Join us as we talk all things books, whales and the 2021 Costa Prize shortlist with Kate Sawyer, author of The Stranding. It’s a novel about a woman who survives the end-of-the-world by hiding inside the belly of a whale. Listen via the media player above or your favourite podcast app.
‘Ruth lives in the heart of the city. Working, drinking, falling in love: the rhythm of her vivid and complicated life is set against a background hum of darkening news reports from which she deliberately turns away. When a new romance becomes claustrophobic, Ruth chooses to leave behind the failing relationship, but also her beloved friends and family, and travels to the other side of the world in pursuit of her dream life working with whales in New Zealand. But when Ruth arrives, the news cycle she has been ignoring for so long is now the new reality. Far from home and with no real hope of survival, she finds herself climbing into the mouth of a beached whale alongside a stranger. When she emerges, it is to a landscape that bears no relation to the world they knew before. When all has been razed to the ground, what does it mean to build a life?’
As regular listeners know, here at the Book Club Review pod we’re always on the alert for great book club reads. Listen in to find out why we think The Stranding is a winner, with a strong female protagonist, a spellbinding narrative and rich themes to consider and discuss.
We also consider the broader canon of apocalypse novels from Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. We’ve got three brilliant book-club recommendations from Kate (see below) plus follow-on reads from us, and we get a sneak peak into Kate’s reading pile as she lets us in on some of her recent favourite reads. So listen in, it’s a gem of an episode, and it’s all there waiting for you.
We asked Kate for three books she would recommend for book club, and she did not disappoint. Read on for three to consider trying with your book club. We guarantee an enjoyable read and plenty of food for thought and discussion.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
We loved this brilliant novel from 2015 that Barack Obama named his book of the year. He was not alone, critics raved and word-of-mouth had the hardback flying off the shelves. It tells the story of a marriage between a glamorous, charismatic couple, Lotto and Mathilde Satterwhite, and their own very different viewpoints on their relationship as they journey through life. It’s brilliantly written, unexpected, full of surprises and a fantastic page-turner. What more could you ask for?
Larry’s Party by Carol Shields
During lockdown Kate Saywer set herself the task of reading every winner of the Women’s Prize and discovered many gems, one of which was Larry’s Party. It tells the story of Larry Weller, a Canadian florist, and his naive young wife, Dorrie, who spend their honeymoon in England. At Hampton Court, after falling in love with the hedges of England from on board a tour bus, Larry discovers a new passion, but will his ever-growing obsession with mazes help him find a way through his deepening bewilderment about life? Kate says it’s full of brilliant characters and intriguing elements to muse on. Every book on the Women’s Prize backlist has a helpful reading guide with everything from points for discussion to creative writing prompts and suggested films to watch. Find the reading guide for Larry’s Party here.
Assembly by Natasha Brown
Beautifully written, the sparseness of this short novel, and what the author chose to leave out would make for good discussion. It is about a young black woman, a successful banker, navigating contemporary life in Britain. Beautiful writing, multi-layered and unexpected, with an emotional hook that keeps you connected, we love this for book club.
At the end of every show we always come up with follow-on reads you might like to try for book club. Inspired by The Stranding, here are our picks.
Weather by Jenny Offill
A New York librarian tries to come to terms with her general sense of existential dread. It’s funny and troubling in equal measure as Offill asks how should we respond to a world in climate crisis.
Humankind by Rutger Bregman
A hugely enjoyable non-fiction read from Dutch provocateur Rutger Bregman (get a sense of his style by watching him harangue some billionaires at Davos for tax avoidance). In Humankind Bregman examines how humans behave in extreme situations, and finds on the whole that they tend to behave with kindness, empathy and co-operation. It’s a book that invites discussion and debate, but it’s also one of the most reassuring and hopeful reads out there. One for anyone haunted by Cormac McCarthy’s vision of a post-apocalyptic world.
Kate Sawyer’s recent reads
- Still Life by Sarah Winman Brilliant characters, a fabulous audiobook listen, and an enjoyable sense of place. If you want to be transported to Florence, this is the book for you.
- Wahala by Nikki May (out Spring 2022) Four Anglo-Nigerian women, three friends and an incomer, one who causes ‘wahala’, which means trouble. One to look out for.
- Burntcoat by Sarah Hall The writing is ‘off the charts beautiful’, death and sex intermingled in a way Kate found mesmerising.
- The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn The warmest story, Kate says, about the Queen’s dwarf. Based on a real historical individual, but within a fictionalised court, this was for Kate the perfect antidote to the serious themes of Burntcoat.
Other books touched on in the epiosde include Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence, Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien, Nights at the Circus and Wise Children by Angela Carter, Matrix by Lauren Groff, Unless by Carol Shields and The Life of the Mind by Christine Smallwood.