Muse and Views met March 22 to discuss Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas, Janet's choice at Carla's home. In attendance were Janet, Carla, Colette, Beth, Betty, Shirley, Jane, and Jolene. Carla served wonderful appetizers and cinnamon buns, which were a great hit in 2010 (and would have been almost unheard of in the struggling WWII period of the book :) Roses added to the atmosphere and reminded us that spring is here.
Janet led the discussion, pointing out first of all that she has just finished a book on a similar theme called Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, about a 16-year-old girl from Nigeria in a bad relationship with her Roman Catholic father. In another text-to-text connection, Jane pointed out that on page 249 of her copy of Reading by Lightning, Guernsey (of Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society fame) is mentioned.
Reading by Lightning has won a first-novel award for the author, and everyone loved the historical backdrop about the Barr Colonists who settled in Canada. Janet has a personal connection to this period of Canadian history because her husband is from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, where many of the Barr Colonists settled. Descendants of these early colonists still live there 100 years later. History does not look fondly on Barr himself, who allegedly made off with money from the people he promised to help prosper in a new land.
Others in the group also found personal ties to situations in the book, including family and faith relationships. Janet wondered if the book was intended to be an extended metaphor, juxtaposing religion, science, Darwinism, and the ambiguity of post-modernism. Since the book is listed in many on-line sites as an example of bildungsroman, we asked Beth to explain the concept to us. "Bildungsroman" is apparently of German origin, meaning "education" and "story." It refers to a literary genre developed in the 1800's, referring to coming-of-age novels, with a young character struggling to come to terms with society and self. Many in our group, however, felt that Lily Piper did not fully mature as a person, since at the end she was still in conflict with her mother and was intellectually shallow at times.
Most loved the book and its writing style, although a few found the slow start frustrating. There were realistic, vibrant, and often humourous descriptions of people and situations, on such varied topics as Brits, wet mittens, epilepsy, and WWII.
There was some confusion, however, about the meaning of the title. Did it refer to the last scene in the book, or to the fact that Lily would read George's letters with his belemnite close-at-hand to ward off lightning? Even the author's comments on amazon.ca were not satisfying. Jane had heard that the original title was to be Problematica (referring to George analyzing fossils), but at the last minute, the publishers apparently had to change it because of another book coming out with the same name.
Most also agreed that the book ended too quickly. We would have liked to see the story carry on so that we could find out what happened to the characters, who were so vividly painted. On amazon.ca, Ms. Thomas herself says that since George was becoming more and more cynical, it's perhaps just as well that we don't see what the war would have made him.