Book Club Archive to December 13

A Working for an MP Guide
Parliamentary Book Club
First Published July 2006 w4mp
Last Updated 19 December 2013 w4mp
Last Reviewed 4 December 2012 w4mp
Revision notes

The Parliamentary Book Club was set up in July 2006.

These are the reports up to and including December 2013.

Update 19 December 2013


At our last meeting we discussed:

  • AM Homes’ May We Be Forgiven recently described by Simon Schama as “mind blowing….the GREAT American novel of our times” where a Thanksgiving family gathering brings death and emotional destruction particularly brothers George and Harry Silver. Harry the main narrator has a fleeting affair with George’s wife Jane but this leads to her murder (by George) and his incarceration for not only murder but psychological disturbances. Harry is left with care of his niece and nephew and although some readers found his egotistical attitude to life (especially women) very off putting, trips to South Africa and the growing love ties between Uncle and extended family did reveal more emotional depth. Homes is an author with a growing fan base (including Zadie Smith).

Our tour round foreign shore authors continues………

  • Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave – reminding us of the hot scorching summer of 1976 where standpipes were common on every street and even new Acts of Parliament were created to preserve the depleted water stocks. Into this another dysfunctional Irish family face a crisis as their father walks to the shop for a newspaper and then disappears. Bringing the family back together leads to its own dilemmas and a return to Ireland reveals family secrets and reconciled lives.

Our Christmas and New Year choices include:

  • Hothouse Flower – Lucinda Riley.  This heart rending novel sweeps from Norfolk to Thailand and the past relationships from a 1940s large estate via plants and people as the stories are unearthed.
  • Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela.  We could not pass this month without our own memories of one of the most prominent men of the past 100 years of world political history without suggesting this wide sweeping autobiography that began for Mandela on scraps of paper as a prisoner on Robben island and then taken up when he became President of South Africa. A big read to reflect a big influence on so many people.

We are heading for the Apollo Theatre in January for our late ‘Xmas’ social to see Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night which has had rave reviews. We have read this novel (like so many others who made it a worthy bestseller) and because of this if we have time we shall dip back into the book or other novels by Haddon.

We shall meet again for our regular monthly lunch meetings in February and if you would like to join us do contact me for further information. It’s a fun and informal group who like to discuss books- films- theatre and lots of other fun things!


Philipa Coughlan


Update 10 November 2013


A link with travels to South Africa drew us to read J M Coetzee’s “Disgrace” this month. It is obvious Coetzee is a well respected and lyrical writer, but the central character of this book had few redeeming characteristics. Egotistical and unlikeable he soon had to leave town following a sex scandal to countryside of South Africa where his daughter led a very different life running a farm. Hints at the conflicts with locals and the overriding sense of female servitude seeped through the plot alongside a violent attack in which the only redeeming character trait was the heart felt love of the animals. But it is to Coetzee’s credit we kept faith with our dislike right to the last page!

Margaret Atwood’s classic “The Handmaid’s Tale” was also revisited. With topical discussions of the ethics and freedoms for women who wear the burkha, the fertility of humankind and the fear of science fictional experimentation which are the themes of this novel which are as pertinent in the 21st century as they were when Atwood wrote it.

For the time period until our first 2014 meeting in January we have chosen two family feuding themed novels – so they should go down well over the festive season!

A M Homes – ” May We Be Forgiven” begins topically on Thanksgiving Day in America, with a Nixon scholar facing his hated brother over the turkey dinner (MPs and Christmas come to mind at this point!) Harry Silver hates his brother George, but soon finds the fallout from his hatred come back to haunt him when he is left in charge of his brother’s offspring. All human life and surrounding calamity plus world events are found in this fast paced novel.

Maggie O’Farrell – “Instruction for a Heatwave” is set in the famous 1976 heatwave (well I remember it!) Gretta O’Riordan suddenly finds herself on her own when her husband disappears. But her children are soon back to support her…. well as in most O’Farrell novels that support comes at a price. Irish families in turmoil unmasking secrets are always classically dealt with by this author so expect some shocks.

