Book Review of Dolly Alderton's Ghosts
Dolly Alderton's Ghosts follows the thirty second year of its main character Nina and explores the relationships that she has with her friends, parents and boyfriend Max. As such it is ambitious in scope and presents a realistic portrayal of significant points in life. From exploring issues of having children, to managing careers, to coping with middle age and caring for elderly parents there is something that most readers can relate to.
Presented as a first person narrative the style is straightforward and the text could almost be a 'real life' diary. As such, it reminded me of a slightly more serious Bridget Jones type narrative, Striving for and attaining good mental health is a theme that is never far from the surface and we watch Nina navigate the disappointments and upsets of life as she ultimately strives to achieve an equilibrium and sense of peace.
Nina presents as a likeable, but flawed woman finding her way in a modern world. Young readers would probably laugh at my minimal understanding of 'Ghosting' before reading the book but Nina experiences it first hand and copes well. Alderton explores and examines online dating and its pros and cons with aplomb. For a mature reader like myself this is eye-opening.
Dolly Alderton's Ghosts presentation of dementia and Nina's growing awareness of the loss of her father (as she had known him) as being the true tragedy in her life is moving to read. It is the struggle that Nina's Mum has in managing the loss of her husband to dementia that was the most powerful aspect of the book for me.
Dolly Alderton's Ghosts is a book that different generations of the same family could enjoy and come together to chat over. As a writer I imagine Alderton growing in sophistication and going from strength to strength.
Book Discussion Questions on Dolly Alderton's Ghosts
Lola is something of an expert in judging online dating profiles and the etiquette of online dating. To what extent did you agree with Lola's observations?
Which of Nina's friends did you have the most respect for and why? Which of Nina's friends did you have the least respect for and why?
Nina's mum changes her name to Mandy at a time that her husband is struggling to maintain a grasp of his own reality. How much sympathy do you have for Mandy? To what extent do you think she is a good wife and/or mother?
Explore Nina's relationship with Angelo. Particularly in the early days of their relationship who was at fault and why?
Max and Jethro both ultimately let down Nina and Lola. Discuss the extent to which they should be blamed for their actions?
Who is the most naive character in the book and why?
How effective is Dolly Alderton's portrayal of dementia in the novel?
Nina initally loves her flat with its artex ceilings and general need for decoration. Discuss how satisfied you think Nina is with her life?
Nina retains a very close relationship with her ex Joe and even acts as an usher at his wedding to Lucy. Did you find the portrayal of their friendship realistic? Why or why not?
Who is your favourite character in Dolly Alderton's Ghosts and why?
If Ghosts was being made into a film who would you cast as the main characters?
Ghosts is a very contemporary book and includes many references to current day use of technology and explores contemporary views regarding feminism, parenthood, mental health etc. Do you think Ghosts will stand the test of time? Why or why not?
Book Club Questions on Dolly Alderton's Ghosts (If you haven't read the book!)
What is your experience of online dating? Discuss whether you think it is an effective style of dating.
In Ghosts Nina has a prickly relationship with her mother and for much of the text seems to have little sympathy for her. Discuss mother/daughter relationships and what can cause friction in them.
In Ghosts Nina's father has dementia and as his cognitive abilities decline increasingly wants the comfort of his deceased mother. Share any personal experiences that you have of managing dementia.
In Ghosts Nina is twice 'ghosted' by Max. If a lover 'ghosted' you do you think you would be prepared to reignite the relationship and try again.
Nina copes with rejection in Ghosts by sleeping with a neighbour. What is your view of getting over one relationship by embarking on another?
As a genre Ghosts is very much an example of 'realism'. What type of fiction do you most enjoy and why?
Dolly Alderton is an author who has a previous career as journalist, podcaster and influencer. Do you judge novels written by 'celebrities' in a different way to those written by established authors?
