It was a Friday night a good few weeks ago. A fair amount of ale and red wine had been drunk and the conversation flitted from subject to subject like a bee in search of nectar. What we really enjoyed was a good book a few of us agreed. What we need is a Book Club some idiot suggested (mea culpa) and within a few alcohol soaked moments the Rock Tavern Book Club was born. By the time the conversation had moved on to some more suitable subject, three of us were left to survey the fruits of our creation and toss a coin to see who would have first pick of our book of the month.
I won the toss and chose Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky partly because I had read how the uncompleted manuscript had been hidden away only to be declared a masterpiece 60 years after it had been written, partly because it looked like the kind of book which might require the added impetus of peer pressure to get past the second chapter, and mainly because it was on offer in Tescos and I had foolishly agreed to buy all three copies.
So three weeks down the line and some 400 pages later what can I take from the exercise. If nothing else, a book that will live long in the memory. It is partly the epic story of its conception, writing and eventual publication. The idea of the manuscript being carried around by her children in a suitcase as they fled from one hiding place to another. The fact that to have saved it was enough and having survived the war they were not able to bring themselves to read it for a further sixty years. It is partly the construction of the story : the cast of characters who are woven together and driven apart like the strands in a course fabric. And it is partly the stark truth of a work of wartime fiction which has been unpolluted by any trace of hindsight. This is how it must have been then. This is truth.
I am not sure that the Rock Tavern Book Club will survive. I hope it does. Having imposed my choice on the two other members of this very exclusive club it seems only fair that they take their revenge. Whatever, we will always have Paris.