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How It Was - September book club

(45 Posts)
CariGransnet (GNHQ) Tue 24-Sep-19 12:30:40

Our September pick is How it Was by Janet Ellis - more info here

Winners should now have their copies, so please leave your thoughts and questions for Janet on this thread. We know there was a delay in receiving the books, so we will push the deadline back accordingly and send the questions over to Janet on Monday 21 October.

Flossieflyby Wed 25-Sep-19 11:16:16

Thanks - have received the book and am already 'in to it'
So looks great. Have applied for books for many months and been unlucky - this is first I've had since last year so nice to receive it.

granh1 Wed 25-Sep-19 16:05:57

The book came late, and I'm on holiday tomorrow, so had to read it in a couple of days, luckily it was a compulsive read!

The title is ‘matter of fact’, and the story has a similar ethos – how things were without much agonising why, a story played out as if the characters have no choice.

The story revolves around a family. Michael is very accepting and laid back. His wife, Marion, is unfaithful, guided by emotion rather than reasoned thought without much realisation of the consequences. She recalls a doll she had when she was young, with a long dress and a happy face. When you turned it upside down, instead of legs there was another body and a sad face. She thought she had a choice – neat and bland, or exciting and unpredictable. She smoothed the skirt over her married life until it was concealed from view, as if she could ignore it.
The daughter Sarah feels the lack of empathy with her mother as she becomes a teenager. She feels her mother is jealous of her youth and freedom. She has discovered she can emotionally control her young brother. She knows it is wrong, but can not refrain, with devastating consequences.

Not a book to skim over quickly. It takes effort to decide who is speaking in each chapter, it goes from one to another without much connection. It would have been really helpful to have a heading for each chapter to know who was speaking. The language is rich and had unusual similes e.g. ‘picking up memories like knitting from a basket, recognising their colours and shapes’

I thought at first the book was somewhat disjointed. Then I thought that looking back on life is not a continuous story line, but comes in unrelated flashbacks, so is difficult to weave into a story.

Some of the story did jog my memory to events in my past – a question to Janet, was that the same for you?

carolboz Thu 26-Sep-19 09:09:46

Hi I have still not received my book .

hospitalityfc Thu 26-Sep-19 12:41:16

Message deleted by Gransnet. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

cornergran Fri 27-Sep-19 14:52:31

This wasn’t a book I felt relaxed reading so I’m not sure I can say I enjoyed it but it did hold my attention and I’m pleased to have persevered. I’m left remembering this as a book telling a story on many levels.

The changes of speaker weren’t a problem as I could follow easily, it was irritating sometimes when I wanted to know what happened next in a scenario or to a person. For me there was a hole in Marion’s story. Michael and Sarah’s lives were neatly explained Marion’s less so.

I was also left wondering about the intrusive and apparently interfering Sheila, her motivation didn’t feel explained but maybe I missed it as I’ve been reading this while feeling fairly poorly.

I’m always interested to know if any characters or threads replicate those in the authors life, no matter how tenuously. Perhaps Janet would be able to explain more about how the book came to be written.

mbody Sat 28-Sep-19 09:19:43

A rather disjointed book leaving me finding it hard to relate or have empathy with any of the characters.

rocketstop Sat 28-Sep-19 11:55:59

I loved Janet's previous book and so was expecting a lot from this one.
However, I'm afraid I started feeling irritated at the changes of pace and the different narrators.The story took a long time to get going but the second half of the book was markedly more interesting than the first.
As 'Cornergran' has said, I too felt we weren't given enough back story to the characters, I felt like they had much more to say but never did ! I understand the concept of the story but felt it was a bit confused.I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either.

bonji Sat 28-Sep-19 19:12:16

This is not my usual sort of book so thought I would find it ‘hard going’ but I really enjoyed it and wanted to find out what would happen to all the characters. I do agree with others that it was rather disjointed and therefore especially in the first few chapters hard to follow but as I got into the book it became more clear. I felt sorry for all the Deacon family as none of them seemed very happy but I was especially sorry for Sarah. She had a difficult relationship with her mother and of course as often seems the situation in real life the son was the favoured child.
Note to Janet The ending was quite abrupt and there were no details of how Sarah got to her adult life - more about this would have helped with the ending. The title and cover picture I thought were very good.

obag Sun 29-Sep-19 09:38:23

This is not my usual sort of book, and I did find it very hard going at the start due to the fact that it is quite disjointed; but when I did get into it I found it compelling. I agree that more back story was needed. I found the ending quite abrupt.

