In the interest of transparency CJ Cooper and I share more than just two initials. We worked together for a while and have kept in touch ever since. I paid full price for my copy of The Book Club, published by Constable, but it would not be unreasonable for you to feel a little sceptical about my review of her English language debut. So you can read more reviews here and here if you would like to compare.
The Book Club is set in a pretty little Cotswolds village, which gives the reader the idea they might be about to start on some cozy crime, possibly with a maiden aunt, listening into conversations, hiding behind the rose arch round the incredibly Instagramable village post office, while uncovering a hilarious, yet important clue. By the end of the book it is clear, there is nothing cozy about this book or the people in it. The pretty little Cotswolds village is a red herring if ever there was one.
We are introduced to a group of friends who have taken not one but two new members into their gang, Lucy, who has already been included and Alice who has just arrived, the original trio feel that welcoming them into the village is the right thing to do.
The Book Club is very much a book about people. I found myself feeling strongly about many of them. Lovely Tom was drawn with real depth, and once I got to know him, sprang off the page. One of the women who I thought I would like, I ended up despising. The twisted mind of the protagonist would make me run a mile in real life, but she is fascinating on the page. I found myself constantly asking the eternal question armchair sleuths around the world like to be able to answer “Why? Why you complete and utter pshyco?”
While the original three appear to have lives of wealth and relative ease the reader gradually finds out that below the surface neither their friendships or their lives are as happy as you think. What impressed me most about The Book Club though was that Cooper at many points managed to subvert expectations that she sets up. She does so in a subtle and quiet way so it isn’t until you have finished the book that you realise that really, it wasn’t what you’d expected at all. It’s not just the friendships and marriages in this book that crumble under the pressure, it’s also the carefully curated persona’s that some of the characters portray, and the ones who are authentic about their flaws, at least to themselves, are the ones you really would want to know in real life.
In a way this is one of the points of The Book Club. It’s not trying to say anything as hackneyed as “nothing is what it seams when you scratch the surface,” but something closer to the idea that people are just not bothering to really look – that’s where it’s similarity to American Pshyco both begins and ends. We’ve all entertained a person in our lives ignoring our gut feeling of unease, we’ve all gone along to social gathering putting on a brave face when we feel anything but, or looked over red flags because hell, it all feels so good in the moment.
The essential moral, in a book that ensues old fashioned moralising for a kinder more understanding view, is that not only is it a bad idea to lie to other people, it’s also a bad idea to lie to yourself.
Other podcast episodes with CJ Cooper are availible below.