We also hope to have our annual Christmas night out on the town! A visit to the theatre is being planned

A date for a future meeting in January will be available in the near future.

New members to join our friendly group always welcome

Update 27 September 2013

At our last meeting we chewed over Ian McEwan’s “Sweet Tooth” – highlighted as spy intrigue it seemed to veer a lot of the time to a love story which although interesting sidelined any major Le Carre type plots! but he always writes well and the role of women was very topical of the time. There was also Zadie Smith’s recent “N-W” we had hoped this would be as brilliant as her previous offerings and would particularly link to much of our knowledge of that part of London and its residents It’s style of dialogue was difficult to get into and the plot settings although varied, didn’t fully challenge the reader to the character possibilities. It was interesting to hear the author on this weeks ‘Desert Island Discs’ and you got the feel for her origins and her concerns about the lack of potential for many young black people – something which the novel did highlight.

Next month’s choices are the classic Margaret Atwood “The Handmaid’s Tale” although fans of science fiction might also want to dip into her recent trilogy.

Then there is also J M Coetzee’s “Disgrace”. We haven’t covered many authors from other countries but Coetzee is renowned as an excellent writer which surprisingly few of us have read, and as we have a couple of members spending time in South Africa soon we thought it might be a good choice.

Our next meeting is on Wednesday 30th October – 12.30pm at Bellamy’s (room just by the entrance gives us a chat to chat and have lunch)

New members are always welcome – we hope to organise a theatre visit just before Christmas and also invite authors to events in Westminster – so lots going on!


Update 29 August 2013

Summer book sizzlers….
Even though it was recess the book club met in Parliament and compared and contrasted the two recent J K Rowling novels.
‘The Cuckoo Calling’ was obviously under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith (as ‘revealed’ recently catapulting it to No 1 in the bestseller lists overnight….) but her first release ‘The Casual Vacancy’ didn’t exactly engage lots of critics.
However we were pleasantly impressed by both books. There was a great pace in the writing, particularly the crime led ‘Cuckoo Calling’, with an engaging Detective Cormorant Strike (what a name!) and a look into the celebrity culture tinged with Rowling’s own personal thoughts on issues such as phone hacking and the tabloids and the political backdrop of the Gordon Brown election. It certainly whetted the appetite for future novels and it seems a possible drama on TV.
‘The Casual Vacancy’ should be just our cup of tea at Westminster – covering the fall out from the death of a local Parish Councillor. Two groups clash over who should take over and a whole society is picked apart with shocking revelations that end quite tragically. We were not sure why this was so slated – obviously it doesn’t compare to Harry Potter – but then despite many an adult reading it they were written primarily for children.
It’s a first for reading two novels at one sitting by the same author , so says much for her ability perhaps to engage the reader in another round of success…
We also had wonderful home made cake in our own Parliamentary version of the ‘Great British Bake off’ – so what else could we offer!
This month we have chosen Ian McEwan’s “Sweet Tooth” – where the intrigue of the intelligence services are set against the economic and literary backdrop of 1970s Britain. Serena Frome is a beautiful Cambridge student who is recruited as a spy and meet not only intrigue, but love.
We also want to try Zadie Smith’s latest – “NW”. Tower blocks in Northwest London are given fictional names alongside the characters created by Smith. But the London featured is very real. Culture clashes, social issues and emotions are on display.
The next meeting will be on Weds 18th September – 12.30pm for lunch and a chat .
New members are always welcome – for more information contact Philipa on or mobile 07592 386493.
For Radio 4 and 4 Extra books latest email click here.


Update 29 July 2013

Hi All.   Recess is here! – more time to read we hope….

Our last meeting chewed over thoughts about ‘Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace’ by Kate Summerscale who likes to weave the true historical facts from Victorian life into novels. This can be very interesting, but sometimes distracting as we sometimes have to take out the fiction from the well researched facts.