Daisymae Sun 29-Sep-19 16:55:22

I can't help thinking that the book club could give new or little known authors a bit of publicity. It's very difficult for unknown to get going, even if very talented. I am sure that Janet Ellis will have had loads of publicity!

Rachel123 Sun 29-Sep-19 23:29:44

This book was definitely a slow burner for me , I found the first half quite confusing and slow paced and was on a few occasions almost giving up on it . I’m so glad I continued though as when all the pieces of the puzzle came together the story took on a whole new meaning and pulled at my heart stings

The effects of one persons decisions was fantastically explored in the book and the consequences on the wider family circle was utterly devastating.

My question to Janet is how did she come up with such a complex emotive storyline and did it change as she wrote or remain true to her initial planning ideas?

rocketstop Mon 30-Sep-19 11:32:42

It seems to me that confusingly there are now TWO threads on this book !

luanda111 Mon 30-Sep-19 16:53:34

I just finished the book at the weekend. I really love to read diary books, flashing memories and interrupted storylines. This type of writing encourages me to think a lot and fill the gaps. I even think a lot about my own life and about my mum's & dad's life. This book is very emotional and even therapeutical. Everybody has to read it once in their lifetime. How It Was can be really helpful and also entertaining. My question to Janet is how long does it take to write such a complex book?

Mapleleaf Mon 30-Sep-19 21:46:12

I've started this book, but to be honest, I'm finding it quite heavy going and difficult to follow. Perhaps it will become clearer as I plod on, but I can't say that I'm enjoying it so far. I will post a review when I get to the end, if I get to the end! (I will do my best to persevere).

Pittcity Tue 01-Oct-19 08:27:32

I am with Mapleleaf on this one.

NatashaGransnet (GNHQ) Tue 01-Oct-19 13:09:46

Hi carolboz,

Have you received your book yet? smile

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 02-Oct-19 16:58:30

rocketstop we specified a while back on the other thread that all questions and reviews were to be left on here (and linked to this thread) so hopefully not too confusing

aasha Wed 02-Oct-19 17:01:13

I thought this book was so beautifully written. Devastatingly sad, but I loved it from first page to last. My question for Janet is this was so very different to your other book, The Butcher's Hook which I also enjoyed, but I wondered where the inspiration for this one had come from.

aasha Wed 02-Oct-19 17:02:32

If I can ask a second question, do you prefer writing fiction set centuries ago or in more relatively modern times?

mikayla Wed 02-Oct-19 17:06:07

I too loved this book but also found it incredibly moving. I would like to ask Janet if she found it difficult to write something that was so sad and whether she got caught up in that sadness as she wrote. Thank you for my copy and congratulations on a book that I will not forget for a long time

Pittcity Thu 03-Oct-19 20:19:45

I found the jumping about in time and changes of narrator difficult to follow, but was glad I persevered.
The plot was quite predictable and so the way it was told through descriptive thoughts was needed.
The character I felt most for was Sarah. I remember comparing all the males I knew when I was a teenager. Did Janet use her own teenage memories too?

Daisyboodle Fri 04-Oct-19 11:25:19

What intrigued me most about this book was the relationship between Marion and Sarah. A subject not often explored in novels, due to it's darkness and that naturally makes it a more difficult read, was the envy and resentfulness felt by Marion towards her daughter. Quite uncomfortable reading at times. Plus also some of Sarah's diary entries made me squirm. The intensity of hatred she felt towards her mother was disturbing - and an unpleasant reveal, obviously intentional as to read someone's diary is pretty dire and thus, as the reader, we should expect to feel uncomfortable or guilty at what we discover. I found it interesting how hard it was for Marion to want her daughter to embrace the world and all it's possibilities - she wouldn't accept the limitations placed on her own life by society and begrudged the opportunities being offered to Sarah purely from a selfish point of view, not from a need to protect or safe guard.
I wanted to ask Janet how she approached the act of writing itself - how strict is she with herself and her time, does she sit down at a desk and simply plug away putting the hours in, or does she use a notepad throughout the day to jot down ideas, or have an idea initially then wait for it to crystallise?

gillgran Sat 05-Oct-19 10:38:04

I did find this book hard to "get into", rather disjointed, seemingly to randomly jump between times / dates / people / & places..! It did become clearer towards the end, so pleased that I had plodded on. I would have liked more details in the final chapter, in fact I re-read the last bits as I thought I had missed something.!!

matson Sat 05-Oct-19 13:30:09

As stated by previous posters , a very slow, disjointed book, I found it annoying that the chapters had no dates , and had to reread a lot.
The book came together somewhat in its last third, with a predictable ending. Not sure it was worth the slog, sadly not a patch on Janets previous novel The Butchers Hook.