Personal Response to Dolly Alderton's Ghosts
It took me a while to get into Dolly Alderton's Ghosts as the characters felt too young for me to be really interested in what happened to them. Of course, the only person that reflects on and reflects on badly is myself. A good book can be compelling to read and invite empathy and interest regardless of whether those featuring in it are relatable to the reader. Once I overcame my own prejudices I found Dolly Alderton's Ghosts well worth reading. It was a page-turner and provided plenty of food for thought for all age groups. I do think though it would particularly appeal to twenty and thirty-something readers.
Book Review of Phillip Schofield's Life's What you Make It
Phillip Schofield's Life's What You Make It has been widely advertised and promoted and I've no doubt it will feature in many household's Christmas stockings. As a presenter, of UK TV shows such as Good Morning Britain and The Cube, Schofield is a household name who people are understandably interested in. In Life's What You Make It Schofield discusses how he needed great PR to manage his coming out as gay, so presumably writing the autobiography shortly after this revelation is one cog in the PR wheel, By and large, coming out as gay has not prevented Schofield from maintaining his status as 'national treasure'. Publishing the book has been, I think, a successful strategy to enhance this. I was happy to invest my twenty pounds to buy a signed copy and it went to the top of my reading list.
The autobiography Life's What You Make It takes us from Phillip Schofield's childhood in Cornwall, through to his short lived emmigration to New Zealand before his return to London highlighting the different steps of his career sucess. Schofield claims that writing the book was his lockdown project. I think it is probably is the case that he did write it himself and it seems reasonably honest. As is so often the case in celebrity autobiographies though it doesn't really kiss and tell all or kiss and tell at all. Readers wanting to know the real story behind quarrels with colleagues will be left none the wiser. It seems he is eager to not make waves and even suggests that he has made peace with Piers Morgan. Overall, the pages turn easily enough and it is a moderately interesting read.
Throughout Life's What You Make It it is possible to see the affection Schofield has for his parents, his children and wife. It is clear to see how coming out as gay has caused him immense anguish because of his desire to avoid hurting others. It is the humility that surrounds this part of the autobiography, that for me, makes the book credible and worth reading. As for the rest, In truth, I did find some of the book a bit bland. It gave the basics of Phillip's life, but wasn't overly riveting to read or know about. Schofield even comments in the text how he was often described as 'beige', thoug it would seem that he is, in fact, something of a party animal and a boozer!
The final section of Life's What You Make It where Schofield describes the torment he felt as he undergoes the self-realization that he is gay and the impact that this will have on his family was very well written. It felt honest, it felt real and it felt emotional. Anyone struggling with how to handle any kind of emotional unveiling will inevitably feel empathy and compassion as they read the final chapters of the book. In this respect, but probably only in this respect it had a similar impact to Alan Davies Just Ignore Him, but of the two books. Just Ignore Him is far more powerful.
Book Discussion Questions on Phillip Schofield's Life's What You Make It
Do you think Schofield's success was the result of luck or hard work? How do you think he would answer that question?
If your family decided to emigrate when you were 19 years old would you go with them?
What was your motivation for reading Life's What You Make It? Did it live up to expectations?
Did you enjoy Life's What You Make It? Why or why not? What was your favourite part?
Do you think the book adequately addresses the issue of Schofield's 'coming out'?
Do you think Life's What You Make is an honest book? Discuss.
Having read Life's What You Make It did Scholfield present differently to what you expected?
Did anything you read in Live's What You Make It really surprise you?
Do you think Life's What You Make It is a good title for the book? Why or why not?
Is Live's What You Make It a good example of a celebrity autobigraphy? Why or why not?
Book Club Questions on Phillip Schofield's Life's What You Make It (if you haven't read the book!)
Schofield's childhood growing up by the sea sounds quite idyllic. What is your idea of an idyllic childhood?
There are numerous photographs in Life's What You Make It. Does a picture speak a thousand words?
Are you a fan of celebrity autobiographies? Why or why not?
Schofield saved his father's live by giving him CPR. Do you have any stories of having done heroic things that you would like to share with the group?
Schofield was originally encouraged to dye his har brown because grey hair wasn't seen as an acceptable colour for a young TV presenter to have. Discuss. your views on men colouring their hair.
