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Radio 2 Book Club - Tom Lake

The next book to be featured on the Zoe Ball Radio 2 Book Club will be Tom Lake, the beautifully told new novel from international bestselling author Ann Patchett. The book was released on 1 August and you can listen to the full interview with Zoe on BBC Sounds.

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Tom Lake

In the spring of 2020, Lara’s three daughters return to the family’s orchard in Northern Michigan. While picking cherries, they beg their mother to tell them the story of Peter Duke, a famous actor with whom she shared both a stage and a romance years before at a theater company called Tom Lake. As Lara recalls the past, her daughters examine their own lives and relationship with their mother, and are forced to reconsider the world and everything they thought they knew.

Tom Lake is a meditation on youthful love, married love, and the lives parents have led before their children were born. Both hopeful and elegiac, it explores what it means to be happy even when the world is falling apart. As in all of her novels, Ann Patchett combines compelling narrative artistry with piercing insights into family dynamics. The result is a rich and luminous story, told with profound intelligence and emotional subtlety, that demonstrates once again why she is one of the most revered and acclaimed literary talents working today.

Selection panel review

The book was selected with the help of a panel of library staff from across the UK. Our readers loved Tom Lake – here are some of their comments:

“I’ve been wanting to read an Ann Patchett for a while, so I was really pleased to read this. And I really really liked it. It is just a small domestic tale where our main character, Lara is recounting to her grown up children, a summer that she spent as a young adult and her relationship with Duke who later becomes a movie star. All the details feel real and relatable and I wanted to be on her Michigan farm with her amongst the cherry trees. The way the story is told is very low key but I loved the chatty style and the interventions from the daughters and the sense of how we end up where we do. I often get annoyed with stories which jump backwards and forwards but with this book it just felt part of the natural story telling and I was equally involved with the present time, need to get the crops in without the usual labour (Covid) and the past. It has a real sense that lives can go in many directions.”

“Wow – I’d not read an Ann Patchett before and will now go through her back catalogue! A gentle tale told against the distant backdrop of Lockdown and a family telling a well known tale to pass the time. It has a dream-like quality in that the tale told by the mother to her daughters is very much part of the present conversation, you get immersed in the story and then one of the daughters pops a question in that brings you back to the present. The three sisters are very different characters but I felt if you met them you’d know they were related. They all kick against Lockdown in their own ways and deal with the world events but mercifully these are in the distance – lockdown is the outside world and this book very much inhabits the Cherry Orchard and the tale of the relationship the mother once had with a famous film star. The family dynamics are gorgeous, the relationships feel real and wholesome. I really engaged with them all and was sorry to finish it.”

“This is the story of the past life of the main character told in first person by relating the events of the past to her daughters, all named after women of the previous generations. The structure of the narrative is expertly interwoven from the present to the past while the revelations of the incidents of Lara’s youth explain the circumstances of the present. The book very cleverly references the Chekov play, The Cherry Orchard, which has themes of loss and grief as does this story. The play is described as ‘representing the past and individual memories associated with it’ which is exactly the structure of the book. It is also very involved with a play of the title name along with theatre in general, emphasising the connection. The characters in the book are well rounded, with a good description of each, and we can see the events from every viewpoint. The girls mature throughout the story, leaving behind their misconceptions as well as their childish beliefs and so it is a coming of age book both in the present as well as the past. It is a well written book which weaves together the two narratives expertly, seamlessly going from one time frame to the other without confusing the reader. Secrets are revealed and beliefs corrected but Lara still manages to keep a few to herself and so keeps her individuality and her sense of self. It is a very satisfying read.”

“I have a feeling that this book will be on my best of 2023 list. I’d not read any Patchett before and now I feel I have a real treat in store as I read her back catalogue. The book is set in the spring/summer of 2020 and a family have reunited on their farm as the pandemic and lockdowns take effect. This isn’t a pandemic book however – Covid barely makes an appearance. It is in fact a family taking the time to share its whole history and clear up ‘mysteries’ or misconceptions that have hung over the family almost causing it to fracture. But again it isn’t a book about trauma or betrayal or huge events…I felt that I was one of the family, helping to keep the farm afloat and sharing their stories. I just didn’t want it to end.”

About the author

Ann Patchett is the author of nine novels. She was the editor of Best American Short Stories, 2006, and has written four books of non-fiction. In 2019, she published her first children’s book, Lambslide, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, followed by Escape Goat in 2020.

A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Patchett has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including a National Humanities Medal, The Women’s Prize for Fiction, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Book Sense Book of the Year, a Guggenheim Fellowship, The Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize, The Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the American Bookseller’s Association’s Most Engaging Author Award, and the Women’s National Book Association’s Award. Her novel, The Dutch House, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her books have been both New York Times Notable Books and New York Times bestsellers. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages.

In November, 2011, she opened Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, with her business partner Karen Hayes. She has since become a spokesperson for independent booksellers, championing books and book stores. In 2012 she was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Ann Patchett lives in Nashville with her husband, Karl VanDevender, and their dog, Sparky.

Get involved

Tune in to the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show to hear live Book Club interviews. You can listen to the full-length interview with Ann on BBC Sounds.

Have you read Tom Lake? Or any other books by Ann? You can share your thoughts with us on Twitter using #R2BookClub.

Planning to buy Tom Lake for your group? Buy books from Hive or from and support The Reading Agency and local bookshops at no extra cost to you.

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