There was a big drawback to the enjoyment of this book for many of our members which was that the type used was just far too small. Quite a few who started reading the book and who would have liked to continue just had to give up because they could not deal with the small text – what a shame.
There was one other factor which some of us found difficult was the number of characters and all their back stories which could make the beginning feel disjointed and confusing. However, those of us who did struggle on were in the main rewarded with an enjoyable story with enough in it to make it well worth while. We felt it was very well written invoking the feel of the south and the horrors of the ongoing battle with the north. Despite being written by a man we felt that he captured very well what it was to be a teenage girl in those times, isolated from the mainstream and with no men around. Johnny was believable as the dashing young soldier, wounded and in need of loving care and attention, and his effect on this feminine household was well depicted and believable. He found each one’s weakness and exploited it to the full whilst maintaining that they were the only one he really loved. The amputation scene, we felt, reflected the times they lived in and how they just had to deal with whatever life threw at them.
The story unfolded well and the eventual inevitable ending felt right and just given all that had happened and might still happen. The final part threw a different light on things and they may have acted differently had they known before but hindsight is such a wonderful thing!
We gave it an average mark of 6 out of 10 from those who were able to read at least the majority of it.
This book was first published in 1966 and it is written in a different style from most novels being published for the first time today. Set in rural Virginia during the American Civil War, a wounded soldier enters the world of a small boarding school for girls run by two spinster sisters. Narrated in turn by the residents, this book reveals its secrets slowly and as not all the writers are aware of the facts and can be less than truthful with their recall of events, the reader is kept on edge until the very end. The characters are well drawn and the story original. Could it have happened? Unlikely but...?
Set in Virginia during the Civil War, a group of eight women all live in isolation and innocence in a struggling girl’s school. There are two sisters who run the school, five female pupils varying in age from 10 to 17 and Mattie, the black slave. A man, in the form of an injured Union soldier is suddenly introduced into the mix and this is the story of what happens next.
The story unfolds sequentially with each of the eight women taking turns as narrator. What makes it interesting is that all are unreliable narrators, telling the story from their own perspective and overlaid with their own prejudices and viewpoints. Collectively they succeed in chronicling the facts in a very effective manner, while leaving plenty of ambiguity as to the motivation behind many of the actions that are taken.
I had seen the trailer for the film earlier this year and decided that I really didn’t want to go and see it – it looked too other-worldly, almost supernatural and that is not my genre at all. I therefore approached this book with a certain amount of trepidation. I need not have worried. The book is firmly grounded in reality and I found it utterly compelling. It is a fascinating account of human behavior and trust me when I say that Men Behaving Badly doesn’t even begin to cover it. It is however subtle, clever and, in my opinion, entirely plausible. In addition, there are thought-provoking questions which are not answered directly but which are left to the reader to contemplate.
It reminded me in many ways of The Turn of the Screw in that both are gothic novels with a hint of the sinister and an undercurrent of something evil, all shrouded in a veneer of respectability. It could also be seen as a social experiment in human behavior, comparing favourably in this sense to Lord of the Flies although the setting is vastly different - what happens when you leave a group of children to fend for themselves with no outside influences, or in this case, a group of naïve women and children living in total seclusion who suddenly have to cope with a man in their midst……
I loved this book and can’t praise it highly enough. I think it will come back to haunt me for some time to come, probably causing a shiver to run down my spine. Having said that, I am still unlikely to go and see a film version as I just don’t think it would live up to this great novel.