Book Club: Fargate from the Madding Crowd

Anna Caig

Anna Caig

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From Northanger Abbeydale Road to The Wolf Of West Street, Sheffield has been getting into its book-loving groove.

Thank you for all the interest in Fargate From The Madding Crowd. And don’t forget that this is your book club.

I want to hear from you, whether it’s with your review of this Read of the Fortnight, a Reyt As Rain book recommendation, or just another amazing Sheffield-based literary pun.

You can contact me on twitter @AnnaCaig or email your contributions to copydesk.southyorks@jpress.co.uk and next fortnight you could see your name in print.

What did you make of last fortnight’s book club Read of the Fortnight, Marlon James’s A Brief History Of Seven Killings?

Loz in Wadsley says:

I’ve always loved Bob Marley and the Wailers but, perhaps because the great man died just a few short years later, I’d never paid that much attempt to the bungled attempt to assassinate him in 1977.

In this book, Bob is merely part of the story.

It is Kingston itself which is the star, crackling with white light, energy, chaos and uncertainty at every turn.

Marlon James weaves a dizzying number of characters into this heady literary gumbo.

He captures their language, emotions and concerns electrifyingly.

My favourites are jaded CIA man Barry Di Florio (I imagine him as a cracked Gene Hackman), journo/ photographer Alex Pearce, villainous Papa-Lo and the super Nina Burgess.

I don’t make the film comparisons lightly – this could easily be adapted into a 10-parter on Netflix.

James’s ambition to get so much on the page is admirable, dizzying, occasionally baffling.

It’s so much more than a book about music and killing – it’s part travelogue, part political thriller, part cultural enlightening.

A Brief History is not so much the Great American Novel as the Great Jamaican Novel.

Read of the fortnight:

Boy, Snow, Bird - Helen Oyeyemi

I picked this book up by chance in a bookshop last year, and straight away fell in love with Oyeyemi’s writing. She is one of those writers that, once discovered, you immediately want to read everything they have ever written.

Boy, Snow, Bird is a reworking of the Snow White stepmother myth. Set in the America of the 1950s, it tells the story of a young woman, Boy, who escapes from her violent father and gets on a bus and make her life at its final destination ‘on account of its being the farthest away’.

There is a lot going on. An incisive exploration of race, and the racism within races; what it means to be a woman; what it means to be a man; what it means to be blonde; what it means to be white; what it means to be a child; what it means to be black; what it means to be different shades of black and white. Oyeyemi’s writing is so good that she can take on these huge themes, and make them feel personal and encapsulated in her outstanding characters and their experiences.

There is magic. There are talking spiders, and people who don’t appear in mirrors. But the magic doesn’t make this world feel any less real. Oyeyemi inhabits the children who help narrate her story, and embraces their broader way of experiencing the world.

The unconventionally named three main protagonists of the title, Boy, Snow and Bird, each take first person narration of the story at some point. Their voices, while perhaps a little similar to each other, are so different to anything else I have read.

What makes them so special boils down to the fact that none of them have the slightest interest in the approval of others. They are not cold, and not always self-assured, but they give no thought to the opinions of even their friends and family members. It might sound like a small thing, but it makes for fascinating reading. Maybe it’s unusual in female characters; maybe it’s unusual in any character given first person narration of a story. But their voices are so clear and so convincing it is wonderful, and it feels empowering just to read them.

Now I just have to get hold of the rest of Oyeyemi’s work. There’s plenty to catch up on as at just 31 she has already written six novels.

Get in touch and let me know what you think.

I am a fed-up fitness addict having to put my feet up...

Jeni from Walkley says: Please help! I’m suffering with a severe case of boredom and frustration.

A mere month ago I was fit and active. I ran at least once a day, I circuit-trained on my lunchbreak, and I deadlifted heavy weights while waiting for the kettle to boil. I was one of those annoyingly perky fitness-obsessed people who would never miss a chance to bore colleagues with a lecture on Strava segments.

But then I had an operation and, while I’m recovering, I can’t run, lift weights, or do any more exercise than shuffle around in my own house. I’m feeling extremely grouchy and I have – for a rare change – a lot of time on my hands. What do you suggest?

Anna says:

I am torn between recommending a book that will give your mind the kind of exercise you are used to giving your body; and a book that will just help you relax and cheer up a bit. So, I’ll choose one of each.

My first recommendation is Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy. I know the mere mention of Tolstoy has many people cowering behind their sofa, but bear with me. I love this book. It tells the story of the nobleman Nekhlyudov who, whilst serving on a jury, recognises Maslova, the unfortunate woman in the dock, as the former ward of his aunts. In their youth, Nekhlyudov had seduced her, setting her formerly respectable life on a new path leading directly to the wrack and ruin she is facing in the courtroom.

The book deals with meaty subject matter: what are we all here for, and how can you live your life well? As well as dissecting some pretty hefty social injustice. But, despite the weight of the content, it is beautifully readable. As you follow Nekhlyudov on his journey to try and do the ‘right’ thing, your brain will get the kind of work-out you could only dream of in your lunchtime circuits.

There is a somewhat different tone to my second recommendation, which is Savages by Shirley Conran. I wonder if these two writers have ever sat side by side anywhere before.

Savages was written in the golden age of the ’80s ‘bonkbuster’, and while the subject matter is on the surface quite dark, it is hugely entertaining. Five women and a man are caught up in a military coup, and must hide in hostile jungle cut off from civilisation.

Conran has synthesised all the ambition, ostentation and ridiculousness of the ’80s into text form. It’s not bad writing. If this book were written by a man for men, Conran would probably have a reputation more akin to Raymond Chandler – there are definite similarities in that highly stylised, jarringly exaggerated but vivid way with description.

For the first 100 pages or so, it’s frequently a laugh-out-loud read. Above all, Savages is fun. Get in touch with your recommendations for Jeni.