At long last my book club met up again, a month later than originally planned but worth the wait!
We had been reading Mary McCarthy’s The Group and it received mixed reviews.
I enjoyed the book. I liked the representations of life as a woman in the mid-30s in New York. If I’m honest I can’t remember which character was which now, but my overall impression was that life for women was portrayed very sadly. None of the women seemed to have rewarding relationships with men, or even with each other, with the exception of one of the characters, Polly. They seemed to be dominated, particularly clear in the case of Priss whose paediatrician husband bears over her pregnancy and the infancy of their child, telling her what to do and how to treat the baby, and treating her as a guinea pig for his own ideas on mothering. I found it strange how compliantly she agrees to his decisions, despite her own reservations about it all.
What I did find interesting was that it was written in the 60s, and I wonder how much influence that had over the representation of most of the women in the book as submissive, as if it is reflexively looking back on that time, talking about it frankly, clearly showing how difficult life was even for educated and prosperous women.
The book is very frank on lots of topics, and it was really interesting how it went into so much detail on contraception, breastfeeding and sexual relations before, after, and out-with marriage – at times it seemed a bit unnecessary but I did flush a little reading it on the train on my way to work in the morning and I appreciate how brazen it would have been at the time of its publication.
Some of the other bookclubbers found it a little depressing, and two out of five didn’t actually finish it, which I don’t think should be a judgement on them, but rather on the book – it did tend to drag a little bit and at times the language seemed out-dated, rather like the contraceptive and relationship practices the book portrayed. I did see it through to the end however and although I liked the fact that it didn’t succumb to the need for a tied-up ending, I felt that there was something lacking from it. Perhaps it is just that as a young woman 80 years after they had their experiences, I find it hard to relate to them and understand the submissiveness of the characters, all whilst appearing so bored and dissatisfied with their lives. It seems to me like they were all settling, again with the exception of Polly, and I wished a little more for them.
Moving on, next month’s choice is The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan.
You can read the publisher’s synopsis here.
Already I think this one is faring better than The Group; one bookclubber has finished it within a week and said it was pretty addictive. Unfortunately, I won’t be taking it on holiday as it’s a hardback – however, it is awaiting my return and I really look forward to reading it and the next book club meeting!