Last night we held our first Virago Book Club live event, with Linda Grant talking about her latest novel We Had It So Good to an audience of invited Book Club members at our offices. Book Club members have already been discussing the book on our forum as January's selection, and they certainly came prepared with plenty of interesting questions and thoughts.
Linda started things off in great style by passing round a photograph of herself as a student at York University in the 1970s and then read aloud from some letters she had written in her first term there (including a paean to the prog-rock band King Crimson and featuring some tremendous phrases such as 'rational relationships lack spontaneity') - and revealed that she felt she no longer recognised the person writing the letter.
Talking with editor Lennie Goodings, Linda said that this feeling of curiosity about the people we used to be partly inspired the writing of We Had It So Good, as well as her desire to write about her generation in particular – the baby boomers who grew up believing they would stay young forever and change the world. She also said that real world events, such as 9/11, had caused her to question whether the long run of fortune that baby boomers had experienced might be coming to an end and had provided the narritive framework for the book.
The conversation was then opened up to the audience, with some fascinating comments and opinions emerging. The idea of whether characters need to be likeable was discussed at length, with Linda stating that she had set out to write about real, flawed people who are products of their environment. When asked if likability is important to the readers, one member said it was more important that they be credible. Another said that a good thing about the novel’s characters was that she was ‘constantly judging’ them – which made it more real.
Perhaps the biggest debate came around the idea of what living a successful life actually constitutes and how do you come to terms with the expectations you had for yourself when you were younger. People felt the way the characters lives progressed showed how the optimism of youth is often struck down by reality as you get older. Linda said a theme that runs through her books is that 'just surviving is pretty good going.' She emphasized that in the end the loss of Stephen’s wife shows that his marriage was his main success in life - family being more important than the ‘greater’ things.
Overall it was a really enjoyable night, and fascinating to meet Book Club members in the flesh and hear their responses to the book. One of them even baked a cake in the shape of the book in tribute to Linda!
Linda herself commented:
'I was surprised and delighted to see how young most members of the audience were and what heartfelt questions and comments. It was a great success I thought, intimate yet thoughtful.'
We'll be hosting similar events for future Book Club titles so look out for announcements on both the Book Club forum and via the mailing list. And if you're not a member already then why not sign up here to join.
See you at the next one . . .
Here's a selection of keyword-matched articles that you might also find interesting: