Our Sunday book club meet at Waterstone’s in Weston; originally we were started by the company as a way of encouraging reading and thus book-buying and regular visitor/customers. Somewhere along the line policy changed, so although we still meet in the bookshop, we aren’t actually anything to do with it. We’re pleased to still be there, such nice pope work there and we feel at home after so many years!
We are a bunch of friends of all ages and with all different backgrounds and we come together because we love books and love reading. Today there were seven of us, various others had family and work commitments but we sat round the big table with our coffee/tea/chocolate and talked about John Fowles ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’, Some were reading it for the first time, others, like me had read it before – of those some who were re-reading it saw it with new eyes, loving it or not so keen. There was every shade of opinion but we all agreed it was a book which engendered a great discussion.
The story of the The French Lieutenant’s Woman is of Sarah Woodruff, who has become notorious in nineteenth century Lyme Regis because of some sort of an affair she had with a French soldier, now returned to France. She is nicknamed ‘Tragedy’ by the locals as she stands on the end of the Cobb looking out to sea towards France. A wealthy young man, Charles Smithson arrives in the town with his fiancée and her aunt with whom she is staying – Charles is at a local hostelry Charles becomes fascinated by Sarah, obsessed by her and is tempted away from his commitment to his wife-to-be. That is the bones of the story.
Our discussions ranged over every aspect of the book and it was fascinating to hear other people’s sometimes completely different takes on it. We all read the same book but read it in completely different ways. One thing which struck us all and which we probably spent the most time discussing was a character in the book – the author himself. He wasn’t assuming the role of a nineteenth century man, he was himself (or a version of himself) a mid-twentieth century man, Oxford University educated. When I first read the book, many years ago I had found this author-character irritating, taking me away from the narrative. However now I find it a fascinating idea – although I am definitely not going to emulate it!
We checked what we are going to be reading for our next meeting at the beginning of November, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo and began to gather our belongings and get ready to leave. I know I’ll see several people before then, we overlap in another book club and in our writing group. We always have such a pleasant, interesting and stimulating meeting!
My image is of Lyme Regis…