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Book Club with Dick Warner and a Tramore Book Club - The Umbrella Tree by Mary Stanley

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Last month, you the viewers chose The Umbrella Tree by Mary Stanley as January'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 the writer broadcaster and Irish Examiner books' reviewer Dick Warner and 3 members of a Tramore book club:

Who is the guest?

Dick Warner describes himself as a 'writer, broadcaster and environmentalist'. He is a graduate of Trinity and has lived and worked in a number of different countries. For many years he was an RTE radio producer before taking early retirement to concentrate on his personal interests and to do free-lance work.

He is best known to the public as a writer and presenter of Television documentaries. 'Waterways', a twenty-four part series, and 'Voyage', an eighteen part series, reflected his love of boats and water. Both series were very successful and were shown all over the world. 'Spirit of Trees', an eight part series, reflected his interest in botany in general and trees in particular. He has made other programmes on wildlife and the environment and has written books and many articles on such topics. He writes a regular column as well as book reviews for The Irish Examiner and several magazines.

Dick lives with his wife and two children on a small-holding in rural Co Kildare. He is a keen organic vegetable gardener, collects trees and keeps poultry. He says he has no ambitions to be completely self-sufficient but is trying to practice what he preaches by living a relatively 'green' life-style.

3 Book Club members:
. Anna O'Donoghue
. Mary Carbery

. Marie Roche

Mary Stanley's new novel is written in the form of a fictional memoir.
It tells the story of the life of Helena Wolff. She spends her childhood on a coffee farm in Kenya with her beloved brother Horace. He tells her stories about animals and birds which are recounted as flash-backs throughout the book. It's a happy childhood, despite a lack of affection from her parents, until her brother is accidentally shot in an assassination attempt on the Kenyan president. Soon afterwards she goes to Trinity College Dublin where she marries a fellow student and settles down to raise a family in Co Wicklow. She establishes a close friendship with her neighbour, the exotic Carolina del Fiori, known as Conti, a socialite and the daughter of an Italian Count with a rather dubious background. Her tranquil life in Wicklow is shattered by some startling revelations and by a bungled gangland shooting which seriously injures her and kills her husband. She returns to Kenya where she is reconciled with her parents and ends her days peacefully.

Author: Mary Stanley was born in London to an R.A.F. father and Irish mother, who moved to Ireland when she was a baby. She was raised and educated in Dublin. In 2000, following the breakdown of her marriage and the death of her mother, she wrote her first novel, Retreat (2001), which was a bestseller. There followed four more bestselling novels, Missing (2002), Revenge (2003), Searching for Home (2005) and The Lost Garden (2006), as well as An Angel at My Back (2008) (a novella in New Island's Open Door Series) and numerous short stories, which appear in different collections and on RTE Radio.


Dick Warner

1. This is a fictional memoir with some elements of 'Magical Realism', which is well-constructed with some interesting characters. Mary Stanley tells a story well but....

2. Her female characters are much better than the male ones, who tend to be rather one-dimensional.

3. There is some sloppy research --- there are no beavers in Wicklow, never have been and never will be, and some of the Kenyan research is poor (you can't have a coffee farm in a savannah landscape with giraffes and elephants --- Kenyan coffee is grown in the mountains).

4. Her plot relies heavily on very unlikely coincidences (identical twins separated in childhood, etc).

Anna O' Donoghue

She liked the writing style, the descriptions, the lovely relationship that she had with her brother, who was murdered. The husband was killed in the same way - a bit too much of a coincidence.
Anna almost feels she could have written this book herself, the style was very familiar to her, she could almost write it from memory. Never read Mary Stanley before, but now will run out and buy and read all the rest of her books.
Some of the book club books are very heavy so this was a welcome break from them. She wouldn't call it chick lit though. Cecilia Ahern chick lit. She used to like Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes but thinks Keyes has gone down hill. She also used to love Lesley Pierce, more meaty, like this book, it makes you think.

Marie Roche

Enjoying it lighter than she thought, thought it would be heavier. It's credible. She's in a writing group too, and so is picking up on certain details. Not sure if some of the facts are accurate. Enjoying it, like the lead character, very deep.

Mary Carbery

She wasn't mad about it. A lot of pace at the start, then flat in the middle, then the last 25 pages were frantic, a lot of action to tie it all up. She seemed to be pregnant for ages, then the kids grew up very fast. She didn't liker to main character, one dimensional, so nice. The Italian Condi was so mean to Helena. Still so nice to Condi, not a credible friendship. They moved in such different circles. The father flying to Dublin without calling her seemed strange. Wouldn't have finished the book unless she had to. Never read any Mary Stanley before. The men in the book were lovely; her husband's family was lovely too. She liked the landscape descriptions of Trinity, Wicklow etc. Not too much name-dropping. She wouldn't really recommend it to a friend. Not crying out to her. Though other people seem to love it.

Prices/Stockists/Relevant Information

The Umbrella Tree, by Mary Stanley_ Published by New Island €10.99
Fact File

. Mary Stanley- The Umbrella Tree
. Published by New Island, November 2009
. ISBN 9781848400481 Price €10.99
. Fiction: Original paperback