfect". He was, however, a bit worried about the author's attitude to men. All the male characters, he thought "were slightly or completely disfunctional in some way: alcoholic, violent, cheating on their partner, leaving without reason then coming back without explanation". A searingly accurate portrayal of the sex, then. He was particularly worried about "the habit of running around naked which let's be honest most guys have a tendency to do".

Shirley didn't comment on naked guys, but she was ready to pronounce. "An excellent read" she declared - the Shirley equivalent, perhaps, of a Nobel Prize. LJ2026, a new participant and a self-confessed online forum virgin, was equally enthusiastic. It was, he said, "one of the most compelling books" he had read in a long time, one which had him "blubbering" into his tea. Mo245 was too busy worrying about free will to weep. "If past events could not be changed, then do we have free will?" she asked. Mind you, "delving too deeply would probably have ruined an excellent story".

And then, at long last, a dissenting voice appeared. "Found it a bit 'chick lit' and lightweight" said the pithily named zig. "Sorry". He had liked Henry's character, and his choice of music, but found Clare "too good to be true". It got, he thought, "very 'mills and boon' at the end." OliviaDW profoundly disagreed. The book, she said, "was a first for me - first to make me cry, first to make we want to go and hear the author speak about her book, and first to spur me to write my comments on an internet book club!" Three confessions of tears in one month! In journalistic terms, that's a trend.

Meanwhile, 2wabbits had finally broken his silence. He was "fascinated" and "moved" by the book. He wrote this in the book group, but he also told me when I met him at Niffenegger's reading at Waterstone's last week. A burly man who works for London Underground, he was amused by my attempts, in these round-ups, to turn him into a woman. He said his mates at work were tickled, but they were starting to read the books, too. Actually, I think soon everyone will be reading The Time Traveler's Wife. It's already sold nearly two million copies. Move over, Dan Brown.

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