In Isabella Robinson we find a woman frustrated in her marriage, who turns to writing a journal/diary to express her emotions and as is revealed for public consumption her sexual fantasies. Without the issue of her formal Divorce case becoming of national newspaper and parliamentary interest, little might have been known of the lady. However she moves in aristocratic circles and name dropping who attends your dinner parties or in whose company your husband moves can only have helped the notoriety of this case.

Suggestions for the summer include:-

  • A factual book from Virginia Nicholson ” Singled Out” which tells of the lives and increasing loss of love for the more than 2 million women who survived without men after the First World War. Topically with the anniversary of the Great War approaching in 1914, we can cast our eyes over the stories of women for whom tradition and life was to be overturned as their men went to war – and so often to their death. From Vera Britten to Matron Mary Milne their varied and extraordinary tales reveal much, about not just the life for women but for the world the war transformed around them.
  • We also have a challenge! “The Casual Vacancy” vs ” The Cuckoo’s Calling”? JK Rowling has now been revealed to be the crime author Robert Galbraith and suddenly a well reviewed but minor novel shoots to the top of the best seller list! So what’s in a name? and as Rowling’s first adult foray ‘The Casual Vacancy’ seems to languish on countless bookshelves half read do we underestimate further offerings from celebrity authors because you can never top the first success – and can we compare the child cult ‘Harry Potter’ series to other things Rowling wants to explore?
    “The Casual Vacancy” features a local council election which covers intrigue and moral injustice (surely us politicos we should be keen!?)
    “The Cuckoo’s Calling” – Cormoran Strike is hardly a good title for a Private Detective delving into the vulgar murderous world of London.  Well it is all in the name… let us know
  • And am glad to report a book that has come to our attention has featured as a debut novel on this year’s Man Booker Longlist “The Spinning Heart” by Donal Ryan.

We plan to get together in August for a chat, drink and read – do join us if you are around- Wednesday 14th August 12.30pm meet at Portcullis House for lunch.

For more information contact Philipa Coughlan email

Update 11 June 2013

Our group would like to send our sympathy to the family of Iain Banks who has tragically died at such an early age this weekend from terminal cancer.
Our last meeting found long standing fans of Bank’s work being joined by new readers as we reviewed his novel ‘Stonemouth’.
Fans of thrillers with reality and his contribution to science fiction literature writing as Iain M Banks will miss this talented Scottish author.
We await his last novel ‘The Quarry’ with regret that because of his illness it was to be his last.
PARLIAMENTARY BOOK CLUB.  Our next meeting is on Monday 24th June 12.30pm at Bellamy’s 1 Parliament Street. New members always welcome.
For more information contact Philipa email

Update 6 June 2013

At our recent meeting we certainly had a mixed bag of novels to review.
“Stonemouth” by Iain Banks proved the bestselling writer of life on the streets and towns of Scotland at his best again. With interesting characters beyond the main man Stewart, returning ‘home’ to recrimination and unresolved love, Banks showed violence had an emotional face and the family legacy that small town criminal gangs can always shield and shelter.
“Diaries of a Fleet Street Fox” by Susie Boniface was previously a massive blog/twitter sensation of tales in tabloid journalism. However in book form and overlaid with the author’s ‘personal’ revelations somehow angst and sex seemed less appealing or scandalous. But then, when is truth more scandalous than fiction? Discuss………………..
“The Woodcutter” by Kate Danley revived all our youth reminiscences of fairy tales told at bedtime, yet with a twist as the writer brought a contemporary slant to remind us of Grimm’s tales with beanstalks and kingdoms as The Woodcutter (in whom we all trust) is the protector of peace seeking the beast, Odin’s hellhound.
This month non Kindle (other ebooks are available!) readers have a dilemma……! Both choices are only available at present to download.
“The Blue Hourglass, The Timekeepers Daughter” is by new author L E Palphreyman who is known to one of our group, and maybe encouraged to come along and tell us about the process of ‘getting your book out there’. Stocked in the ‘young adult’ section this book however reveals an interesting slant on fantasy literature. Evelyn is a teenager, eager to explore her wider world but finds herself in a forbidden crypt from where magic, a carnival and seeking the holy grail in the form of the blue hourglass engage her in adventures. First of a trilogy – can it find a readership that saw a certain child hero with spectacles and wizard mates equally entrance kids and adults alike?
“A Man against a background of flames” by Paul Hoggart, sees the brother of journalist Simon debut with a novel that is a contemporary satire and thriller set in a medieval maze. Ideas are dangerous we are told – well we all know a thing about that in Westminster!
For standard ‘book readers’ – try Kate Summerscale’s “Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace”. With marriage and its many forms under the political microscope at the moment, the author of ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ uses her excellent historical research skills, to show us the true tale of Isabella Robinson’s diary that exposed Victorian morals and caused massive sea change in the legislation and law towards marriage and divorce.
Our next meeting is on Monday 24th June 12.30pm meet at Bellamy’s , 1 Parliament Street for lunch and chat. New members always welcome. Pop along, check our past reads or contact us for more information. We need plenty of suggestions for the forthcoming summer recess…………………..!
Philipa Coughlan email or mobile 075923 6493