Schofield describes how he presented Good Morning Britain with Holly Willoughby whilst still drunk. Do you approve of this? Discuss your thoughts on what is and isn't professiona in the work place.
Schofield's mother completed a wing-walk o a plane in her eighties? What is the most adventurous thing you've done or would like to do?
Personal Response to Phillip Schofield's Life's What You Make It
As I started writing this review of Life's What You Make It I questioned my motivation for reading the book in the first place. I am sceptical about the quality of celebrity autobiographies which, all too often, seem to be a a self-love fest presented alongside a long list of 'dropped names'. Many celeb autobiographies are, in truth, quite boring. I questioned whether and why I was interested in learning about the nature of how Phillip Schofield presented his coming out as gay. It seemed a bit weird to be remotely interested as I really don't give too hoots what his sexual preferences are. Does the fact that I was interested simply mean that I have far too much time on my hands and need to find something more fulfilling to do than learning about celebrities personal lives? Perhaps is the probably answer! Having said that I guess the reason for writing an autobiography is to 'share all' and as I am contributing to Schofield's book sales revenue it perhaps legitimizes my nosiness.
Book Review of Salley Vickers' Grandmothers
Salley Vickers' Grandmothers is an unusual and much needed book in that it focuses on the lives, loves and losses and hopes of three older women. They are either grandmothers, or in the case of Minna, a surrogate grandmother, It is through the relationship that the women have with their grandchildren that their inner thoughts, aspirations and ultimately moral values are demonstrated. In Grandmothers, Sally Vickers shows that the Grandmothers are valued far more by those in their grandchildren's generation than they are by those in their children's generation.
The main character in Sally Vickers' Grandmothers' is Nan who has a secret life as an award winning poet. We see her preparing her grandson as she prepares for death. It is around her that the book is structured. Of the other women Minna is shy and bookish and takes comfort in her friendship with a neighbour's child. Blanche, is seemingly suave, sophisticated, wealthy and content but is in fact lonely and saddened about her estranged relationship with her son and daughter-in-law. At different points these characters' lives interweave. Friendships are formed and the reader is encouraged to reflect on relationships, ageing, the future generation and the quintessential brevity of life.
I've recently read Ruth Jones' Us Three which also explores the friendships of women in their middle age. It is a genre that I enjoy.
Book Discussion Questions on Salley Vickers' Grandmothers
Bookclub Questions on Salley Vickers' Grandmothers (if you haven't read the book!)
Personal Response to Salley Vickers' Grandmothers
I enjoyed reading Salley Vickers' Grandmothers and thought that aspects of it were brilliant. It was a quick and easy page-turner which belies the depth of philosophical contemplation that underpins the social and personal commentary in it. Having said that if I'm honest, I did find the execution of the story-telling just occasionally a little heavy handed. There was a sense that the author simply needed to tell us something about the character rather than reveal it in order to keep the story moving forward. There is perhaps an argument that each of the grandmothers' in Salley Vickers' Grandmothers deserve their own novel and shouldn't have to share one. I'm about to watch thevideo clip and try and get some top tips from Salley Vickers about writing poetry.
Book Review of Douglas Stuart's Shuggie Bain
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart is a hard hitting story about poverty, alcoholism and isolation. Set in the early 1980s Shuggie Bain opens with a group of women sitting around a table playing cards for pin money. Agnes, daughter of Liz, is one of these women. She is devoted to her second husband Shug who treats her cruelly. The opening is brilliant and captures the tone and the mood of community. The bond between the women is strong and the toughness belies the depth of kinship and friendship bewteen the women.
As the story moves forward we quickly see the tougher and bleaker side of Glasgow living. Shug is both violent and a philanderer and seems to want to break Agnes completely. Shug moves the family, little Shuggie (his son), Catherine and Alexander (Leek) to a wasteland that was once a pit village. Here everyone is for themselves only. Violence is the norm, women are judged for dressing slovenly or as whores and the mood is callous and biting. Much of the story is set here and Agnes is the main character. She is both proud and a desperate alcoholic. (I suspect many readers have questioned Douglas Stuart why he actually labelled the book Shuggie Bain rather than Agnes Bain).
