Only four members attended this meet due to others being poorly and busy, but we still managed a good discussion and I still have some notes from the members who couldn't make it.
Three of our four members said that they would have never read the book had it not been a book club choice, and especially after reading the first few pages, as it seemed very old style, C S Lewis, perhaps aimed at young adults. We all agreed that as we read on, the book became much more of a page turner and we loved the dark fairy tales and mythology which were aimed more at an adult audience. It was very much like Narnia throughout with the obvious fantasy a WW2 links, but a lot of our members appreciated that it lined into stories that they grew up with.
The plot was believable in the sense it was kind of a dream world, and was never really meant to be taken too seriously, except there was a nice twist at the end where some of David’s wounds could not be explained. There were a lot of parallels between the characters in the fantasy world and the characters of the real world such as David’s father and the woodsman and the Rose and the huntsman (David’s perception of Rose). Some of the themes running throughout the real world, were entirely believable such as David’s grieving process for his mother and dislike of Rose and his new baby brother, and even throughout the fantasy world we saw David’s journey of growing into a man and accepting the death of his mother.
We didn't really get to know much about the characters in the real world, David’s father seemed like a nice man, who wanted an easy life. The members liked how he was portrayed as working as a secret agent, perhaps to crack the enigma code, but others wondered if he had been seeing Rose before David’s mother had died. I think the group could empathise with Rose, and her actions were entirely believable such as when she slapped David after he was winding her up and she instantly regretted it. It was nice to see that towards the end, she genuinely cared very deeply for David. The characters in the fantasy world had done their job by making us cringe and laugh, the dwarves and Snow White, being good examples, although sometimes it seemed as though characters were just added for the sake of it. We did like hearing of how the story of Roland and Raphael unfolded, very unconventional fairytale, and how David’s innocence didn't pick up on the homosexual relationship until the crooked man told him, but also how he matured and laid his friend to rest beside his lover, but again we really failed to see the relevance of the Roland and Rafael story to the plot. Many of the members mentioned how they loved the books speaking throughout. Sometimes it felt as if the author was referencing his past experiences, and towards the end where it said “the book you are reading was the book that David wrote” didn't come as much of a surprise. It was mentioned in notes at the end of the paperback copy that the author took ideas from his past, especially with regards to visiting the psychiatrist.
The ending was enjoyed by most, it seemed to give closure and tie up loose ends. Some who usually like closure, wasn't sure if the ending worked or felt a bit rushed, others thought it was just enough and actually their favourite part of the book. The whole book was very emotional at times, some people thought the beginning was much sadder than the end, but it’s a shame how David had almost resigned himself to failure because of what the Crooked man had told him; could David have chosen a different path and lived a much happier life if it were not for the Crooked man (David’s subconscious fears were spoken by the Crooked man as you dream your own fears)? It was great that earlier in the book when David asked the Woodsman if he would return, and the Woodsman said we all return one day, we knew David had dreamt his idea of heaven, this was tied up nicely when David was an old man and once again returned to the sunken garden for the final time. We were all a bit cautious at first, hoping that the book wouldn't end “and then he woke up and it was all a dream”, as the book went on and David asked Roland if they were dead and Roland explained why they were not dead, it became apparent to most of us that David may be in a coma, either due to the bomber crash or one of his episodes. Although a coma produced an almost “and then he woke up” moment, it was great that he was left with unexplainable scars.
John Connelly is best known as a crime writer and this is most likely a one off attempt at fantasy, he certainly knows how to tell a good story and has a good imagination. Those who like fantasy are unlikely to read any of his crime novels, those who like crime are interested in seeing how his crime plots progress.
Along with the four members who attended, we also had some other feedback, giving the book an average score of 7.25 out of ten, the lowest score being 5 and the highest 9.5.
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