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Book Club with Peter Cunningham and a Howth Book Club - The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Last month, you the viewers chose The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold as December's book of the month.

We invited viewers to read along with us and send in their thoughts and to participate with their book clubs. Today we will chat about the book with writer and author Peter Cunningham and three members of a Howth book club: Michelle Jackson, Suzanne Barry & Lorna Morris.

Peter Cunningham

Author and sometime reviewer for The Irish Times

'The Sea and the Silence' is published by New Island
Born in Waterford in 1947, Peter Cunningham is best known as a regular books reviewer for The Irish Times and as the author of the Monument novels. Set in the fictional landscape of Cunningham's native city and surrounding countryside, these stories, beginning with Tapes of the River Delta, are about Irish people and their lives and loves from the late 19th century to the present day. The novels have been widely acclaimed, in Ireland, the UK and US, and in translation.

Consequences of the Heart was short-listed for the Listowel Writers prize. "A masterful, funny and moving story steeped in Irish and European tradition," the Observer said in its Book of the Week review. "It is a triumph," said the Irish Times.

Of Love in One Edition, the third in the series, the London Times said, "Beautifully written with moments of calm insight."

Booker prize winner Roddy Doyle said of The Sea and the Silence, published in 2008: "It is a truly terrific novel - moving and hugely entertaining."

Cunningham's best selling novel, The Taoiseach, laid bare the corruption and dishonesty at the heart of contemporary Irish politics and was greeted in Ireland with both acclaim and controversy.

Peter Cunningham has judged the Glen Dimplex New Writers Awards. He is a member of Aosdána and lives in County Kildare.

Howth Book Club

3 Book Club members:
Michelle Jackson
Suzanne Barry
Lorna Morris


Peter Cunningham - It's a novel about murder, grief, the disintegration of a bereaved family and love.

Susie is a 14 year old school girl who is captured, brutally raped and murdered by the man who lives 2 doors down. The story is told by Susie in heaven when she follows the manhunt for her killer and watches the awful effect the death has in her family. The device of the dead Susie telling her story plays into our wish to believe in an afterlife and is undoubtedly one of the reasons for the novel's success when it first appeared 8 years ago. Today some of the devices seem somewhat corny and Susie's heavenly musings about murdered girls who've gone before her are somewhat tiresome and yet Sebold's unsentimental prose lifts this novel above the mawkish and keeps the story ticking along.

Ultimately he thought it was corny but he wouldn't stop people from reading it. It's a "made for movie" novel, like The Sixth Sense where the children are conduits or overseers of things. It's an international best seller. It's getting a new lease of life with the film. It's pretty dark and plays into our wish to believe in an afterlife, an interesting part of it. The man hunt for Mr Harvey and the way she communicates with her Dad. Her messages come across as her family and friends' intuition. The mother's affair and leaving - he felt that was believable as grief has a terrible destructive effect on families. Her affair was not believable. The poor father was very sad. Mr Harvey seemed credible as a psychopath.

Michelle Jackson - She wouldn't say she enjoyed it, though it was beautifully written. Michelle wasn't in a good mood reading it as it brought her down, as Christmas is an emotional time and it brought her down. She can empathize with the author's own rape, it became quite repetitive, the pain, the gore etc. she enjoyed the reflection on life after death and heaven, the people she met, (Mitch Albom, the 5 people you meet in Heaven), quite comforting. The constant referral to Mr Harvey and then his comeuppance with the icicle the perfect murder weapon. She was quite cross with the policeman Len jumping in on the woman who's daughter was murdered, but it seemed cruel, and upsetting. They were all damaged. The mother's escape to the wine valley was as she couldn't cope - abandoned her other children for over 3 years. The ad became the main caregiver, very hands on, went the other way to the mom. Very hard to know how people cope with grief. Would have lived the Dad the most as a character and the sister. Very down and sad book. Harvey going on to do other murders was very bleak. Would not recommend it to other people as it is so full of misery. From 2002 the height of misery literature, now not so common. Life is hard enough to live - we need art, music, film and literature to bring us out of misery. There's a move back to beauty now. We have a lot to be dealing with in the world - climate change, economic gloom etc. At no stage did she feel a lift in the book. Also The Kite Runner affected her very darkly that she can't get rid of them, in The Lovely Bones, the elbow and the sink-hole.

Suzanne Barry - Really enjoyed it first time a few years ago, but now reading it again, humour, told through a child's eyes so more enjoyable than the first time. The sister's Lindsey's character and her coming of age.
The Heaven aspect is interesting believable, no God, so not religious, a heaven of your own making.
Extremely well written. Managed to deal with very deep issues yet keep a simplistic narrative.
Favourite character - Lindsey. Would recommend it to anyone, her husband. For parents to read it is interesting - makes you more aware of children's coming of age.
It's a page turner, event the second time round. Will not go to the movie as don't want to see the director's take on Heaven. There is intrigue about Mr Harvey and his house. Very realistic the mother going off having the affair

Lorna Morris - really enjoying it, 80-pages to go. Don't find it depressing, find it very interesting,. her dad seems to cope better than the mother. It has a thriller element with Mr Harvey - will he get caught? The characters are very good, the portrayal of Mr Harvey, the sister's bravery going into his house is very gripping.
Very good writer, gets you in tune, real page turner, can't put it down. Really enjoying it. Definitely read more of her books. Excellent portrayal of the characters. What's happening from above..interesting. everyone seems to have read it. Her friend said she'd love to be up above, not that bad of a place, the in-between place, not quite heaven. Susie's rushing by Ruth was quite impacting for Ruth the loner is a deep insular loner character but the other times Susie appears does not seem to be as impactful.

Prices/Stockists/Relevant Information
The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold, published by Picador - €9.60