What Alice Forgot – and the perils of running book clubs

I feel bereaved; as if I have lost a warm cosy family all at once – Liane Morriarty is such a talented writer – from the first page of this book I felt so immersed into Alice’s world that now I have come to the end of it, I have lost a whole family of characters that I had come to love. 
I am being constantly given books and felt I needed to be strict with myself – I had to read a few on my growing pile before I could have the treat of another helping of Liane Morriaty. I slipped it into my bag for this trip to the Cotswolds, guiltily leaving behind  several aborted books looking reproachfully at me – I just did not care enough to keep reading. I don’t know where it comes from, but there is some sort of compulsion that I need to stick at things, as if giving up on a book somehow implies that I don’t stick at anything in life. Why on earth do I think that way? 
I started a book group some years ago it was extremely popular but there were two distinct camps, those who considered reading arduous – something that you had to stick at, books were an enlightenment, an education and should be challenging. They would turn up with their six pages of notes, their cross referenced analysis pinned to a clipboard! Yes they turned up with clipboards! If they did not enjoy the book – it seemed to please them more- as if they had somehow become better people for enduring. 
The second camp were at the group just to make friends, drink wine and have a good time, often they would turn up saying that they did not really like the book and had stopped at page such and such. (I was in the second group although often I would endure until almost half way,I was after all supposed to be running the group, but some of the books were quite frankly abysmal). 
The library supplied sets of books to us – after a couple of months  I noticed a pattern of dreadfulness – a definite guarantee if the book had won any form of award. The worse culprit was one that had won an orange prize for fiction – three chapters on the character’s early years making pictures from the phlegm bespectacled bowls he had to carry downstairs in his mother’s boarding house. I think that was when I felt I had to do something.
One lady in particular was a nightmare, she would treat the sessions like she were a university lecturer, often leading the group and ignoring whoever was hosting at the time (we had a rule that the host would lead the group). If someone did not agree with her analysis (she later confessed the six pages were taken from the internet) she would accuse them of not being intelligent enough to see the ‘underlying theme’. She suggested a book that everyone hated, surprisingly most people had the courage to say so at the meeting, I had a flurry of phone calls the next day, complaining that I needed to ‘do something’. I ignored the tactful advice of my better half I tried to  suggest we lighten up a bit a bit and the clipboard loving – eight page note takers went elsewhere following her like little duckings, while hurling some very personal hurtful remarks in their wake about my ‘lack of professionalism! It was painful but I was left with the fun, nice people who thankfully were not frightened enough of the clipboard lady. It all settled down. I vowed never again to plough through books and gave myself a free pass never to finish any book again that did not thrill me from the first page – I had served my time several books over while running that group. 
Not so with Liane’s books: Alice slips in her step aerobics class and forgets the last ten years of her life – we journey into Alice’s world as she begins to piece back her life. The cast of characters that surround Alice are like the average family – they are all flawed individuals who are bound together by family and love. I think this book is so uplifting because it’s message is one of hope. Despite the messiness, the imperfections of family life, our general business, we can, somehow come together. 
I was hooked from page one and have read solidly for the last three days. One of the wonderful things about the other half also being a reader is that no-one complains, we just sit companionably together, the odd page being turned breaking the silence or the gentle snoring of the dog. One of us will move occasionally to make a cup of tea, a plate of chocolate biscuits just within reach – we sit comfortably on the same sofa in separate worlds. (I think he is in Italy while I am in Sydney). 
I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, so I won’t go into any more detail, however, I can say that I think Liane Morriarty is one of the most talented writers around. I almost envy you – if you haven’t read it – it is simply delightful. Now to Amazon… 
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Armchair Adventures

Aren’t bookshops the greatest? Just walking over the threshold is to step into a shop full of possibility and adventure. Waterstones is very good but for real bibliophiles you cannot beat Hatchards  in Piccadilly – I have never actually reached the top floor of their shop it is so big! 
My favourite shop is called Kim’s bookshop it is in Arundel (there are other branches in nearby Chichester and Worthing). I told the young student (he looks like an aspiring writer) that his shop was a travel agent rather than a bookshop as they sold adventures on every shelf! He thought that might be a good selling campaign!  I like Kim’s it because it sells mostly second hand books; there are no promotions or big names, simply categories and books covering every possible nook and cranny, the penguin classics are on the stairs and require negotiations if other customers wish to pass the narrow creaky stairs. I have to bend down to reach my beloved Scott F Fitzgerald, but I have most of his books already! 
Here all books have equality, without the promotions or trends, it feels quieter and peaceful somehow and reminds me of my childhood Saturday mornings spent at my local library where the middle aged librarians maintained a strict silence and were feared,  even by adult customers. There is a quiet reserved atmosphere in the shop, conversations are hushed so that the only sounds are the rustle of pages turning. 

Perhaps Kim’s brings back fond childhood memories, there is the feint smell of aged paper, musty, yet comforting, where old  childhood friends sit on shelves: Ballet shoes, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden. I would escape into this safe world as a child, where all problems were resolved with happy endings, good always overcame evil, and people were generally kind and those who weren’t were obviously bad, like the White Witch in Narnia. 

I spy set of ladybird books, with their beautiful watercolour depictions of idyllic family life in the 1950’s, and I a reminded of the sweat and toil as my 5 year old self tried to make sense of the big markings on the page to read out loud to my teacher.  They are criticised now,  for re-enforcing middle class values and stereotyping! So different from the schoolbooks my children read, where the principle characters were asian and had very strange names – Biff and Chip! I wonder if our education system has begun to over think things. 
I digress, I have been suffering from a rather nasty bug this week, so have been camped out on the sofa, wrapped in a patchwork quilt, the dog resting at my feet while I have been whisked away to Australia by the talented writer, Liane Morriaty and her book The Husband’s secret. I picked this up second-hand – what a gem it is! It isn’t often that I find myself transported within a few pages,  when that happens I tend to read everything the writer has written. (What Alice forgot is making its way to me through the postal system as I write).  The lives of three women are interweaved so cleverly, the secret does seem to be something that would be difficult to resolve; however, Liane cleverly weaves her tale, unfolding a few surprises; she does deliver a very satisfactory ending. Well worth a read – I won’t say too much because I don’t want to spoil it for you. 
As I have been very good, I am feeling a little brighter and will hopefully be fit enough to leave these four walls and visit Arundel today: Kim’s bookshop beckons alongside the lovely teashop Lulamae’s. Happy Sunday!