Our ‘A Novel Idea’ Book Club read and review will be‘‘On Beauty” by Zadie Smith on the 2nd November. Please join us on ZOOM.
Howard Belsey, a Rembrandt scholar who doesn’t like Rembrandt, is an Englishman abroad and a long-suffering professor at Wellington, a liberal New England arts college. He has been married for thirty years to Kiki, an American woman who no longer resembles the sexy activist she once was. Their three children passionately pursue their own paths: Levi quests after authentic blackness, Zora believes that intellectuals can redeem everybody, and Jerome struggles to be a believer in a family of strict atheists. Faced with the oppressive enthusiasms of his children, Howard feels that the first two acts of his life are over and he has no clear plans for the finale. Or the encore.
Then Jerome, Howard’s older son, falls for Victoria, the stunning daughter of the right-wing icon Monty Kipps, and the two families find themselves thrown together in a beautiful corner of America, enacting a cultural and personal war against the background of real wars that they barely register. An infidelity, a death, and a legacy set in motion a chain of events that sees all parties forced to examine the unarticulated assumptions which underpin their lives. How do you choose the work on which to spend your life? Why do you love the people you love? Do you really believe what you claim to? And what is the beautiful thing, and how far will you go to get it?
Set on both sides of the Atlantic, Zadie Smith’s third novel is a brilliant analysis of family life, the institution of marriage, intersections of the personal and political, and an honest look at people’s deceptions. It is also, as you might expect, very funny indeed.Read More »A Novel Idea – 18.30h, Tuesday 2nd November
Our ‘A Novel Idea’ Book Club read and review will be‘‘The Spy and The Traitor” by Ben Macintyre on the 7th December. Please join us on ZOOM.
The celebrated author of A Spy Among Friends and Rogue Heroes returns with his greatest spy story yet, a thrilling Cold War-era tale of Oleg Gordievsky, the Russian whose secret work helped hasten the collapse of the Soviet Union.
If anyone could be considered a Russian counterpart to the infamous British double-agent Kim Philby, it was Oleg Gordievsky. The son of two KGB agents and the product of the best Soviet institutions, the savvy, sophisticated Gordievsky grew to see his nation’s communism as both criminal and philistine. He took his first posting for Russian intelligence in 1968 and eventually became the Soviet Union’s top man in London, but from 1973 on he was secretly working for MI6.
For nearly a decade, as the Cold War reached its twilight, Gordievsky helped the West turn the tables on the KGB, exposing Russian spies and helping to foil countless intelligence plots, as the Soviet leadership grew increasingly paranoid at the United States’s nuclear first-strike capabilities and brought the world closer to the brink of war.
Desperate to keep the circle of trust close, MI6 never revealed Gordievsky’s name to its counterparts in the CIA, which in turn grew obsessed with figuring out the identity of Britain’s obviously top-level source. Their obsession ultimately doomed Gordievsky: the CIA officer assigned to identify him was none other than Aldrich Ames, the man who would become infamous for secretly spying for the Soviets.
Unfolding the delicious three-way gamesmanship between America, Britain, and the Soviet Union, and culminating in the gripping cinematic beat-by-beat of Gordievsky’s nail-biting escape from Moscow in 1985, Ben Macintyre’s latest may be his best yet. Like the greatest novels of John le Carré, it brings readers deep into a world of treachery and betrayal, where the lines bleed between the personal and the professional, and one man’s hatred of communism had the power to change the future of nations.Read More »A Novel Idea – 18.30h, Tuesday 7th December
Our ‘A Novel Idea’ Book Club read and review will be‘‘Great Circle” by Maggie Shipstead on the 4th January. Please join us on ZOOM.
Spanning Prohibition-era Montana, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, New Zealand, wartime London, and modern-day Los Angeles, Great Circle tells the unforgettable story of a daredevil female aviator determined to chart her own course in life, at any cost.
After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There—after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes—Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.
A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian’s disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian’s own story, as the two women’s fates—and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times—collide. Epic and emotional, meticulously researched and gloriously told, Great Circle is a monumental work of art, and a tremendous leap forward for the prodigiously gifted Maggie Shipstead.
Our ‘A Novel Idea’ Book Club read and review will be‘‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” by John Le Carré on the 1st February. Please join us on ZOOM.
A modern classic in which John le Carré expertly creates a total vision of a secret world, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy begins George Smiley’s chess match of wills and wits with Karla, his Soviet counterpart.
It is now beyond a doubt that a mole, implanted decades ago by Moscow Centre, has burrowed his way into the highest echelons of British Intelligence. His treachery has already blown some of its most vital operations and its best networks. It is clear that the double agent is one of its own kind. But which one? George Smiley is assigned to identify him. And once identified, the traitor must be destroyed.
Our ‘A Novel Idea’ Book Club read and review will be‘‘Portraits of France” by Robert Daley on the 1st March. Please join us on ZOOM.
Freely mixing travelogue, history and offhand cultural commentary, Daley’s serendipitous journey appraises France’s soul. Whether he is expressing consternation at Avignon’s immense Palace of the Popes, monument to medieval extravagance, or tracking the legend of bike racer Jacques Anquetil, Daley has a knack for the telling detail, the unusual observation.
A few of these 19 vignettes delve into little-known events, like the building of French concentration camps in the Pyrenees during WW II. Among the indelible portraits we find those of French soldier- politican-aristocrat Lafayette, Grace Kelly, Scottish novelist Tobias Smollett (inventor of the “fabulous Riviera” mystique) and De Gaulle, an obscure brigadier general in 1940 worried mainly about his wife and retarded daughter.
Other pieces deal with Lourdes, Bordeaux, a perfume factory in Grasse, Jules Massenet writing operas in Paris and the Sansons family, which operated the guillotine through six generations.
Our ‘A Novel Idea’ Book Club read and review will be“Pure” by Andrew Miller on the 5th April. Please join us on ZOOM.
Deep in the heart of Paris, its oldest cemetery is, by 1785, overflowing, tainting the very breath of those who live nearby. Into their midst comes Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young, provincial engineer charged by the king with demolishing it.
At first Baratte sees this as a chance to clear the burden of history, a fitting task for a modern man of reason. But before long, he begins to suspect that the destruction of the cemetery might be a prelude to his own.