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Contemporary Literature Book Club

Bookcase CroppedThe Contemporary Literature Book Club (formerly LitCult Colloquium) is a meeting group intended for the discussion of contemporary literature in the English language. Students, faculty and staff are always welcome to join us.

The group meets once a month to discuss a work of contemporary English-language literature. For more information or to join, contact or !

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Program

Thursdays | 2.15–3.45 pm | Zoom

Trespasses27 April – Louise Kennedy, Trespasses (2022)

Set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, a shattering novel about a young woman caught between allegiance to community and a dangerous passion.
Amid daily reports of violence, Cushla lives a quiet life with her mother in a small town near Belfast. By day she teaches at a parochial school; at night she fills in at her family's pub. There she meets Michael Agnew, a barrister who's made a name for himself defending IRA members. Against her better judgment - Michael is not only Protestant but older, and married - Cushla lets herself get drawn in by him and his sophisticated world, and an affair ignites. Then the father of a student is savagely beaten, setting in motion a chain reaction that will threaten everything, and everyone, Cushla most wants to protect.
As tender as it is unflinching, Trespasses is a heart-pounding, heart-rending drama of thwarted love and irreconcilable loyalties, in a place what you come from seems to count more than what you do, or whom you cherish.

 

 

Trust25 May Hernan Diaz, Trust (2022)

Even through the roar and effervescence of the 1920s, everyone in New York has heard of Benjamin and Helen Rask. He is a legendary Wall Street tycoon; she is the brilliant daughter of eccentric aristocrats. Together, they have risen to the very top of a world of seemingly endless wealth. But the secrets around their affluence and grandeur incites gossip. Rumors about Benjamin's financial maneuvers and Helen's reclusiveness start to spread--all as a decade of excess and speculation draws to an end. At what cost have they acquired their immense fortune?
This is the mystery at the center of a successful 1938 novel entitled Bonds, which all of New York seems to have read. But it isn't the only version.

 

 

 

 

Delphi15 June Clare Pollard, Delphi (2022)

Covid-19 has arrived in London, and the entire world quickly succumbs to the surreal, chaotic mundanity of screens, isolation, and the disasters big and small that have plagued recent history. As our unnamed narrator—a classics professor immersed in her studies of ancient prophecies—navigates the tightening grip of lockdown, a marriage in crisis, and a ten-year-old son who seems increasingly unreachable, she becomes obsessed with predicting the future. Shifting her focus from chiromancy (prophecy by palm reading) to zoomancy (prophecy by animal behavior) to oenomancy (prophecy by wine), she fails to notice the future creeping into the heart of her very own home, and when she finally does, the threat has already breached the gates.
Brainy and ominous, imaginative and funny, Delphi is a snapshot and a time capsule—it vividly captures our current moment and places our reality in the context of myth. Clare Pollard has delivered one of our first great pandemic novels, a mesmerizing and richly layered story about how we keep on living in a world that is ever-more uncertain and absurd.

 

The Marriage Portrait13 July Maggie O'Farell, The Marriage Portrait (2022)

Florence, the 1550s. Lucrezia, third daughter of the grand duke, is comfortable with her obscure place in the palazzo: free to wonder at its treasures, observe its clandestine workings, and devote herself to her own artistic pursuits. But when her older sister dies on the eve of her wedding to the ruler of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, Lucrezia is thrust unwittingly into the limelight: the duke is quick to request her hand in marriage, and her father just as quick to accept on her behalf.
Having barely left girlhood behind, Lucrezia must now enter an unfamiliar court whose customs are opaque and where her arrival is not universally welcomed. Perhaps most mystifying of all is her new husband himself, Alfonso. Is he the playful sophisticate he appeared to be before their wedding, the aesthete happiest in the company of artists and musicians, or the ruthless politician before whom even his sisters seem to tremble?
As Lucrezia sits in constricting finery for a painting intended to preserve her image for centuries to come, one thing becomes worryingly clear. In the court’s eyes, she has one duty: to provide the heir who will shore up the future of the Ferranese dynasty. Until then,
her future hangs entirely in the balance.

 

Past Sessions

Lapvona

Ottessa Moshfegh, Lapvona (2022) | 10.2022

Little Marek, the abused and delusional son of the village shepherd, never knew his mother; his father told him she died in childbirth. One of life’s few consolations for Marek is his enduring bond with the blind village midwife, Ina, who suckled him as a baby, as she did so many of the village’s children. Ina’s gifts extend beyond childcare: she possesses a unique ability to communicate with the natural world. Her gift often brings her the transmission of sacred knowledge on levels far beyond those available to other villagers, however religious they might be. For some people, Ina’s home in the woods outside of the village is a place to fear and to avoid, a godless place.

Among their number is Father Barnabas, the town priest and lackey for the depraved lord and governor, Villiam, whose hilltop manor contains a secret embarrassment of riches. The people’s desperate need to believe that there are powers that be who have their best interests at heart is put to a cruel test by Villiam and the priest, especially in this year of record drought and famine. But when fate brings Marek into violent proximity to the lord’s family, new and occult forces upset the old order. By year’s end, the veil between blindness and sight, life and death, the natural world and the spirit world, civility and savagery, will prove to be very thin indeed.

 

Nightbitch

Rachel Yoder, Nightbitch (2021) | 11.2022

One day, the mother was a mother but then, one night, she was quite suddenly something else...

At home full-time with her two-year-old son, an artist finds she is struggling. She is lonely and exhausted. She had imagined - what was it she had imagined? Her husband, always travelling for his work, calls her from faraway hotel rooms. One more toddler bedtime, and she fears she might lose her mind.

Instead, quite suddenly, she starts gaining things, surprising things that happen one night when her child will not sleep. Sharper canines. Strange new patches of hair. New appetites, new instincts. And from deep within herself, a new voice...

With its clear eyes on contemporary womanhood and sharp take on structures of power, Nightbitch is an outrageously original, joyfully subversive read that will make you want to howl in laughter and recognition. Addictive enough to be devoured in one sitting, this is an unforgettable novel from a blazing new talent.

The Wife of Willesden

Zadie Smith, The Wife of Willesden (2021) | 12.2022

'Married five times. Mother. Lover. Aunt. Friend.
She plays many roles round here. And never
Scared to tell the whole of her truth, whether
Or not anyone wants to hear it. Wife
Of Willesden: pissed enough to tell her life
Story to whoever has ears and eyes . . .'

Zadie Smith's first time writing for the stage, The Wife of Willesden is a riotous twenty-first century translation of Geoffrey Chaucer's classic The Wife of Bath's Prologue, brought to glorious life on the Kilburn High Road.
Best of Friends

Kamila Shamsie, Best of Friends (2022) | 01.2023

Zahra and Maryam have been best friends since childhood in Karachi, even though--or maybe because--they are unlike in nearly every way. Yet they never speak of the differences in their backgrounds or their values, not even after the fateful night when a moment of adolescent impulse upends their plans for the future.

Three decades later, Zahra and Maryam have grown into powerful women who have each cut a distinctive path through London. But when two troubling figures from their past resurface, they must finally confront their bedrock differences--and find out whether their friendship can survive.

Thought-provoking, compassionate, and full of unexpected turns, Best of Friends offers a riveting take on an age-old question: Does principle or loyalty make for the better friend?