Yes, still on my chick-lit kick.
I thought this would be a chill, beachy read – light and easy. I was somewhat right. Elizabeth Noble’s The Reading Group follows a year in the lives of several women who all know each other through a book club they participate in. Each chapter is titled with the book of the month and does contain their discussion and insights into the text, which is a bit meta, but oftentimes the books also tie in with the turmoil of the women’s everyday lives and help them cope with reality.
Readers follow long-time best friends Nicole and Harriet, both facing various marital difficulties. There’s also Polly and Cressida, a mother-daughter pair, as well as depressed nurse Clare and stressed-out Susan. While the genesis of the reading group isn’t very well explained, readers do notice how the group grows closer together and come to rely upon each other throughout the difficulties they face.
Without giving too much away, I can definitely say I sympathized more with some characters (Clare and Nicole) than others (Harriet and Cressida). That ill-balance made some sections more appealing than others, as Noble skipped around to the experiences of each woman during each chapter. The author did a fantastic job in making each character distinctly fleshed-out personalities.
My biggest peeve with the book is that it focused on women as wives and mothers. Not to say that those aren’t valid roles for women to play, but their over-dependence on the men in their lives, most of whom were not the greatest, was frustrating. With the exception of Clare, whose midwifery plays a huge role in her story arc, and to some extent Polly, careers aren’t important for any of the other women – the men are the rich breadwinners and the women stay at home.
However, the plot gets better when it goes a little darker than expected towards the end. My favorite moments came when the characters were morally conflicted, since it made their situations most realistic. Again, not to spoil, but this is why I prefer a few characters over the rest.
Overall this book wasn’t as fluffy as anticipated, but still a quick read with a few fascinating inner dilemmas and many references to other great works.