Update 21 May 2013

Our next meeting is Thursday 23 May 12.30pm at the Debate in Portcullis House (moved from Bellamy’s 1 Parliament Street). Look out for the group with books and Kindles…..

Meanwhile, here’s the link to BBC Radio Four’s Bookclub:

You can sign up for their newsletter here:

Update 15 April 2013


We had no idea when we booked the date for April’s Parliamentary Book Club that it would then be the date of the recall of Parliament in Easter recess in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s death.

So our already arranged ‘celebratory’ lunch, including cakes and champagne for two members who are soon to be married, gained a few disapproving glances in Portcullis House. However the discussions about recent reading choices were as detailed and interesting as any of the week’s political coverage.

Ironically our recent choices covered two novels focusing on unhappy marriages….. but hasn’t put the prospective brides off yet!

‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn is becoming the must be seen with novel by celebrities (not usually then one for us to choose) – but the well paced, two narrative thriller has a great twist in the middle and unnerving insights into an emotionally dysfunctional husband and wife who ‘can’t live with each other or without each other’. It’s planned for a movie- but besides the hype worth a read.

‘The Forgotten Waltz’ by Anne Enright is described by reviewers as a ‘literary page turner’ Once again Enright proves her high standing as a sensitive and descriptive writer of family emotional turmoil. The Irish landscape and intimacy of Dublin and surrounding towns and traditions and waves of love, loss, despair and hope are told. Maybe this time her characters were somewhat two dimensional but there is a care and concern in Enright’s writing that keeps you reading.

Our choices this month are:-

“STONEMOUTH” – by Iain Banks. The writer of the classic ‘The Wasp Factory’ has a homecoming novel set in smalltown Scotland that sees the intricacies of life dominating the less important world around (even a nationalist political victory!) Recently bravely revealing he has terminal cancer Banks has a thoughtful view of characters yet still includes the grim realities of life – and murder.

“DIAIRIES OF A FLEET STRRET FOX” by Susie Boniface is a tabloid truth tale from the Leveson era. Once a secret blogger Boniface says she got the lawyers to ‘check the manuscript before publishing’. It still pulls no punches!

“THE WOODCUTTER” by Kate Danley is a novel of magic, folklore and the retelling of fairy tales. Interesting and with an appeal to ‘grown up readers under the covers’.

Next meeting is on Thursday 23rd May – 12.30 pm at Bellamy’s 1 Parliament Street.

New members always welcome.

For more information contact Philipa Coughlan email or mobile 07592 386493

Update 20 March 2013

Meeting this Thursday (21st March) for lunch at 12.30pm at Bellamy’s 1 Parliament Street.  We usually meet in the small area on the way into the entrance.

