Book Club: Fargate from the Madding Crowd

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From The Arbourthorne Birds to Brightside Revisited, and even as far afield as The Grapes of Wath, you have been reading, reviewing and, of course, expertly punning.

Thank you for all your contributions so far to Fargate From The Madding Crowd.

Anna Caig

Anna Caig

Keep spreading the word about this, your book club from the Sheffield Telegraph, and I look forward to hearing what you make of this fortnight’s selections.

You can contact me on twitter @AnnaCaig or email your contributions to copydesk.southyorks@jpress.co.uk

* The next read of the fortnight, on November 10, will be Pat Barker’s Regeneration.

Read of the fortnight:

Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project

This week sees both Halloween and the 2 016 Booker prize announcement. So I’ve gone for perhaps the scariest of this year’s shortlist of literary greats for our read of the fortnight.

Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project is a revolting and ridiculously compelling story of a triple murder in a tiny Highlands crofting community in 1869.

This book is the literary equivalent of a ‘watercooler moment’. Every time I speak to someone else who has read it, we launch into a session of wild speculation, like a couple of incompetent Jessica Fletchers trying to follow the clues, fill in the blanks, identify the red herrings, and work out why the version we’re being led to believe is true just doesn’t add up.

It is easy to read, while also being impossible to pin down. The narrative is told through ‘found’ documents, all of which are unreliable to some extent, and the reader is left to try and piece together what really happened.

Burnet is a writer who, like Donna Tartt in the notorious The Little Friend, breaks that contract between reader and writer. The deal we make is that if I sit down and make it all the way to the end of your book, you will properly explain to me what has happened.

Especially when we’re talking about murder. While The Little Friend is superb in many ways, when I finished it I wanted to lock Tartt in a room until she had written a proper ending. Still do, to be honest. This book, on the other hand, makes a very different impact. It leaves you feeling like you’re the sleuth piecing together the clues. Albeit ineptly in my case. If I didn’t have a ‘to read’ pile that has expanded to fill my entire house, I would go back and immediately read it again with a highlighter pen in hand.

One of my favourite writers is Robert Louis Stevenson, and I have often bemoaned the lack of good, old-fashioned Stevenson-esque drama in writing today.

With His Bloody Project Burnet is channelling Stevenson with bells on, particularly in the way he sets up and structures the book. It is that same style of wild, dark fiction exploring the bleakest and ugliest side of humanity, while also masquerading as a genuine historical account. And it is an absolute joy. As the days are getting colder and the nights are getting longer, this is a real curl up in a blanket by the fire, forget the rest of the world exists, treat of a read.

What did you make of the last read of the fortnight, Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow Bird?

Sally in the Hope Valley says:

I loved this book.

From the opening line on the untrustworthy nature of mirrors, it transported me into a strange world full of echoes of Snow White and the Pied Piper: stories I thought I knew.

However, in Oyeyemi’s capable hands, these familiar fairy tale plots and characters are transformed into something that’s fresh, unsettling, and totally compelling.

Oyeyemi’s writing is vivid and terse, and her characters are so rich that even the minor figures in the story are interesting enough to be worthy of novels of their own.

The main character, Boy, is fascinating.

With her cold beauty and occasional cruelty, she resembles the ‘wicked stepmother’ of Snow White – but she’s also tender, clever and elusive.

In this book, people are not fixed in simple roles of hero and villain, and as a result I found it impossible to guess where the plot was going next.

The novel explores many complex themes of race, gender and identity.

But for me it was more than anything a great page turner with memorable characters and an unpredictable story – a story that resists giving any easy answers to the questions it raises.

A fantastic read.

Reyt As Rain Reads: Books to make it better

Kate in Nether Edge says: I am really close to my sister. But she has just moved abroad, and I miss her.

One of our other family members has also recently died. In the evenings I sometimes get a bit sad and miss how things used to be.

Whereas I might have previously seen them, or at least been speaking to my sister on the phone and arranging our next meet up, now I’m distracting myself with rubbish TV or looking at mindless stuff on my phone.

I would rather be reading something. I’m just not sure what to go for in my current mood.

Anna says: You’re going through a difficult time at the moment, and I want to prescribe a comforting book.

You also need something so gripping that it keeps those sad thoughts at bay.

The writer I turn to when I need a comfort blanket in the form of a book is Agatha Christie.

I’m not sure why a good whodunit is so soothing.

Maybe it’s because of the reassuring figure of a sleuth who comes along, sees all and puts the world to rights; maybe it’s the nice, neatly tied-up ending.

My favourite of all the Christies is Death On The Nile, a masterclass in plotting and so gripping that once you’re a couple of chapters in a phone call from your beloved sister would only be an inconvenience.

Your family obviously means a huge amount to you, and my second recommendation is all about the rich tapestry of family life.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has everything from the wonderful intimacy and friendship, to the huge challenges and annoyances.

It is also another ultimate comfort-read.

A few evenings spent reading about the trials and tribulations of the Bennets and as well as being thoroughly entertained, you will have had your fill of being in the bosom of a busy family.

What would you prescribe for Kate to read?