Gransnet forums

Books/book club

November book club - Bitter by Francesca Jakobi

(58 Posts)
CariGransnet (GNHQ) Mon 05-Nov-18 11:27:29

Winners of our free copies of Bitter (more info HERE should be receiving their copies any time.

A reminder that if you do get one you will need to leave your thoughts and questions for Francesca on this thread...we usually say by the end of the month but we can run this a little longer this time round, so first week of December is fine.

FrancescaJakobi Tue 08-Jan-19 15:51:39


Bitter was such an enjoyable read, it was hard to put it down and with the short chapters I kept wanting to read on. At first Gilda did not come over as a particularly nice person but as the story progressed a lot of it was to do with her upbringing and her immaturity. Once we found out about her misunderstanding I really wanted Reuben to warm to her but understand how much damage was done after all those years. The book also captured the flavour of the times perfectly - I was there!

I would like to ask Francesca Jakobi if she has children of her own and how would she react if there was a rift due to a misunderstanding.

I look forward to more from this writer.

I don’t have children myself – I suspect it would have been harder to write about such a painful rift if I had.

If there were a similar misunderstanding in my own family, I would hope that I’d try to tackle it sooner rather than later. Part of the problem with Gilda and Reuben is that their misunderstandings were left to fester for so long. If they’d been able to talk about Gilda’s past when Reuben was younger, I think things would have been different.

FrancescaJakobi Tue 08-Jan-19 15:52:03


I really enjoyed this book. The characterisation was superb, the storyline was clear and there was no difficulty moving between eras.
I loved the short paragraphs which meant you could pick up the book while waiting for the kettle to boil to see how Gilda was getting on. She was a complex character and like many people in the everyday life,I found her neither likeable nor unlikeable but her life history was interesting. The characters were all so different: Alice was a dear and Reuben the opposite.

My question is only a small one :why did you have Gilda teaching English ?I know she met Leo through that but she seemed so unsuitable to be a teacher both personality-wise and confidence wise.

Altogether a very good read. Please let us have some more along those lines.

This question made me smile! I do agree, she would not be your first choice for a teacher but then people did end up doing all sorts of unlikely jobs during the war. It needed to be a transformative job – one that would boost her confidence and allow her to engage with other people’s lives. I’ve taught English abroad myself, so knew it could have this effect.

FrancescaJakobi Tue 08-Jan-19 15:52:38


I thought this was clever writing. Over the course of the book I also changed from actively disliking Gilda to at least understanding why she is such a troubled, flawed character and rushing through the last few chapters wanting some resolution for her.
The short punchy chapters, flicking between the timelines are very effective in building tension.
I found the ending satisfying; I liked the grown up conversation with Reuben about trusting Alice, and the photo-gift when she takes back a part of Reuben by laying claim to being his mother without damaging his relationship with his father, something we were convinced the old Gilda would have done.
Questions for Francesca:
I am interested in the writing process - was it written as it reads or as separate scenes/threads, crafted together at the end? I liked how eg. the yellow cups make several appearances.
Also: did you approach an agent with an idea or a fully early-drafted novel?
Thank you for an interesting read.

Thank you! Your description of the separate scenes coming together at the end is very much the way I work. It took five years to write and the scenes moved around a lot during that time. I always imagined the yellow cups would reappear at the end though.

I had already done several drafts by the time I approached an agent and thought it was more or less finished. I was wrong. I did three more edits before the final version and it changed quite a bit in that time.

FrancescaJakobi Tue 08-Jan-19 15:53:08


Finished this book yesterday evening and was captivated by the layers of complexity in Gilda. Her naivety, sense of being the odd one out, her life largely controlled by the needs of others, particularly men, loneliness, depression, alcohol dependence and a fearful love for her son. I quickly warmed to her if not to her behaviour.

Manipulated into teaching it seemed Gilda was able to understand her pupils and they her, I sensed an acceptance she had not found before. As the story unfolded Alice and Margo became real, pulling and pushing Gilda onwards. I felt the characterisation was subtly done, their place in the book essential. Reuben was also of course impacted by his upbringing. While I had huge sympathy for the lost boy and troubled teenager I was often irritated by the adult. To me the photo for Berta was a huge step forward, an acknowledgement of Gilda’s newly found understanding and a platform for the next stage in her relationships.

As others have said it did seem odd that Alice and Reuben appeared not to notice an intrusion into their home, I also wondered if Gilda’s ‘lurking’ at their home as well as inside and outside of Alice’s workplace could really have gone unnoticed. No matter, the book remained hugely enjoyable.

