Last time our Wednesday Evening book group met we had one additional item on our agenda; we needed to decide on the book for our September meeting. This meeting always differs from others. We don’t get together in August because so many of our members work in education and are likely to be away, so inevitably come September we have a lot to catch up on. Under those circumstances an evening meeting just isn’t going to work. Discussion of the book would get taken over by everything else and that is something we decided right at the beginning was never going to happen. So, instead of gathering at 7.30, on this occasion we meet at 11.00 and spend the day discussing a book in the morning, seeing the film of the book in the afternoon and then discussing the adaptation over tea. This leaves us with a long lazy lunch time when we can swap all the other news that has accumulated over the intervening weeks since we had our meeting in July. Everyone brings a dish so that no one has to do too much preparation and occasionally a little wine might be drunk as well. Some years selecting the book is easy. There will have been a release during the past twelve months that grabs the attention of enough of us for it to be the obvious contender. This year we have been scratching around looking for something to choose.
And then, as is so often the case, several of us had the same thought at the same time. As a result of the release of the cinematic version of The Two Faces of January there have been a number of articles in the media recently about Patricia Highsmith, articles that made me realise that not only had I not read The Two Faces of January, I’d not read anything by her. (I am now bowing my head in shame and preparing to duck whilst you all toss deprecating insults in my direction.) Fortunately for my self-esteem, I wasn’t the only one in that position and although we couldn’t hope to get hold of a DVD copy of the latest release for September there is the more readily available 1999 film version of her better known novel, The Talented Mr Ripley. So, come September 14th, that is the book that will be the focus of our first Autumn meeting.
But isn’t it remarkable? We are nine very well read women and yet not one of us has ever read anything by a writer as celebrated as Patricia Highsmith. So, what are your blindspots – individual or group? I am going to feel so very much better about myself if you can reassure me that there are writers that you have not necessarily avoided but simply managed to overlook. And what is it about an author that means that their work can be praised to the heights and yet still slide around the public consciousness and apparently disappear between the cracks? Is it to do with their style, their subject matter or a perhaps a mismatch between their work and the atmosphere of the moment? What do you think?