Book Discussion – The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes, by Anna McPartlin

I recently read the Last Days of Rabbit Hayes so I thought this would be a good opportunity to have a go at writing up a short book discussion. This has a handy Richard and Judy book discussion guide at the back of the book so I’ve used that to structure the discussion.

The book is based around Rabbit who is a single mother in her 40s dying of cancer. She has a very close family around her and the story focuses on each of her family members and how they are dealing with her death. There is also a flash back element to the story with Rabbit remembering her life as a child and how she fell in love with Johnny, the lead signer of her brother’s band, who was also battling a terrible illness.

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It is clear from the start of the novel what the final outcome for Rabbit will be. Do you find that difficult or does it mean that you can enjoy the novel without worrying about the ending?

I found that this helped to appreciate the story rather than look toward the ending. The fact that we knew that Rabbit would pass away at the end gave the book a real sadness that was hard to shake. We knew that there was no hope for her and it made it quite a difficult read. However, it also meant that you were able to come to terms with her death throughout the book as though you were a member of the family and sharing their feelings.

The one thing that was hardest to read was the fact that Rabbit’s daughter hadn’t yet accepted, or even been told by her family, that there was no hope for her mother. Having to go through her discovering that she will definitely lose her mother was tough, but it helped to know that her family were there to love, support and look after her.

 

The novel is all about the family – discuss the relationships between family members and with Rabbit.

Everyone in the family appeared the have a close relationship with Rabbit; sitting by her bedside trying to cheer her up, helping her with decisions about her daughter and reminiscing with her about happier days. The relationships outside of Rabbit’s hospice room were focussed on the other family members. We had her mother Molly and father Jack who are a force to be reckoned with, her brother Davey who is a bit of an outsider, choosing to move away from his Dublin family to tour America with a country singer. Then we have Rabbit’s sister Grace who has four sons, who I think were the most interesting of the lot. And then of course there is Juliet, Rabbit’s twelve-year-old daughter.

The relationships I found the most interesting, although probably had the least focus, were those between Juliet and her four cousins. The boys didn’t know how to behave around Juliet, because unlike her, they knew that her mother was going to die. They clearly wanted to be there to support her, but didn’t quite know how. The oldest brother was more comfortable around her, whereas the younger ones were more wary. In the end it turned out that they were the ones to break the news to her that her mother wasn’t going to survive, and I think that, although it was said in error, it was best coming from her peers, and they were then able to comfort her without any boundaries.

 

Anna McPartlin balances humour with sadness in the novel. How did she achieve one without losing the other?

I think that she did a really good job of this. Whenever the story started to get a little too sad (which happened in pretty much every chapter) McPartlin managed to add some lightness to it through the characters of the family members. The mixture of light and dark worked well and for me it kept me reading on when I was finding it a bit too much to take. The devastation of Rabbit’s impending death was echoed by her memories of the illness suffered by the love of her life, Johnny. At times I felt that this was just a bit too much sadness and it was quite a hard read, but all of the characters had a humorous side to them which was definitely needed to pull to the book out of being a sadness overload.

 

Talk about the ending of the novel – how did it make you feel?

Even though we always knew that Rabbit was going to die, I still felt absolutely devastated when it actually happened. I tried to imagine myself in hers and her family’s situation and what it must be like to know that soon you or your loved one will no longer exist in the world. Although I have to say that as well as sadness I also in a way felt relieved, relieved for her family that they could mourn her and begin to pick up the pieces. Towards the end it got to the point where you just wanted it to happen so that everyone could move on and start their lives without Rabbit.

What I really liked about the novel is that it ended with her death and that was that. It stayed true to documenting that last days of her life and didn’t go any further, leaving us to imagine how the family coped and what would come of them in the future.

I haven’t spoken much about Rabbit’s memories of Johnny. We learn that Johnny has MS and as Rabbit’s last days play out, we also learn about Johnny’s last years. The ending implies that they come together in death which, although gut wrenchingly sad, helps you to believe that Rabbit is finally at peace with the love of her life.

