Midweek book club! Elizabeth Speller & John Burningham

This week’s midweek book club sees me scouring the shelves for titles to recommend as I’m currently midway through about four books and can’t recommend any of them till I’m done reading. So here’s my read for the week:

The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller

This was out a few years ago and was a Richard and Judy pick but don’t let that put you off. The Independent calls this the new Birdsong but don’t let that put you off either! It’s better. (To be fair to The Independent, they do say that too but isn’t it sad that with the rich seam of literature about WWI, Birdsong is the only thing people think to compare other books to? In case it’s not obvious, I’m not a big Faulks fan. Anyway.) The story involves Laurence Bartram, a soldier who made it through the horrors of the trenches only to find his wife and child have died back at home. He is contacted by the sister of an old friend who wants to find out why her brother John Emmett killed himself after the war. Could Laurence do some investigating? Why yes he could. What I liked about this was that the war, while being an integral part of the story, doesn’t feature as much as the immediate aftermath and how people are adjusting to peacetime. I’m currently reading Juliet Nicholson’s The Great Silence – a factual book about the post-war years and a lot of what she says put me in mind of this book. Speller doesn’t bombard you with research, her writing is concerned with the characters and she tells the story in a sympathetic and realistic way. The only negative thing about the book was the number of typos in it, at one point even a character had the wrong name. Virago are my favourite publishers and I expected a bit more. But that’s a niggle, albeit an important one.

E’s suggestion this week is a classic:

Mr Gumpy’s Outing – John Burningham

E was bought this by her aunt who has fond memories of reading it with S. It’s what we used to call a picture flat book when I worked in a bookshop, a large paperback picture book with a basic story. Mr Gumpy has a boat and takes it out for a ride. Lots of creatures – children, dog, cat, calf, pig, goat, sheep etc – join him on the boat under the condition that they all behave. It works for a while but not for long. I admire Mr Gumpy’s forebearance in not minding that they all topple his boat – he just pulls it out of the river and invites them all round for tea. The illustrations are a mixed bunch – some are watercolour paintings while others are pencil sketches or other kinds of paint – I rather like that there’s no consistency to the pictures. E loves to point at the animals and we’ve read it so many times now that I’ve almost got it by heart. Our version comes with a CD read by Sylvester McCoy – I haven’t listened to this yet in case I get jealous of his reading skills. I’ve been doing all different voices for each animal but you never know how the professionals treat this kind of thing…

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3 Responses to Midweek book club! Elizabeth Speller & John Burningham

  1. Mum says:

    That’s disappointing, I’ve already read that one! I nearly always enjoy the Richard & Judy books, I find it quite surprising!

  2. John says:

    Mr Gumpy – one of my all time favourites! Never got tired of reading that one.

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