Kalooki Klub on the Kase
Guy Pringle introduces us to the other reading group he belongs to in Winchester ans asks them to reach a VERDICT on An Inventory of Heaven by Jane Feaver.
is a shoe, a Louboutin shoe to be precise. A slim and poised runner with back problems – could this be due to the height of the heels to which she rises for special occasions? Her light sense of humour leavens our darker moments when we might otherwise become bi-polar.
is a martini - dry, shaken but not stirred. With one phrase Kat can dissemble us, take the debate in an entirely different – and always more interesting - direction. Steadfastly intending to enjoy a significant birthday.
is a fruit tea - carries her own sachets - is exceedingly young and, thanks to her Pilates teaching, slim. Our professional Children’s Librarian, even Wyatt Earp couldn’t beat her to her iPhone – produced whenever the internet will have the answer.
is Walter de la Mare’s Listener, quietly assessing the debate and then revealing another dimension we hadn’t thought of. A quintessential librarian and a shining example to government of why libraries are important. She already belongs to a crime fiction reading group elsewhere so doubles up on her reading.
Isabel and Glynis
go back far enough to be able not only to finish each other’s sentences but know what each other is thinking before then. Isabel’s recent commuting has meant she finishes more than the rest of us put together (she finished Kalooki!). Glynis is grounded, sees the story behind the story and brings it to our intention without making us feel stoopid!
is the bloke. A bit contrary when it’s called for and also when it’s not. He’d like to think he’s the pearl in the oyster but more accurately is the bit of grit that aggravates the oyster in the first place.
An Inventory of Heaven
by Jane Feaver
is published by Corsair.
Like any group worth its salt, we can be an unpredictable bunch so taking on this ‘assignment’ meant we’d assiduously boned up on the book. In fact, almost all of us had finished it. Although we are committed readers, one and all, we meet as much to talk to each other, to digress, catch up, gossip as we do to talk about the book in hand. And while I had tried to explain that the intention of The Verdict was to capture the discussion that ensued rather than dissect the book à la Open University, the latter was what they had prepared for. Although commendable, it did make it a little harder to elicit generalisations drawn from their own lives – and I particularly like hearing about how a book has intersected with our real lives.
What did emerge early on is that none of us had read any of Jane’s books before. We debated the cover – was this a rural, Devon church, or something more urban? The two little girls running through bluebells we assumed were Mavis, the narrator, and Frances, the slightly older, aloof girl who came to Mavis’s aunt’s home for piano lessons. Therein began a deep longing to befriend Frances which took a long time to reach fruition. This, we all felt, was one of those unhealthy friendships where the younger girl was never going to be an equal.
Earlier, location, in particular Devon, gave us food for thought – was the story recognisably rooted there? Did it need to be or was it being rural enough? This story goes back to the evacuation of the war years, which is how Mavis knows this village.
Karla’s mother and grandmother were evacuated to Cornwall and she knew of others who had been taken off to Wales but what were the pressures on locals to take in these city kids? Was money involved? Several of us chipped in about things we’d read or heard which portrayed that experience as the best time of an otherwise depressing childhood. For Isabel this was a chance for Mavis to slip back into something known, an escape from an unhappy childhood where her father all but disowned both his daughter and his wife in favour of his secretary who had become his mistress. Occasionally he visited them in West Norwood, quickly returning to the love nest of his central London flat, a mere seven or eight miles away, surely commutable even back then?
We digressed into the advisability of going back to former haunts, the consensus being that it wasn’t
a good idea although revisiting student lodgings and locales detained us for a while, Hannah being slightly discomforted that Loughborough had changed dramatically since she left it ten short years before.
We wrestled with the timeline of the book and the desirability of a cast list/family tree/map – with those in favour reconsidering when Karla said she always distrusted such aids as suggesting that difficulties lay within.
Karla also articulated a desire to know more about Frances, this talented piano player with a murky past. A GI romance that continued by letter long after he’d been given his marching orders by her
dad, even continuing when he was back in the States and ‘happily’ married. Was there also a suggestion
of incest between Frances and Robert? His rage at finding her letters seemed excessive for modern times but would things have been so different then? After all, they appeared to have shared a bedroom long after what would be desirable nowadays. At which point a whole raft load of comparisons piled in – the 70s film Straw Dogs, Call the Midwife a current TV favourite with echoes of similar mores and even Wuthering Heights with Hannah’s assertion that Dartmoor does indeed get significant snowfall.
All were agreed that the writing of a misunderstanding about a ring and how it was brought back into the story with dynamic impact was masterly
Call the Midwife brought further revelations about the colour of newly born babies of mixed race, the way attitudes to illegitimacy have shiftedin our lifetimes, and some juicy revelations about family scandals. This is when the meetings take off for me as you hear about someone else’s life and how it compares with one’s own. One member had asked her mother the direct question – what about sex and relationships during the war? To which the evasive answer had come back, ‘It was a funny time.’ Which tells you everything and nothing.
Some of the characters seemed to drift in and back out again more as local colour than driving the story forward so we speculated about how they might have developed which somehow took us into shotgun weddings.
All were agreed that the writing of a misunderstanding about a ring and how it was brought back into the story with dynamic impact was masterly – and immensely sad. As the evening drew to a close we took stock of the last couple of hours. Once again we had lost ourselves in the book as source material and had enjoyed each other’s company which, after all, is the point of being in a group, isn’t it?
Mavis Gaunt was a wartime evacuee in the village of Shipleigh, Devon – away from London and her parents’ loveless marriage – sufficient for her to conceive of the place as a heavenly retreat. In her twenties, with nothing left to keep her in the city, Mavis decides to return.
Frances, Tom and Robert Upcott are reclusive siblings from a local farm. When Mavis returns to the village, she and Frances strike up an unlikely friendship. As they draw closer, Mavis is drawn into the life of the farm and begins at last to enjoy a sense of belonging. But a tragic sequence of events is set to turn her heaven into a living hell.
Mavis is seventy when Eve and her young son Archie turn up unexpectedly in the village. The tentative friendship that develops between them prompts her collection of memories and treasures: her inventory. In revealing the truth of what happened at the Upcott farm, she is able to answer Eve’s questions about the past, and Mavis can finally lay her own demons to rest.