The book group theme for February just has to have been The Babes in the Wood (the traditional tale first told in Norwich England in 1595), with all our reads having innocence/naivety central to their stories. Quite extraordinary how this kind of pattern can emerge in reading. Take note though, not all the babes are children – you may even find you are married to one!
From Book Group Number 1 came The Death of Bees, a story about the loss of innocence in children – right at the beginning of the book we are told that Marnie and her little sister Nelly have just finished burying their parents in the back garden. This alarming scenario is coupled with the persistent naivety of adults – like their darling next door neighbour Lennie. Lots of bad language, tough-to-stomach episodes and great character development made this a winning book group read.
Book Group Number 2 delivered Kevin Dwyer as The Trivia Man (think Don Tillman in The Rosie Project, but much less appealing, and you’ll just about have the size of it). Kevin loves trivia pub quizzes, and his comprehensive collection of local weather data. He has absolutely no idea how to interact with women and to be frank isn’t all that interested. But the story spun out over 306 pages, lurching perilously close at times to necessitating a change of title to “The Trivial Man”. Moving on.
Book Group 3 is an online reading forum to which I subscribe. A recent recommendation from them was A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. Teddy, one of the main characters, exhibits a more complex naivety. A young pilot in WWII, he survives all that awfulness to return to civilian life with an innocence that is endearing, but wide open to potential abuse. Atkinson skilfully weaves the intricate tapestry of Teddy’s war experiences, his love-life, his fatherhood and finally his old age. All the time the dark undertow of his war memories is balanced by his simple belief in goodness.
Finally, back to Book Group Number 1 and Julian Barnes’ Arthur and George. If Julian Barnes ever gets to read this blog … no sniggering please … he would be astonished to learn that one book club member read this book backwards, chapter by chapter, and swears that made for a far superior reading experience. And at least one member of the group was hugely irritated by the blind naivety of George who would not countenance that the victimisation that he endured had anything to do with race.
These recent reads show that innocence and naivety remain compelling themes in literature. The loss of the first and the cultivation of the second threads its way through novel after novel. My book groups have probably only scraped the surface of potential reads here. What other good stuff have we missed? All recommendations will be naively received with innocent enthusiasm!