Agnes's descent into despair and alocholism, is a tool to explore how substance abuse can affect familial relationships. Shuggie, Agnes' youngest son, is witness to sights a small boy should never see. His love for his mother is unwavering as he wipes the vomit and bile and ignores both the bruises on his mother and the numerous men who visit the house.. Shuggie frequently goes hungry and promises to become 'normal' as often as Agnes promises to give up the drink. Acceptance of being homosexual is an important sub-theme in the text. Being gay was not readily accepted in the tough working class community of Glaswegians in the 80s.
The book, Shuggie Bain, is one about community and people. Politics constantly simmer under the surface as the author balks at the consquences Thatcherite policies have had on working class families. Despite this, little specific context is given. There are only a few references to fashion to specifically date the novel to the 80s. It is Shuggie we care about and it is because we care about Shuggie that we keep reading.
Douglas Stuart's Shuggie Bain doesn't have a great deal of hope in it. It is gritty realism well executed. It is a return to the vibe of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. but arguably with a sharper focus on women, friendship, relationships and sexuality.
Book Discussion Questions on Douglas Stuart's Shuggie Bain
Bookclub Questions on Shuggie Bain (if you haven't read the book!)
Personal Response to Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
Shuggie Bain is a book I listened to rather than read. This meant that I invested more time with Shuggie than I would have done had I raced through the pages. In the first chapter we meet Shuggie post the events of the story so we have a fair idea throughout what the outcome will be regarding Shuggie's alcoholic mum, Agnes. If I'm honest, (despite my tendency for reading the ending of stories) I didn't like knowing where I was heading. I found it left me pretty bereft of hope or optimism for a better future. Despite this I loved the book. A friend told me that he actually groaned out loud when things take a bleak turn in the story and his wife had to check if he was ok. It takes a powerful book to do that. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart is such a book.
Book Review of Ruth Jones's Us Three
Us Three by Ruth Jones was an easy read that was a pleasurable page-turner from beginning to end.
Us Three follows the lives of three best friends, Judith, Lana And Catrin who, when primary aged children, swear on a Curly Wurly wrapper to always be there for each other. This is what happens, give or take a few decades of quarrelling and perceived betrayals between Judith and Lana. Catrin reluctantly takes on the role of mediator and go-between over the years and is the rock that holds the trio together. The story takes an unexpected twist when tragedy befalls Catrin. and it is at this point that the unravelling of the friendships pauses as Judith and Lana both need to support Catrin.
The story, Us Three, spans an ambitious thirty plus years focusing from the characters late teens to early fifties. At times, as a reader, I felt that there was hardly time to pause for breath, but that, I guess, is how life can feel. There is certainly plenty of action and events that unfold fast and furiously. Backpacking, boyfriend and husband dramas, alcoholism, fraud, fame and death are just a few of the things that the three women encounter.
The story, Us Three, is full of hope and warmth. It is the type of book where you wish you were involved in the character's lives rather than just an observer from the outside.The female friends are really well portrayed and the structure is perfectly suited to the story, It is a straightforward narrative, but awash with opportunities to engage empathetically with. I could imagine it being serialized in the future. As Ruth Jones is the co-writer of Gavin and Stacey this is perhaps not surprising.
Book Discussion Questions on Ruth Jones's Us Three
Bookclub Questions on Us Three (If you haven't read the book!)
Personal Response to Us Three by Ruth Jones
After listening to Ruth Jones discussing Us Three on my favourite Fortunately podcast I couldn't wait to read it. It didn't disappoint. In some respects Us Three reminded me a little bit of David Nicholls's Us. The obvious difference being that Us Three primarily focuses on friendship rather than on marriage. Both Nicholls's Us and Ruth Jones's Us Three would be brilliant book club choices. Finally why not enjoy this amusing interview with Ruth Jones and James Corden.