Currently reading C J Sansom’s ‘Dominion’ – an intriguing ‘what if’ surrounding events in Britain when readers discover we surrendered to the Germans…….

Also Dee Brown’s ‘ Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’ – a well researched factual account of what really happened to native Indians as settlers spread across America in the 19th century.

New members always welcome – for more information call Philipa 07592 386493

Update 26 February 2013

Today’s meeting is postponed.

Update 6 February 2013


The first 2013 meeting of the Parliamentary Book Club reviewed Jonas Jonasson’s “The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed out of the window and disappeared”. No where in this novel did we see the dark depressing side of the Nordic world so recently aired in books and TV dramas as Allan, facing the awful prospect of a 100th birthday party at his nursing home, decides ‘enough is enough’ and jumps out of the window to leg it as far away as possible. His road trip is hilarious and moves across his life and adventures of the past with great historic acclaim, alongside some eccentric and shifty characters who take him under his wing on his travels. As often heard ‘what fun!’

Our main choice for this month couldn’t be more different. Dorris Alexander ‘Dee’ Brown’s 1970s bestseller – “Bury My Heart at Wonded Knee”.  Brown, who came from a family with a deep history of the American frontier, writes about the violence and oppression suffered by native Americans at the hands of expansionism. Wounded Knee (a village on a reservation in South Dakota) was the scene of the last major confrontation between the US Army and American Indians where more than 150 Sioux were killed in a one day massacre. Should be fascinating.

Other suggestions from the group to consider by your bed or on your ereader:

  • Leo Tolstoy’s epic “Anna Karenina” – a recent major feature film.
  • C J Sansom’s ‘what if’ historical scenario where Britain surrendered to the Germans in 1940 “Dominion”
  • Lynda La Plante’s recent “Bloodline” featuring DCI Anna Travis for our crime thriller junkies!

All in all lots to get stuck into as hopefully the winter months fade….

Our next meeting is on TUESDAY 26TH FEBRUARY – 12.30 pm meeting at Bellamy’s for lunch and lots of interesting chat!

New members welcome.

For more information contact Philipa tel 07592 386493 or email

Update 4 December 2012

Too much reading of Leveson…well, see what we’ve been up to!

With much thanks to two of our members for organising a meal (Souk Medina) and a trip to the theatre (‘Matilda’ at Cambridge Theatre) we all had an excellent night out. And books were certainly never from our thoughts as the stage set for Tim Minchin’s lively adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic tale of poor Matilda were festooned with book images and loads of references to poor Matilda’s love of the written word – including a slur upon our last classic read ‘ Moby Dick’!  It was fun and fast moving with a scary Trunchbull in charge of that terrible school that frightened many adults in the audience!  Well worth a visit.

Back with the group our choices over the December weeks will be: –

  • Ami McKay’s “The Virgin Cure” – ‘I am Moth’ narrates the central young girl who is brought up in the often terrifying slum tenements of lowerManhattan in 1871. Sold by her mother to a brothel in the Bowery Moth has to grow up very quickly. Her only luck is to taken under the wing of Dr Sadie, a female doctor who visits to ensure the girls are all disease free. The link between the author and this doctor was something which brings the book to real life.
  • Jonas Jonasson ‘s ” The Hundred Year Old Man who climbed out of the window and disappeared” takes us as far away from recent Swedish chilling murders as you could imagine. It’s a series of VERY unfortunate events in the old man’s life which in a fast moving story will bring a smile on the long wintry cold evenings to come.
  • And for our crime fans – of which many! – we have been dipping into the novels by Sophie Hannah including her recent thriller “Kind of Cruel”.

Please look at the very interesting information from Radio 4s Book Club here. Happy reading to all – especially over the Christmas break!

2012 has been an interesting year and within the group as well as books we’re dleighted to send congratulations for two forth coming weddings and a new baby for next year – so we haven’t got our heads in books all year!

For more information or if you would like to join the friendly group contact Philipa Coughlan email or telephone 07592 386493.