The North Recommends: Allerton Book Group

Allerton Book Group is a long established group, which started in about 2000-2001 at Allerton Library in South Liverpool.  It was originally run by Liverpool Library Services and from 2005 was facilitated by community librarian Peter Wallace. When Peter retired and library services were cut back, he decided to continue leading the group on a voluntary basis as he enjoyed it so much.

Over the years the group has thrived and although no original members remain, we have a regular membership of around sixteen people.  When our numbers increased a few years ago, we moved our meeting place from Allerton Library to the nearby Childwall Library to gain more space, but we are still known as Allerton Book Group.

We use sets of books provided by Liverpool Library Services and have read a wide range of literature ranging from classics to prize winning contemporary novels.  We discuss ideas for what we might like to read and then trust Peter to surprise us with his choice of what’s available (he’s never let us down yet!)  We all agree that this works very well for us as it introduces us to authors we don’t know about, and lets us discover books which we wouldn’t necessarily choose for ourselves.  Opinions are often divided but we feel that this provokes stimulating discussions and it is interesting to hear other people’s viewpoints.

Recent book choices have included:-

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

This was a popular choice with the group.  Almost all of us had previously read the book, but for the majority it was many years ago during our teenage years.  We were all familiar with the story so it was a nostalgic read, but we agreed that it’s interesting to revisit classic books at different stages of your life.  I think we appreciated the writing more this time around and realised what a ground-breaking-novel it was. We felt that it is still very relevant for today’s readers with its themes of freedom and equality for women.

A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly

This is an American historical novel written for Young Adults but we thought it equally suited to an older audience.  It is part murder mystery and part coming of age story based on the real-life murder of Grace Brown which shocked America in the early 1900s.  This is interwoven with the fictional tale of young Mattie Gokey’s growth to maturity as she struggles against a backdrop of harsh rural life to achieve her ambition of attending university and becoming a writer.

The book is beautifully written with strong characters and vivid descriptions of the lakes and rivers of the Adirondacks region of America.  It covers social issues such as racism, sexism and poverty, and if you grew up with a love of reading as I did, you might well identify with the character of young Mattie.

 The Dark Circle by Linda Grant

This atmospheric and absorbing novel gives a fascinating insight into life in London and Kent during the early post-war years.

The Dark Circle tells the story of East London twins Lenny and Miriam, who have TB and are sent to convalesce in a post-World War II sanatorium in Kent shortly after the formation of the NHS.  There they meet a mixture of other patients who differ because of class, education, politics, and social standing. The book gives a memorable and extremely moving portrayal of the impact TB had on the lives of its sufferers prior to the discovery of drugs that would finally cure and prevent the spread of the disease.

Although it is in some parts an uncomfortable read (it’s scary to think this took place relatively recently), our bookgroup found it very informative and thought provoking.  It made for some great discussions about the NHS, healthcare, and contemporary issues. I personally found it convincingly written with vividly drawn characters and despite the grim topic, in places the book was very funny.  I very much enjoyed the details of 1950s life including the advent of television, fashion, and music.

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

This is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, however I don’t think you have to be familiar with the play to enjoy this fabulous novel.

The Tempest is told through Felix who takes the job of teaching Shakespeare at a prison. Felix, a theatre director ousted from his job at a Canadian theatre festival, has a secret wish for revenge against the men who betrayed him. He plots his revenge through a staging of The Tempest by his students at the prison.  The book is so cleverly written: although it is set in modern day Canada, there are quotations from and references to Shakespeare’s play throughout the novel.

It is dark and gripping, but also extremely funny and deeply moving.  I would say that this book was probably our bookgroup’s favourite read of the last few months, and I would highly recommend it to other bookgroups.

Allerton Book Group meets on the first Monday of the month at 2pm in Childwall Library.  We are a friendly bunch, and new members are always welcome.