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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.

Grannyknot Sun 25-Nov-18 19:28:41

silverdragon me too ... I wondered about the fact that no mention was made again of someone having been in the house!

Greenfinch Mon 26-Nov-18 10:28:42

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.

Harris27 Mon 26-Nov-18 10:44:19

Loved this book and couldn't put it down . As others warmed to gild a as events unfolded. Would recommend for a cold winter evening! Definitely page turner.

Pittcity Mon 26-Nov-18 23:34:05

I really enjoyed this book. I didn't grow to like Gilda but do see that she was a victim of circumstance. Her arranged marriage was doomed to fail and, after we found out about Berta, reminded me of the Prince Charles, Diana and Camilla story.
The one person I did like was Alice and I hope things turned out well for her, Reuben and the baby.

mrsking64 Tue 27-Nov-18 17:02:44

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.

granh1 Tue 27-Nov-18 19:53:49

Thank you for the book. Unfortunately it arrived just after I had gone on holiday, and I have only got back today. I will read and comment on it as soon as possible.

cornergran Wed 28-Nov-18 08:59:08

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.

granh1 Thu 29-Nov-18 11:33:23

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.

joannapiano Thu 29-Nov-18 12:31:25

A really enjoyable and interesting read. This was a powerful book about relationships, although I did have to remind myself that the novel was set in the 60’s and a woman’s life was different then. I also had to remember that Gilda was a product of a Jewish childhood in pre-war Germany.
Although Gilda had such troubled relationships with her family and 2 husbands, often through no fault of her own, I felt she became the mother in law from Hell with her stalking of Reuben and Alice. I was also dismayed to find out why she was no longer married to Leo.
I thought the title of the book “Bitter” was clever, “bitte” being the German for “please”.

Maggiemaybe Fri 30-Nov-18 19:15:01

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?

Flutterly Sat 01-Dec-18 10:47:30

Is there a December book yet ?

GeminiJen Sat 01-Dec-18 13:21:04

Flutterly There's a break for December. You'll have to find something else to do until January grin

chloe1984 Sat 01-Dec-18 14:42:48

Not my usual type of book which is why it’s so good to receive it and feel obliged to read it. Took a couple of pages and I was hooked just couldn’t put it down. Gilda was just a woman that got it wrong but who hadn’t on occasions I loved her and wanted to wrap it her up and look after her. I am now looking forward to the next novel from this author.

Flutterly Sat 01-Dec-18 16:54:01

Many thanks Geminijen, I will start looking through all the recommendations that have been given smile

Purpledaffodil Tue 04-Dec-18 08:07:37

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.

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 05-Dec-18 15:53:30

Flutterly

Is there a December book yet ?

We don't do a book for December because of Christmas (so we do our best books for Christmas competition instead) but we will be announcing our January book very soon - watch this space (well - not exactly THIS space but you know what we mean)

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Mon 10-Dec-18 09:53:21

I will send over the questions to Francesca midweek so do add yours now if you received a copy of the book

Harris27 Mon 10-Dec-18 21:00:05

Thanks just had a day off turned the fire up and read bitter.not normally my type of book at first glance but I read it right through only stopping for sarnie!captured the times and my imagination beautifully written.

moom Fri 14-Dec-18 17:29:36

3 books I would heartily recommend:

The Allegations by Mark Lawson. Mark Lawson was a radio 4 journalist until he was apparently "taken off air" by the BBC for some misdemeanor ( he's now back on). He's an excellent novelist and obviously wrote "The Allegations" whilst 'away' from radio 4. It's a wonderful, modern, funny read about the nonsense of political correctness...

I would also recommend "You are awful....." by travel writer Tim Moore about a journey he takes in an ancient Ford Mondeo around the saddest, neglected and most awful places to live in the UK. Many people will probably take offence at this, but as well as being very funny, it is also a fairly kind reflection about what happened to these places to make them so awful.