 

Overall it was a lovely book, but for just a bit too sad for me!

October To Read

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My goal is to read two or three books this month, but I have a busy month so I’d be happy to get through any! So these are my choices:

My Husband’s Wife, by Amanda Prowse

I’m attending Guildford Book Festival Readers’ Day next week and one of the speakers is Amanda Prowse, so I thought that it would be appropriate for me to read her latest book, My Husband’s Wife. I have only read one of Prowse’s books before (What Have I Done?) but I really enjoyed it. In fact, it’s one of those books that I can really remember the story well and remember my feelings while reading it, so I have high hopes for this one! Very much looking forward to hearing Prowse discuss it next weekend.

The Regulators, by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman)

Next on my list of Stephen King to reads is The Regulators. I have chosen to read this one next as I recently discovered that this novel is linked to one of King’s other books; Desperation. I read Desperation probably about 10 years ago and although I can’t remember an awful lot about it I remember that I loved it! I’ve also become intrigued by King’s Bachman era – I originally dismissed these books after reading Thinner as I didn’t think much of it, but I recently read The Running Man, a fast paced dystopian story, which has made me rethink the worth of these books.

 Childhood Favourites

I thought that it would be a nice idea to re-read some of my childhood favourite books to see how they compare as an adult! Watch this space for a blog post about these…!

Book to Film Adaptations

One of my guilty pleasures is to read a book that has been made into a film, and then immediately watch the film once I have finished the book, ideally within minutes of finishing the last sentence. I like to have the book fresh in my mind so that I can compare every detail of the book and film, and see whether the characters are as I had imagined them. All book lovers will know how frustrating it is when the film version doesn’t live up to the reader’s expectations, so it is an absolute pleasure when you find one that does!

So, with the cinematic releases of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and The Girl on the Train, I thought this would be a good time to share some of my favourite book to film adaptions!

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  1. Gone Girl – I know that this was a hugely hyped book and film, which might have but some people off, but for me this really was a great adaptation. I felt that the characters were portrayed perfectly and both the film and the book were thoroughly enjoyable – it’s one of the few where I can honestly say I enjoyed the film as much as the book.
  2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – I absolutely adored this book, I completely fell in love with Charlie’s character, I’m a sucker for someone with struggles! The film was everything that I hoped it would be and I felt that the young actors did a great job of bringing the story to life, and I loved Charlie’s character just as much in the film.
  3. The Hunger Games – This has to be up there as one of the best adaptions of all time. The Hunger Games trilogy is one of my favourite YA book series so I was very excited to watch the films. The first two films (The Hunger Games and Catching Fire) were my favourites because they were so visual and I felt that they actually added to the books. Although I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mockingjay, I didn’t enjoy the films quite so much, but I think this is probably because the first two were so amazing!
  4. The Green Mile – I obviously had to get a Stephen King book in here! So many of his have been made into films, with extremely varying results. I think that The Green Mile is one of the best, and I would thoroughly recommend a read and a watch. I cried just as much during the film as I did reading the book.

Why you should join a book club

At the end of last year my friends and I formed a book club. This is the first time I had belonged to a book club so I wasn’t sure what to expect! Altogether there were four of us and we chose a book each, meeting every few months (we were all PhD students so didn’t expect everyone to have much spare time for ‘fun’ reading!)

Here is what I learnt from being part of a book club, and why you should join one:

1. It will open up your book choices

My favourite thing about being part of a book club was that it forced me to read books that I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen myself. We set some rules to start with – nothing over 400 pages, nothing too ‘heavy’ (we’re all psychology researchers so deal with heavy enough stuff day-to-day!) and it had to be fiction. Other than that we were free to choose anything. In the end we read the following:

  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (my choice)
  • God is an Astronaut by Alyson Foster
  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

I don’t think I would have taken any notice of God is an Astronaut or The Rosie Project if it wasn’t for the book club. I found it refreshing to be given a book to read rather than choosing it myself. Because of this I felt like the book needed to prove itself to me and so I read it with a more critical mind. I won’t review the books here, but I might do a separate post on my book club book reviews, so watch this space!