Thank you to both GN and the author, I’ve struggled to find questions as the conversation section answered most. I would be interested to learn how the author viewed the apparent lack of noticing of Gilda’s intrusions and also how interpretations of Gilda’s motivation when sending the photo to Berta sit with her intent in including it.

The book is told through Gilda’s eyes, so we’re never quite sure whether Alice and Reuben notice her intrusions. That said, it would be such a bizarre thing for someone to break into your house and make one side of the bed that I suspect you’d try to convince yourself that you or your spouse had done it and forgotten.

As for Gilda’s motivation when sending the photo, I think she wanted to remind everyone that she was and will always be an important part of Reuben’s life – she gave birth to him and loved him. She needed Frank and Bertha to acknowledge that.

FrancescaJakobi Tue 08-Jan-19 15:53:38


I found this book a thought proving, compulsive read – which I completed in two days. I liked the short chapters, alternating between past and present, which helped explain the story as it unfolded.

The theme of the book is one which we are all familiar, how does the past effect the present.

Guilda was bought up in the belief that she is clumsy, large and unattractive – ideas put to her by her mother and sister. These ideas are so embedded in her self-image, that she is surprised to see a photo of herself as a young woman, looking attractive. At school she was clever, but ridiculed in Germany for being a Jew, and in England by being German. She never had a chance to pursue education as she was married from school to a man she had never met, a business partner of her father.

I feel for Guilda, she felt she had no control over her life, ending up feeling divorced from reality and depressed.
She is a lost soul, lonely and depressed, unloved as a child, and unable to show love as an adult, despite a fierce feeling of love she has towards her son.

When her son marries, she is desperate to become part of his family, but her neediness repels her son. She stalks her daughter in law, even to the extent of entering their house when they are not there, which is very creepy.

She finally realises that she has made mistakes in the past, but they have not totally been her own fault. She was a victim of her upbringing, and has past that on to her son, who is a victim of his past. We are left wondering if this cycle will ever be broken.

A question for the author – is the story based on true experience, it feels to real to be fiction.

Thank you so much. It’s a real mix of fact and fiction. The characters are all fictional and the 1960s thread is entirely made up but some of Gilda’s background story is based on my grandmother’s experiences.

FrancescaJakobi Tue 08-Jan-19 15:54:07


Yet again I'd like to thank GN for coming up with a great read for us. It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel, and Francesca Jakobi is an author I’ll certainly be looking out for in the future.

I found Bitter a thought-provoking and often uncomfortable study of a fascinating and troubled woman, moulded and shaped mostly by other people and secrets and circumstances that were beyond her control. At first she seemed unlikeable and cold, a spoilt and manipulative woman just out for herself, but by the end, as the façade unravelled, I was rooting for her and hoping that she was going to have a happy ending. From the very start I could hardly put the book down. My opinion of Gilda changed so much as the author gradually let us know more about her background and the people around her. And it was all so well done and wide-ranging, emotional, occasionally comic and even sinister at times. Gilda’s desperation to re-connect with her son was heartbreaking , and some of her actions unforgivable. I just kept hoping towards the end that her daughter-in-law would turn out not to be someone who was stringing her along and would turn on her, but a genuinely good person who could overlook her faults and help her become the person she should have been.

Without giving anything away, I’ll say that I loved the clever ending, with the letter and the photo.

I understand that the book was inspired by the author’s own grandmother’s divorce, but that she has spun Gilda's story around this, as opposed to keeping it all factual. I would like to ask the author how her family felt about this. Did she ask their opinion before she started, and how did they feel about the finished product?

I did ask my father’s permission to write it and spoke to my parents about it throughout the process.

It felt strange, mixing fact and fiction. There was a point when I was worried family members would confuse Gilda with my real grandmother, who wasn’t around to defend herself. My mother actually told me an anecdote about my gran, not realising it was something she’d picked up from my manuscript.

I was really shocked by that. I dealt with it by writing a new, more compassionate draft and pushing it further into fiction.

FrancescaJakobi Tue 08-Jan-19 15:55:46


I cannot remember reading a novel when my opinion of the main character shifted so much. Gilda is an archetypal needy MiL You can imagine Alice writing a long rant on MN about her and her appalling intrusions.
And yet over the course of the book, you begin to understand what made Gilda this way. She is a victim of her upbringing and early life as much as her son is. Alice, her new DiL is the catalyst who redeems her.
Such a cleverly written book, it is hard to believe it is a debut novel and I shall look out for her next book.
I should like to ask the author if film makers have come calling? I can imagine with settings in pre war Munich, wartime and post war London, together with the complexities of plot and character, this would make an amazing film.

Not so far, I wish they would! My dream scenario would be for it to become a BBC Sunday night drama.