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22nd February
2011
written by Steph

Full disclosure: I read this book about three weeks ago, and if absence makes the heart grow fonder, it also makes memory a bit hazy so details on this one might be a bit sparse. In the notes I jotted down on this one, I wrote “In the end, this book probably won’t stay with me forever, but I did really enjoy it in the moment.” Yup, that sounds about right. As someone who legitimately enjoys writing (I feel all of us bloggers must not only enjoy reading the written word, but creating it ourselves as well), I am always interested in books that features writers or that focus on the craft of writing itself. You’ll recall that a while back I read and loved The Writing Class by Jincy Willett, so while the back blurb on The Writing Circle sounded somewhat similar, I was willing to give it a go. Essentially, the story is pitched as following a group of writers who have formed a writing support group that meets to discuss each other’s creative endeavors and provide constructive feedback in the hopes of getting these works published. Unfortunately, not everyone in the group is equally supportive and honest and when certain confidences are breached, each of the individual members face hardships that will throw the entire group into turmoil. Many of the reviews that I read about this novel mentioned that they found the first half of the book rather slow and somewhat meandering, but also rather overwhelming due to the sheer number of characters that are introduced. Maybe it was the mood I was in, but I really enjoyed the various narrators and the first half of the book in general. I appreciated how swiftly we learned so much about the various members of the writing group, both in terms of who they were as writers as well as where they all were in their own personal lives. It was also interesting to see how people with such varied backgrounds and different goals were brought together by the act of writing. Yet, perhaps somewhat ironically, I wound up finding the actual storyline that focuses on the group as a whole and the so-called scandal that is so hyped on the back cover to be the least interesting element of the book! I think this may have had to do with the fact that the writing-scandal-related storyline doesn’t emerge until well over half the book is over and so by the time it appeared, I had reconciled myself to the idea that The Writing Circle was less a bout writing and the meetings of this group of writers so much as it was simply about the lives of people who just so happen to be writers. That said, I wasn’t disappointed by this balance, because I think Demas did a great job of creating vibrant, compelling characters who I was interested in, irrespective of how they spent the bulk of their time. Additionally, I didn’t find the scandal to be very surprising, because I had long expected it to develop based on some rather obvious (at least to me) foreshadowing early on. I do think that the story that Demas tackles in the latter part of the novel is an interesting one for a writer to broach and explore, but I did feel like in some ways it got short shrift, especially if it was the motivation behind writing the novel in the first place. I realize this is all rather vague, but I don’t want to spoil anything about the novel, since so many people remarked that they were shocked and surprised by where the novel wound up going, so I wouldn’t want to inadvertently let any of the wind out of its sails. I think that likely the reason why some people were disappointed with this book is because they went in expecting a fast-paced thriller, when really this definitely came across as more of a character-driven novel. That works just fine for me, because I like both types of books, and for me if the characters work, that’s probably more important than having a zippy storyline (not that that hurts!). I found myself thinking about these characters a lot, and felt like I had a good grasp on who they were and what they might do. That doesn’t mean I liked them all, but I thought they were interesting and worth exploring. There is a rather grandiose twist at the end that I didn't necessarily see coming, but that I’m not sure really served the story in any meaningful way. I could do some creative stretching and say that I could see parallels between the way the character responds to the situation mirroring a character she herself has created and defended in her own work, but I’m not sure that this is necessary, or that even with this as an explanation that it works as a justification. Overall, this was a quick but engrossing read and while it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, it was still satisfying and I’m glad I read it. It isn’t a life changer, but if you’re looking for a book that will absorb you for a few days, it’s a great choice. And certainly if you like books where the characters get all messily entwined with one another, this will be very satisfying indeed. I could also see it being tons of fun to discuss at a book group as there's plenty of food for thought! Rating: 3.5 out of 5

5 Comments

  1. 02/22/2011

    I actually really like books that introduce a lot of characters because I think it gives the author credibility when he or she is able to furnish each one of them with their own personalities and voices. I also like books that focus on writing, so I think this would be a good pick for me. I am glad to hear that you enjoyed it and that even though others said the beginning was a bit slow, you didn’t find it to be that way.

  2. 02/23/2011

    I read this book awhile ago, so can’t fully remember what I thought of it (and too lazy to go back and read my own review). I do remember thinking that it was satisfactory. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. It entertained me, and I thought about the characters when I wasn’t reading — which is good. I think we have a similar outcome of opinion about this one.

  3. 02/24/2011

    @ zibilee: I personally felt that all of the characters in this book were very distinct, and even though there were a lot of them initially, I never confused them. Then again, I really like books that focus on characters and their inner lives, so throw in the element of writing on top of that and you’ve got a book I’ll be at least marginally interested in!
     
    @ Wallace: I went and read your review of this one (I was not too lazy! 😉 ), and I do think we had similar reactions to it. It was entertaining, and even if it ultimately didn’t make a huge impression it engaged me thoroughly while I was reading it. Nothing wrong with a book like that.

  4. 02/26/2011

    Your review has intrigued me. I’ve seen a lot of fiction with names like The Reading Group, but never about a writing group. This sounds like an original idea and I’m fascinated by the craft of writing. I’ll look out for this, Steph.

  5. 03/01/2011

    @ Nicola: I did read one book about a writing class last year (unsurprisingly, it was called The Writing Class!) and I really enjoyed it, so this book really appealed to me on that basis alone. But for anyone who has ever thought about writing their own book, I think it had a lot of interesting perspectives.

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