Most people like reading. Many of us at Mitchells Roberton love reading. So the suggestion by Elizabeth Baker in October 2012 to start an in-house book club was readily taken up by eleven hungry bookworms.
The first book proposed for our delectation was Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre. This was duly digested by the book club and discussed at our inaugural meeting over lunch at the end of November. For many, this was our first ever book club meeting and this inexperience showed when it quickly became apparent that the meeting would have been more fun with wine and nibbles. Next time, after hours….
So what of the book? A fleeting synopsis: It’s World War II (don’t let that put you off, this is not your typical wartime tale). The Allies want to invade Sicily, an obvious target, so the Secret Service needs to persuade the Axis forces they have no such intention. The answer: dress a dead Welsh tramp as a naval officer, float him ashore on the south coast of Spain (the apparent victim of a plane crash at sea) with important looking papers indicating an attack on Greece, so the Germans pull forces out of Sicily. Throw in a few wily, scurrilous, heroic, romantic and downright objectionable characters (real and faked) and Bob’s your uncle. Well, that was the plan. The book is the story of how it worked and how it nearly didn’t.
So, were we satiated with Mincemeat or left with indigestion? Most gave it a solid 7/10 with a few readers only prepared to award 4 or 5. The actual story of this audacious plot was unanimously liked. It appears some of the characters and sometimes heavily-detailed narrative lost the book a few points. Certainly, there is a paucity of particularly likeable characters (and there are some right gits here). On the other hand, the book involves real war and real people which, minus a Hollywood sheen, do not perhaps automatically endear themselves. What the book does have in abundance are memorable characters and plot.
One particular point of interest from our discussion was whether the body used by the Secret Service for the imposture was the Welsh tramp as claimed by the author or, as believed by one of our more informed bookworms, a drowning victim from a ship accidentally sunk in the Clyde around the same time….?
In the end, a good few of our number were hungry for more from Ben Macintyre and Operation Zigzag was also commended to us. An unforeseen bonus was a BBC4 documentary based on the book which was broadcast in early January.
So, having gorged on Mincemeat, we are now sampling Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid and our assessment of that book will follow here soon.