From Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to Anthony Trollope’s The Warden, our Book Club has enjoyed meeting to read a huge range of novels – sci-fi, historical fiction, the classics, contemporary. It’s been a great way to explore new literature and enjoy discussion and fellowship with others. At this time of social distancing and isolation, we’re enjoying being able to continue meeting virtually!

Our first post-lockdown group selection was an accidental inspiration, chosen long before the pandemic arrived. But as it happened, this was a novel that you could inhale, a genuine page-turner: something that took us readers right out of our current situation and into the derailed marriage at its centre.  A year or so after their wedding, there are storm signs for Celestial and Roy. His casual infidelity, her reluctance to have children, their parallel but not necessarily complementary business ambitions, the things they are not telling each other. They might have worked through all this, but Roy is suddenly, shockingly, arrested. He’s innocent. But he’s African-American. He’s found guilty and jailed. Of course she’ll wait for him, and she does. Until she doesn’t. But then he’s released on appeal, and everyone has to choose.

Roy got off a little lightly, perhaps: a couple of secondary characters appear just where and when they’re needed to save him, both in and out of jail. And his eventual resurrection as a person of deep religious yearning seemed bolted on, at least to me. But this was a rich and often very troubling story that made clever narrative choices. The miscarriage of justice, which in a lesser novel would have dominated, is dealt with in a few pages, neatly making the point that this isn’t unusual: the letters to and from prison are a distressing barometer of Celestial and Roy’s disintegrating relationship.  The switches of viewpoint leave the reader knowing too much about everyone to be able to say that anyone’s definitively in the wrong.

The central triangle deal with their situation in believably inconsistent surges of pain and anger, love and sorrow, withdrawal and tenderness. There’s also real depth in the exploration of present and absent, biological and chosen fathers, and what it means to be an African-American man. Roy finds hard-won peace with his decisions, but he’s not the man he would have been if the police hadn’t broken down that hotel room door.

We talked about An American Marriage over Zoom. The discussion flowed as freely as it would have done if we’d all been together, so if you're wondering about joining a virtual book group I’d say go for it.

To take a look at our list of up upcoming books and find out how to join in, you can head to our webpage here. All are welcome!