Whitley Bay Book Group: My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

It was lovely to meet Jenny, who joined us for the first time on Wednesday evening, for what turned out to be a rather emotional meeting to discuss Kit de Waal’s debut novel, My Name is Leon.  (Beware of spoilers.)

I don’t think we’ve ever discussed a book whose subject matter touched so many of us, either through our own professional or personal lives, or through those close to us, and the shared details of those experiences added such depth to our discussion of the book.  The most repeated comment was simply “heartbreaking” and several members found it a difficult read that, had it not been a book group book, they would have probably have avoided.  However even the two members who didn’t really like the book rated it well, leading to a star rating of 3.7 out of 5.

There was much praise for the simple, clear writing, the likeable characters, the effectiveness of Leon’s voice and how it allowed us to understand more of what was actually happening around him (altho a few times it was felt it was used as a device to explain or move along the plot).  We also talked about the many perceptive and poignant details, such as references to smells, the importance of his backpack and few remaining possessions to Leon, and how the simple gift of a bike had expanded his life.

Beyond that there were some differences of opinions: some felt that the sub-plots involving Tufty’s friends, and the passage on the riots, didn’t add anything, and for some (though not all) the late 7os/early 80s were not particularly well evoked, altho it was pointed out that this also made the story timeless, given that the issues it dealt with are still very much with us today.  The ending in particular seemed to split the group, some seeing it as rather too neat and convenient, whereas others felt not that much had actually been resolved and they found the loose ends unsettling.

Some members had been able to go and see the author at the Durham Book Festival, and they added much valuable detail and background, including the fact that the author is planning at least one more book about Leon, which I am sure we will all be keen to read!

We also discussed plans for our Christmas meal out, which replaces our regular meeting in December.  Booking details will be finalised at our November meeting, when we will also be looking at Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows.