Summer School ~ August 2014

tumblr_m28hunkihb1rqmm3jo1_1280Several posts back I announced the list of possible titles for this year’s Summer School.  Well, the voting is now over and the selection is made and so the Summer School for August 2014 will be reading the selection headed

Breaking New Ground

This comprises three books about people struggling to build a new life in countries far from their original homelands.  Stef Penney’s first novel, The Tenderness of Wolves, won her the overall Costa Award in 2006.  Set in 1867, it is, on the surface, a crime novel.  Winter is tightening its grip on Dove River, a tiny isolated settlement in Canada’s Northern Territory, when a man is brutally murdered.  A local woman, Mrs. Ross, discovers the crime scene and sees the tracks leading from the dead man’s cabin north toward the forest and the tundra beyond.  She reports the crime but then almost immediately regrets having done so because her seventeen-year-old son, Francis, has disappeared and consequently is considered a prime suspect.

This novel is about so much more than simply discovering who the killer is, however. It is about the power struggle in the growing township and the way in which people are prepared to go to any lengths to bolster their own position in a new world where there is much wealth for the taking.  It is about what we can see as opposed to what we are prepared to see and it is about what we so quickly become willing to turn a blind eye to.  I’ve already read this book twice, but I have no worries about coming to it a third time; it is one of those novels in which you are bound to find something fresh every time you read it.

In contrast, Tracy Chevalier’s The Last Runaway is a new read for me.  I have quite a patchy history with Chevalier’s novels.  Some I have loved and others I have thought very poor indeed.  However, this has had excellent reviews and I heard her read an extract from it at a local book day a couple of months ago and thought it sounded one of her better books.

Honor Bright is a Quaker girl who moves from England to Ohio in 1850. She find herself alienated and alone in a strange land. Sick from the moment she leaves England, and escaping from personal disappointment, she is forced by a family tragedy to rely on strangers in what turns out to be a harsh, unfamiliar landscape.

Her situation becomes even more difficult when she is drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, the network which helped runaway slaves escape to freedom.  Honor has to decide whether or not she is going to stick to her religious principles even when it means jeopardising her own safety and breaking the law of her new country.

Our third novel takes us to a very different part of the world.  Kate Grenville’s The Lieutenant is, I think, a remarkable book. Set on the shore of New South Wales in 1788 it is a story of identity and the place that language plays in establishing our understanding of who we are.

Daniel Rooke has always been an outsider, uncomfortable both at school and at home. Consequently, he sees the opportunity to enter the marines and travel to Australia as a lieutenant on the First Fleet, as a chance for a new beginning.  His role on this trip is to construct an observatory to make specific astronomical measurements, a task that he hopes will eventually lead to the sort of scientific discoveries that will make him famous.  However, he finds himself increasingly concerned with the local Aboriginies and with his attempts to bridge the communications gap between them and the colonists, a gap which is to do with far more than just words.

The novel is inspired by the notebooks of astronomer William Dawes and explores the tension between those things that unite all humanity and those that separate one section of humankind from another.  I’m glad that we’re coming to this last because it is the sort of book that it is difficult to follow.

We are going to be discussing these novels during the week beginning August 18th.  As usual, I shall be posting about each book as I read it in preparation and then catching up with a post about the discussion.  If you want to join us and add your comments here then you will be more than welcome.