Archive for December, 2013

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

racing-in-the-rain-book-cover

A heart-warming and inspirational tale in which Enzo, a loyal family dog, tells the story of his human family, how they nearly fell apart, and what he did to bring them back together.

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: he thinks and feels in nearly human ways. He has educated himself by watching extensive television, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo realizes that racing is a metaphor: that by applying the techniques a driver would apply on the race track, one can successfully navigate the ordeals and travails one encounters in life.

Enzo relates the story of his human family, sharing their tragedies and triumphs. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations as a dog, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a testament to a man’s life, given by his dog. But it is also a testament to the dog, himself. Though Enzo cannot speak, he understands everything that happens around him as he bears witness to his master’s problems. His enforced muteness only refines his listening ability, and allows him to understand many of life’s nuances that are lost on most humans. With humour, sharp observation, and a courageous heart, Enzo guides the reader to the bittersweet yet ultimately satisfying conclusion: there are no limitations to what we can achieve, if we truly know where we want to be.

This may possibly be the hardest book I’ve ever had to blog about so far. It was pretty unanomous that this was one of our most boring and pointless books we have ever read.

Ever.

During our one and a half hour meeting we discussed this book for approximately fifteen minutes. (Nightmare for a book group leader!) Personally, I didn’t think it was too bad but once I’d listened to some of the comments from the other members I’m afraid that I had to agree. It really lacked in everything. Now, I’m not one for just moaning on and nit picking all the faults of a book so I simply won’t. Our group didn’t enjoy it and we won’t be reading further books by this author either.

On a lighter note we then had to figure out what to discuss for the rest of the evening. Thanks to a great suggestion from a member of our group we decided to discuss our recent reads (among a few other things that can’t quite be mentioned on this blog!). As a group we each mentioned the current book we had on our bedside table so I thought I’d share these with everyone as they all came recommended from the reader. So, here’s the list:

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Heartstone by C. J. Sansom

Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

Scarecrow by Matthew Pritchard

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

The Ghost Road by Pat Parker

Adventures with the Wife in Space by Neil Perryman

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (children’s book from yours truly)

A nice mix of genres so take your pick and have a read. I do hope that everyone had a lovely Christmas and here’s wishing everyone a prosperous and healthy New Year.

See you all in 2014!

The Wrong Boy by Willy Russell

Wrong Boy

The Dewsbury Desperadoes are on their way to Pontefract for a gig at the Allied Butchers’ & Architects’ Club. The Girl with the Chestnut Eyes is on her way to somewhere. And Raymond is heading for Gulag Grimshy. Raymond Marks is a normal boy, from a normal family, in a normal northern town. His dad left home after falling in love with a five-string banjo; his fun-hating grandma believes she should have married Jean-Paul Sartre: ‘One could never read his books, but y’ could tell from his picture, there was nothing frivolous about John-Paul Sartre.’ Felonious Uncle Jason and Appalling Aunty Paula are lusting after the satellite dish; frogs are flattened on Failsworth Boulevard; and Sickening Sonia’s being sick in the majestic cathedral of words. Raymond Marks is a normal boy, from a normal family, in a normal northern town. Until, on the banks of the Rochdale Canal, the Flytrapping craze begins and, for Raymond and his mam, nothing is ever quite so normal again. In Raymond, prize-winning and internationally acclaimed playwright Willy Russell has created an unforgettable character to rival his Shirley Valentine and Educated Rita. The Wrong Boy is his extraordinary first novel.

This is now one of my all time favourite books – ever. I can’t praise it enough: the way that it’s written, the punchy narrative, the dry humour, the everyday content – honestly, I love this book and I actually read it with my other book group and decided that it was such a great read I’d try it with my second book group too!

I did find it a bit difficult to get into at first but once you’re off, you’re off, and I couldn’t read it quick enough. It’s certainly one of the longest books we’ve read, yet I devoured it in probably the quickest time because I simply couldn’t wait to get to the end. Not only did I find it incredibly funny (and laugh out loud on many an occasion) but the actual story itself was very sad. Russell lures you into the story and lifts you up with great humour and narrative, but then he gently brings you back to earth with the very real and unfortunate situations that Raymond has to deal with. You begin to warm to each individual character and they each bring something different to the story. You laugh alongside his grandmother, you cry alongside his mother and you pray that Raymond doesn’t mention anything about Flytrapping. You delve into Raymond’s mind and you begin to understand why he does what he does and begin to see how badly he is let down by the very professionals who are there to help him. Most of you should be able to relate to his experiences in one way or another – they are familiar, everyday, normal – but they are warped into incidents that most of us would be arrested for, locked up or burnt at the stake.

Now, after I’ve just given the best introduction of all time I now have to give a bit of airtime to my group (who aren’t as enthusiastic about this novel as I am). There were mixed opinions on this book and some certainly strong opinions about how tediously long and painful it was – oh dear. Like the bush at the back of everyone’s garden – it needed a good trim. For me, I was so captivated by the novel that I didn’t mind the length of it, but for some readers there were quite a few unnecessary extras. In the hope of winning a few readers over to my side I tried to relate this book to my childhood experiences. I failed miserably and found, on reflection, that I was quite a disturbed child.  Nevertheless, I continued to smile throughout the whole discussion as I remembered the many hilarious things that happened to poor Raymond as he muddled along through life. We discussed quite a bit about whether Raymond was a seriously misjudged child or whether he was slightly disturbed. Considering his father was kicked out of the house for being in love with an instrument, you’d be inclined to believe the latter, but I think that poor Raymond was just an unfortunate victim of circumstance.

Overall, we had an excellent discussion with many views and opinions that took us well into closing time. It’s these conflicting books that produce the best discussions and even if you end up disagreeing with this book it is certainly worth your time. If you’re looking for something completely different with an unusual style then give this a try and make your own decision as to whether Raymond really is The Wrong Boy.


About the group

The Tees Valley Book Group meets at Stockton Central Library at 6.30pm on the first Tuesday of the month.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit www.newwritingnorth.com/submit/join-tees-valley-book-group.

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