London Book Club: June

Posted on July 29, 2010 in Uncategorized


For June book club, we read The Other Hand by Chris Cleave. For those of you who don’t already know, this is the book whose jacket blurb begins ‘we don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.’ And because the blurb asks readers also not to spoil the story by telling anyone what actually happens, I won’t go in to any storyline specifics throughout the article. At the same time, I didn’t think it was such an amazing story that telling someone what happens would ruin it for them. In fact, I didn’t think it was that good a story at all. The only part of the story that is described on the jacket cover is the following: ‘this is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice. Two years later, they meet again – the story starts there …’


As a group, we didn’t like the book. A lot of people actually disliked it even more than I did. Firstly, even though the blurb says that the story starts where the two women meet again, we actually felt that it started a lot earlier. At the beginning of the book there is quite a long description of what happens to one of the women a short while before they both meet up again, and we felt that this part of the book was both interesting and informative. Ironically, when the book finally got to the part where the two women meet again we started to lose interest. As a whole we thought the story was simply too ‘padded’ and many aspects of the book could’ve been written much more succinctly. We thought that all the main parts of the story had been overly-dramaticised, and it became almost like an advert. A lot of the characters did not seem particularly believable. In fact so much of the storyline was so unbelievable that it made us become untrusting of the parts of the book that probably were based on fact and real-life situations. Everyone present at this book club discussion was a woman, and we wondered if some aspects would have been better-written by a female author, simply because the two main protagonists are women (although it would’ve been interesting to know the viewpoints of any male readers). Of course, many male novelists are more than capable of writing convincing female characters, but Cleave’s women simply did not ring true for us.


One person said that they liked the book, although it didn’t really end anywhere. In fact we were all quite confused about the ending. It didn’t seem very clear. Also, there had seemed to be so much hype about the main story, we were disappointed that it wasn’t actually as dramatic as we had been expecting. We wondered if there was some kind of ‘political’ reason as to why the book had been publicised in such a hyped-up way. It’s a shame that the book wasn’t quite as succinct as the blurb for the book. In my opinion, less detail was required in the book itself, and more detail was required for the blurb.


The bookseller recently published an article mentioning that delegates at The Bookseller Cover Design Conference were told that ‘publishers are “missing a trick” by not perfecting blurbs on jackets,  despite the fact they are “commercially valuable”.  James Spackman, sales and trade marketing director at Hodder & Stoughton, discussed research from Book Marketing Limited which found that the blurb makes 62% of consumers buy a particular book. He specifically mentioned The Other Hand as an example of a book where, he believed, the copy had significantly improved the sales: ‘the blurb on The Other Hand by Chris Cleave “represents a bold new view of how much content needs to go in”. The title addressed the reader directly but did not give much away about the storyline therefore “unsettling the reader”.’

All in all, this was one of the SYP book club’s most disappointing reads.