Although we only read these four books as part of the book club, we also spent some time at each meeting discussing potential books to read, and recommending some of our favourite reads to each other. I have since read a number of books discussed at our meetings, all of which I have thoroughly enjoyed!

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2. It will help you think more about what you are reading

Sometimes I find myself reading books upon books and forgetting what I have read very quickly – I have a few books I can hardly even remember reading! I find this is especially true for those real page-turners that keep your gripped while you’re in the moment, but there’s no particular part that really sticks in the mind. I would say that some of the books that we read in our book club would meet this description, but because I was approaching them from a critical point of view, and subsequently discussing them, I have a much better memory of the books.

Not only did I find that I was thinking more about the book while reading it, but I also thought about it more afterwards. By discussing it with others I was able to take their views into consideration and pick up things on that I hadn’t initially noticed during my read. If you really like a book you’ll know how much you want to hold onto that feeling that reading gives you – by being part of a book club you can make that feeling last just a little bit longer!

3. You can find lots of book club materials online

I was surprised to find that most authors have discussion or book club guides on their websites (I don’t know why this surprised me – I guess I just never thought about it before!). In fact, in two of our four books there was a reading guide at the back of the book – bonus! Funnily I’ve never seen this in a book before I actually needed one, I guess we must have chosen some very book club-esque books!

I found these guides really helpful to steer the discussion at our book club. We certainly didn’t need help getting started with our discussions, as psychologists we are used to talking and sharing opinions, but the guides really helped to keep the discussion on track, and gave us an opportunity to think outside of the book, and how the issues written in each novel related to our own lives. I will certainly use these guides again, including for reading outside of a book club. I might even use a reading guide to structure my first few books reviews to help me articulate my feelings about the book.

4. It provides the perfect opportunity to just sit down and chat!

One of the rules of our book club was that we had to discuss over food and drink! Whoever picked the book got to pick the location of the book club meeting, and each time we met in a pub or bar over dinner and a drink or two. Not only was it great to discuss our book choices with fellow book lovers, but it was also nice to have an excuse to just get together and have a very enjoyable evening!

We’ve now ended our book club due to members moving away, but I am hoping to form another one soon. Some of my friends and I are thinking about starting an online one so I will share my experiences of that in due course.

Top Reads of 2016 (so far..)

I’ve read some great books so far this year, in fact I don’t think I read a dud! So I thought I’d pick my top three reads so far:

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

What can I say about this one? I loved every page, every word, every second. I’ve seen the film a number of times and loved that too, but I didn’t expect just how much I was going to enjoy the book. I actually read it through twice! I didn’t realise that it was a true story and that made it all the more enjoyable, knowing that these amazing characters are actually real and that Susanna Kaysen lived this experience.

For those of you who don’t know the story, Susanna is an 18 year old who finds herself in a psychiatric hospital after a brief visit to a psychiatrist in 1967. She’s initially sent there to get some rest to deal with depression, but ends up staying there for 2 years with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. She has some clear psychological issues (a previous attempted suicide and self harm by ‘wrist banging’) but overall I could sympathise with a lot of her other ‘symptoms’ – such as apathy and promiscuity. I think that these traits are normal for a lot of 18-year-old girls (and some 29 year olds at that!) It got me to thinking that if I lived in 1967 would I be considered mentally ill? I’m single, not looking for a boyfriend, don’t have a clear career path, pretty much apathetic to most things (apart from fiction, obviously!) and at stages in my life I have been what would have definitely been classed as promiscuous! Her story made me imagine what it would be like to be away from society for years, living with women with a range of issues, from Lisa the self diagnosed sociopath to Daisy who lives off a diet of roast chicken and laxatives. I wonder whether these girls would be much different to the people we spend time with everyday, other than the fact that their issues are laid out in front of us for all to see?

