May 29, 2006

Dinner with Anna Karenina

Dinner with Anna Karenina by Gloria Goldreich
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 5/8/06
Rating: B+ (7/10 Good)

This started out to be such a good book, but my enthusiasm began to wane the further along I read. It’s another women’s friendship book, centered around a monthly book group; a plot device that has been used ad nauseum of late.

They were readers for whom literature was a drug, each complex plot line delivery a new high, suspending them above reality, allowing them a magical crossover – now onto the snowbound avenues of St. Petersburg, now into the pretentious opera house of provincial Rouen. They had spoken often, with rueful honesty, of how the books they read represented escape, offered pathways to literary landscapes that intrigued and engrossed.

As I began to read, particularly the sections devoted to the actual book discussions, I was optimistic and felt that this book would be different. More intellectual and less “fluff” than say, The Book Club (Mary Alice Monroe), The Reading Group (Elizabeth Noble), The Jane Austen Book Club (Karen Joy Fowler), or Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons (Lorna Landvik).

Theirs was no ordinary book group, because they themselves were not ordinary readers. Each of them had visited other book groups, heard superficial comments, pseudoanalysis, words offered in games of intellectual one-upmanship….

They themselves were different. Literature was their passion, each book they discussed a challenge to heart and mind, each of their meetings a celebration of ideas. Their friendship, their intimacy, was rooted in that shared passion, unarticulated but silently acknowledged. In discussing books, they revealed themselves to one another, exposed their dreams, their deepest fears, their brightest hopes….

I’ve read several of the books the women chose and thought the discussions were well-done. Goldreich devotes several pages to each book, and the women were well-prepared and quite serious about their contributions, reading additional material about the author and comparing the work to other books they’d previously read. Just for fun, here are the titles the group read:

Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
Madame Bovary (Flaubert)
The Letters of Edith Wharton and The Reef (Wharton)
The Lottery and Life Among the Savages (Jackson)
Reading Lolita in Tehran (Nafisi) and Lolita (Nabokov)
The Bell Jar and the Ariel poems (Plath)
Little Women (Alcott)

Unfortunately, the relationships didn’t ring true and the dialogue between the friends was so poorly written that I began to cringe each time I came upon their enthusiastic but superficial chattering. I also think the book could have used a bit more editing. Goldreich has a tendency to repeat the details in which she describes the characteristics of the various friendships and one particular subplot that is revealed in the first chapter (and continues for the duration of the novel) became very tiresome and petty, resulting in a weak backdrop to the book’s focus.

That said, it wasn’t a bad read, in spite of the minor flaws, and I’m a bit tempted to start my own F2F (face-to-face) book group with my close friends. Anyone in Lincoln interested??


  1. This book sounds interesting - can't wait for your review.

  2. Anonymous6:44 PM

    I am! Absolutely. That is, if you consider your sister-in-law a friend. ;) I really miss discussing books with you. Jen

  3. I'd almost consider moving to Lincoln just to be in a F2F group with you, Les.

  4. Awwwwwww. :) Well, we've seriously considered moving to Washington or Oregon, so you never know. We may just yet be in a f2f group together someday.

  5. Anonymous8:27 AM

    Les - does it surprise you to hear that I loved Dinner with Anna Karenina? I have been a loyal fan of thsi author for sometime and if nothing else thought the book group discussions were really good.

    BTW - this is the first time I've read thsi blog and I have just bookmarked it - wonderful, wonderful reveiws. You'll probably get tired of hearing from me so often.

  6. Nope, it doesn't surprise me in the least. We do agree on some books. :)

    Glad you found and are enjoying my blog. Feel free to comment on any of the archived entries. Since I moderate all comments, I'll see anything even if it's for a review I wrote months ago.

  7. I'm still reading Dinner with Anna Karenina (in Dutch, I'm from Belgium). At this point I'm still addicted to the book, I will really feel empty when I finish this book (a feeling that I only have with books that move me.) This is the first review I'm reading about this book, and though I understand most of the comments you have on the book and I agree with them, but shouldn't you look further than the relationship between the friends? Isn't it very interesting to read how other people react on books and to see how they compare it to their own lives? Isn't 'being' the character what we all want?
    I'm at chapter 8 and until now I think Elizabeth is the most interesting character, she's a strong but complex woman, I want to understand her, her life is the most realistic I think, and her feelings are true, I can see them and feel then as if they were mine. (Although I also like the other characters.) That's the most interesting thing about reading 'losing yourself in somebody else his/her life', isn't that what we all do? That is what the characters do, so at that point I think Gloria Goldreich did an excellent job, she wrote down how every passionate, reading person feels like. If the book I'm reading hadn't been from our local library, I would have underlined a lot of phrases that seem to have a lot of truth in it.
    So, even though not al of what Mrs. Goldreich wrote is of top-quality, she did a terrific job.

    ps: Excuse me for my mistakes, I'm still a student, don't blame me, I'm trying.
    pps: I hope you understand all of the above, because I wrote it with my stomach, if you understand what I mean.

  8. Evy - Thanks for stopping by my blog and posting your comment on this very old blog entry. It sounds like you're enjoying the book more than I did. I'm glad. It has a great premise. Have you read any other books about book groups? I really liked Lorna Landvik's "Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons."


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