Tuesday, November 25, 2008

THE READING GROUP by Elizabeth Noble

Still high after attending a reading group meeting for the first time, I felt drawn to buy the book. (It doesn’t take much to convince me to buy, believe me.)

Everything about the book screams chick lit – the tagline above the title (where the books end, the stories begin), the blurb (This is a real female-bonding novel in the very best sense; it’s witty and immediately engaging. – Glamour UK.), and the teal cover with the charming graphic. Well, it is chick lit; not always a bad thing. It is Desperate Housewives meets Hallmark Channel, the British version. 5 women, the usual suspects with the usual womanly problems – the philandering husband, the perfect but too-perfect husband, children, not being able to have children, divorce, marital boredom, you know the usual. Okay, the perfect husband is not the usual, but you know what I mean.

The Wisteria Lane women meet for gin rummy, but Harriet, Nicole, Polly, Susan, and Clare meet every month to discuss a book they take turns choosing. 12 chapters. 12 books to be discussed in 12 months. In January relative strangers meet to discuss Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. By December, when they discuss Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, their friendships have grown deeper. The book review meetings are not necessarily the highlight of this novel; rather they serve as a backdrop for the narration of these women’s lives, which interestingly enough, move parallel to the plots of the books they review.

As a housewife, sometimes desperate, and as a woman, I can certainly relate to their emotional issues. I especially like Harriet, who is far from the Nigella Lawson vision of perfection, whose all-purpose cure for every problem is chocolate, who has a husband whose heart of service can sometimes be a trigger for emotions of guilt and inadequacy. I feel Clare’s aching for a child. I root for Polly as she overcomes life’s mistakes and takes second chances.

Except for a few slight surprises, the book is utterly predictable. At the end, each character finds resolution. That is usually the case for most novels, but in this book, the endings are a bit too neatly, too conveniently wrapped up, and not all that convincing.

Good, light reading for my girl-alone-on-a-holiday jaunt. But not quite meaty enough as a reading group choice.