I must confess, the Forensic Psychologist in me might have analysed this text a bit too much, but for the non-psychologists I would still thoroughly recommend this book! It’s very short and can be read in one sitting – consider it for your next train journey!

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies is the perfect mixture of comedy, drama with a bit of thrill thrown in. I’m a sucker for book with a strong female lead, and this one gives you three. Madeline is flamboyant, overbearing but good willed. Celeste, Madeline’s best friend, is rich, beautiful whose perfect life might not be as it seems. Jane is a nervous single mother new to the area who is taken under Madeline’s wing.

We know from the beginning that someone has died at a parents evening, but we don’t know who, or how, other than Madeline, Celeste and Jane are probably involved. This book explores the role that secrets play in each of the characters lives, and how these affect themselves and others. I was gripped until the end and would highly recommend this to anyone looking for an engrossing page turner – the perfect holiday read (preferably the Bahamas which is where I read it!)

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Gerald’s Game by Stephen King

Obviously I had to get a Stephen King book in here! I had actually tried to read Gerald’s Game a number of years ago but couldn’t get into it so I wasn’t 100% looking forward to this one, but I decided to give it a go anyway. And I am so pleased that I did! This book follows the story of Jessie who is in a deadly compromising position. Her and her husband Gerald have gone to their lake house to have kinky sex. Things get out of hand and Jessie accidentally kills Gerald, leaving her handcuffed to the bed alone with only the body of her dead husband and a starving stray dog to keep her company. Or at least that’s what it seems until Jessie suspects something else might be keeping her company. The story follows her physical struggle to release herself from the handcuffs, and her emotion struggle with traumatic memories that come floating back.

This book has the scariest moment of any King book I have read and left me reeling for days. The story is very uncomfortable at times but it is really worth sticking with it if you have the stomach for it. Definitely not one to choose if you are looking for light read!

 

Why I love Stephen King

 

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My favourite author always has been, and always will be, Stephen King. The first King book I ever read was The Green Mile when I was about 14 years old (I’m now 29) and since then I have read 37 of his books, with many more to go! I’ll never forget how I felt when I picked up that first book; it was the first real ‘adult’ book that I ever read and I was amazed at the power of his words. I found myself feeling emotions that I had never felt before, and I still feel new emotions for each King book I pick up. I’ve been through them all – grief (if you’re a King fan you’ll know that this is a frequently recurring emotion!), love, hatred, disgust, horror (if you’re NOT a King fan, not as often as you’d think), shame, pride… I could go on!

After having taken a break from reading King a number of years ago I’ve recently picked up with him again, and I am on a mission to read everything he has ever written before my days are up. At the moment I am trying to read one Stephen King for every 3-4 books that I read to keep a good balance. I have to say, I am thoroughly enjoying the process and I am itching to re-read some of the books I read 15 years ago.

After reading The Green Mile I was spoilt with books to choose from, and I picked some of his best to read in the early years, thus cementing my love for King. The Dead Zone, Firestarter and The Shining were a few of my early reads, but the one that earned my eternal dedication was The Stand which I have now read three times (I will write a separate review for this – I suppose that means it deserves another read?!)

Other than the nostalgia that King brings up for me, the reason that he is my firm fave is due to his always-flawless writing. He brings in details that you didn’t even realise you needed to know and creates such vivid scenes you stop being a reader and become part of the story. Even now if I think hard enough I can be in Derry building a dam with the Losers Club, or smoking roll-ups and having a palaver with Roland in mid-world.

Yes, King is a horror writer (and a bloody good one at that) but what he really does is write people. I find it amazing how he can so accurately reflect such a wide range of personalities and make you feel like a fictional character can be your best friend, or even your worst enemy. He continues to create unique characters even though he has written hundreds, if not thousands. He obviously favours some traits (tortured writer anyone?!) but each character has his or her own personality and earns their place in his stories. I love each and every one of them!

Stephen, you are my hero.