Notes from the Book Group on March 6, 2014

Recollections of the Meeting of the Bryn Mawr Book Group on Thursday March 6, 2014 for Asunder, by Chloe Aridjis

Present: Roo Dane, host, Sandra Lovell, Dorianne Low, Katherine Tierney O’Connor (’61), Sydney Owens, Dodie Rees, and myself, Cornelia Robart.

Aridjis’s novel showers us with original, beautiful use of the English language that left us breathless with little turns of phrase and fascinating details of living with art and moth-strewn eggshell dioramas. One reader admitted, “At about halfway, I stopped looking for a plot.” The narrator, Marie, is a museum guard at the National Gallery in London. She relates her journeys winding among complex recollections of her with her great-grandfather (he, also a warder, in 1914 viewed the suffragette slashing of the Velasquez Venus).

Marie depicts with seemingly unrelated strokes her willful isolation among friends/roommates kept at a safe distance. Quirky Lucian, in “sooty threads” and Goth studs, his hair “teased into an elaborate cobweb,” sold macabre items at Camden market. Daniel, current flat mate, saved scraps of undeveloped Zen-like poetry titles (“Lamentations in Front of a Closed Shop Window,” “Lame dragon December”) and corresponded with similarly publicity-shy poets all over the world. We glimpsed thoughts laden with classical imagery from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man through Madonna, Rosemary’s Baby, the infant Jesus, and Breughel’s falling Icarus.

This book would surely become richly illumined at a second reading – first time for the plot (glimpsed though chiaroscuro) and second for the magical threads of sensitivity.

The book ends with a portrait of a young pavement artist, unrolling and rerolling his canvas of The Last Supper, on pavement subject to the treading of passersby. “But the young man didn’t seem to mind, even when a man in fur stepped right on Christ’s face or when a pigeon began pecking at Judas Iscariot….”

March 31 2014 | Book group | Comments Off

Notes from the Book Group on January 28, 2014

Are Women Human? and The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers

Present: Roo Dane, host, Sandra Lovell, Dorianne Low, Dodie Rees, Sydney Owens, and Cornelia Robart

Mimosas, hot little chicken sausages, chocolate-coated almonds, humus and crackers warmed a chilly evening. We were in a mood to reminisce, and after drinking a toast to deceased Pete Seeger and singing “We Shall Overcome” to a ’61 classmate in California (Delia Wheelwright Moon), we settled down to a serious recollection of how upcoming Hell Week was for each of us. Was there really a bonfire with opposing circles of freshmen circling round? Was Kate Evans’s horse really the ’61 class animal, guarded by Roo on Faculty Row before a classy parade up to Taylor Hall? Other class animals– a boyfriend on his motorcycle, a woodcock….

And, you and Ms. Sayers ask, Are women human? This essay is one of the clearest we had ever read – not a word to remove nor to add. Another essay in the same collection underlined how a Great Person thought of women, in this case Jesus, a prophet and teacher who

…never nagged at them, flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them,… who took their questions and arguments seriously….never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female…who took them as he found them….

As for the bells (“scary”), their tolling sounds death from lofty Fenchurch St. Paul, surrounded by fens and fog and deep ditches and inadequate sluicegates. Nine “tailors” makes a man (six for a woman, three for a child). It seems Sayers was passionately interested in bells. Each chapter begins with a quote from a master bell-ringer, completely mysterious to us uninitiated but fascinating because of that secret coded language.

How much might those infamous emeralds been worth that a man would wait for twenty years in jail thirsting for them?  The three burglar suspects/participants were very differently drawn. One, a gentlemen burglar, assured the authorities that “blackmail is below me.” Another hid in France waiting for the signal to return home to “Paul Taylor” and “Batty Thomas” to recover the jewels, concealed in a fairly simple hiding place that Lord Peter Wimsey uncovered.

The end is quite satisfying horrific. The agonizing death of the thief is revealed; its perpetrator, laden with guilt, heroically drowns in the vast fens flooding.

We queried the feminist leanings of the story. Mrs. Venables was remarkable, cheerfully rectifying the rector’s vagaries and organizing a shelter in the church during the great flooding of the fens. Will’s wife was stalwart in celebrating her husband’s death as a relief to his role in the thief’s death; the French wife was realistic as Frenchwomen are in the face of facts (her “husband’s” departure).

This book precedes the achingly romantic stories involving Peter and Harriet, which I think some of us might revisit with pleasure.

Next selection: Asunder, by Chloe Aridjis, daughter of our ’61 classmate Betty (Sam) Ferber.  We will meet on Thursday, March 6th at 6:30pm.

January 31 2014 | Book group | Comments Off

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