Finally "Dirty Tricks" by Michael Dibden ( who sadly died a few years ago). Written in the 1980s ( and far better, I think, than his Venetian detective novels) this is a one-off - with one of the funniest scenes I have ever read - taking place in an English language school...but developing into a crime novel...

middleagespread Fri 21-Dec-18 16:31:19

Gilda, two marriages, both ended unhappily, one child lost to her first husband during a bitter divorce. Gilda married young and not by choice. Her life is documented throughout the book in tiny chapters that drift from her childhood, to life in the 1940’s when war took its toll on relationships, right through to the 1960’s. She is difficult to like at times, her bitterness making her disagreeable and it is not until Alice comes into her life that she seems to accept the past. The bite sized chapters make the constant hopping from past to present easy to absorb. The whole novel is compelling but the constant background of tension unnerving. In the end you get sucked into Gilda’s life and can't help but feel sympathy, moving into empathy by Chapter 91.The sinister stirrings make it difficult to put down, even when closing the book I was left with misgivings about leaving Gilda in a very difficult place. Reuben is detached, aloof and very much the product of a small boy losing a mother and being shipped off to boarding school before he could even tie his own shoelaces.
Gilda could have handled everything so much better but her insecurities and immaturity allow first Frank and then Leo to rule her life. She had to wait until her mid fifties to take control. It is heart breaking, beautifully paced. It was a book to pick up in the morning, grabbing a few chapters before starting the day. It was a book I will remember for a long while.

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 02-Jan-19 14:39:36

Sending questions over to Francesca today and will post the answers as soon as we get them

FrancescaJakobi Tue 08-Jan-19 15:49:22

First of all, thank you Gransnet for all your lovely comments and support. It’s been wonderful.

FrancescaJakobi Tue 08-Jan-19 15:50:05

sangie

I absolutely loved this book. My feelings about Gertie changed so much as the events became more clear. I think it is a wonderful portrait of the period and of how women were viewed and treated. My question for Francesca is this, I saw somewhere, possibly on social media, that the idea for the book came from your own grandmother and would like to know more about this please?

My grandmother was a very different character to Gilda but her loveless background in Germany was similar. She came to England from Frankfurt in the early 1930s and married a much older man she didn’t know very well. Then she had an affair during the war and lost custody of my father. Thank goodness, her second marriage was a lot happier than Gilda’s.

I’d always wanted to write something inspired by my grandmother’s experiences but didn’t know enough about them to write a true account. Instead I used her background as a framework from which to hang the fiction – the 1960s strand is entirely made up. I’d hate you to think my lovely dad was anything like Reuben.

FrancescaJakobi Tue 08-Jan-19 15:50:37

GeminiJen

Thanks GN and Francesca Jakobi. Another excellent debut novel flowers
I read this in two sittings. Its short chapters made it a pacey read. That said, I’ve taken a few days to let it all settle. For Bitter is a powerful, thought provoking read, sharply observed, definitely a book to linger over.
For me, one of the real strengths of this novel is the way in which Jakobi uses the first person narrative to present a profoundly moving, melancholic, perceptive and complex psychological portrait of the self destructive, lonely and dysfunctional Gilda. Through her own distinctive voice, Gilda is exposed initially as brittle, insensitive, snobbish and judgemental at times, with only one friend. As the narrative unfolds however, and the author reveals the pain and horrors lurking in Gilda's personal history, we see her vulnerability and experience a shift towards a more empathetic response. I love character complexity of this kind. Despite Gilda’s dangerous obsession with Reuben and Alice, she is entirely redeemed by her completely selfless act towards the end. It is this, and the humanity and compassion in Alice, with her ability to see beyond the brittle and unsettling facade Gilda presents to the world, which ultimately offers hope.
This is a moving and subtle novel. I loved it and look forward to reading more from Francesca Jakobi.
My questions for the author were largely answered in the In Conversation section at the end, especially the issue of the unlikeable protagonist. Thanks for this section. You mention that you’re currently writing a second novel, also with a strong central character. Can you tell us more?

It’s very early days so I shouldn’t say too much, but it’s going to be set a little bit earlier than Bitter, and the Isle of Man is likely to play a big part in it.

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

Grannyknot

MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

I loved this book, I can't remember when last I enjoyed reading a book so much. Thanks Gransnet and thanks Francesca Jakobi.

I liked the succinct, concise chapters, perfect for reading in short bursts.

I didn't really like Gilda, not at first and not in the end. But I could accept why she behaved like she did.

Re GeminiJen's observation - I didn't interpret Gilda's final act as being selfless, because she sends a photograph with her in it and writes "Consider it a symbol of our mutual understanding" - in other words (I thought), I won't say anything about your letter as long as I see this photograph up the next time I visit your house. Please could the author clarify?

I think the selfless part of Gilda’s story came where she decided not to reveal the truth about Frank and Bertha in order to protect her son. Your interpretation of her sending the photograph is spot on!