Alexander Averin

Wednesday, 4 July 2007


Diary of an Ordinary Woman
Margaret Forster

Book Group Discussion

This book is, surprisingly, a novel and it fools people into thinking it is non-fiction. It does say ‘Novel’ on the front cover but it is not very prominent. I was about a sixth of the way through before the penny dropped. When the library book group met to discuss it the woman who chose it as her choice had still not realised that it was all made up. She was furious and felt she had been deceived. She is a lovely lady a very sprightly octogenarian though you would never know it. Highly intelligent, still physically and mentally active (and politically) and has memories much longer than the rest of us. She lives alone having been widowed quite a long while ago. I see her as a sort of role model ………but I digress, sorry, let me get back to the Diary.

All the book group members loved the book except the two men which probably will not surprise you. They felt they had been deceived as well. One woman thought it a bit contrived in that the heroine was always at the right place at the right time but then that is how books go I guess. I loved the historical content and the way she coped with whatever life threw at her. British stiff upper lip and all that, but is that a good thing though?

I would dearly love to meet Margaret Forster so I could question her about this book and how she came to write it, how much was made up and how much she elaborated from fact. Did she really find a diary, did she use the contents to write a novel?

Having said all that I really loved the book and didn’t want it to end - always a sign of a cracker with me. I felt it was an insight into a woman’s life in wartime. But was she an ordinary woman? I will try not to get philosophical here because I do not believe anyone can be described as ordinary. Our heroine was privileged I would say as she wasn’t born into poverty and had no money worries as most of the working class of that era would have had. She was intelligent, she became independent (I wonder if that is why she appeals to me?). She had no children though and was quite lonely really at the end. Many women of her generation became widowed or lost their sweethearts when they did not return from the war and a lot of them remained without a partner for the rest of their lives. I wouldn’t call her an ordinary woman but I would not call her an average woman either, her life was much ‘freer’ and easier than most.

I love books in a diary format, perhaps that is why I love blogs and blogging so. The very act of dipping into people’s real lives is so interesting and women’s lives especially. Our everyday life history has not been recorded enough in the past, if at all. History says it all really….HIS - STORY. It is ironic to think that our purplecoo blogs are becoming in themselves a piece of history.

I loved Adrian Mole; funny diaries are great. I have just read a good one called Plotting for Beginners which I know mature women writers would also enjoy. I forget the author but I mention it in an earlier blog.

I gave Diary of an Ordinary Woman 8/10. We do this in our group, a childish idea of mine where we mark the books and then we see which book comes out on top at the end of a year. We are in our second year now.

I felt that the heroine was maybe based on Margaret Forster herself or someone she knew. I did become attached to her and was quite sad when she died.

Everyone who borrows this book loves it; women of all ages, so it has something that appeals. It isn’t the quality of the writing, not that it is bad, but it was not my usual loved style of ’poetic’ writing. I think it is one of Margaret Forster’s best books. It is a long while since I read it but it remains in my mind, (quite an achievement at my age!)

How shall we choose our next book? Shall we use the voting method again? In the library we take it in turns to choose a title - this makes us read books we would never dream of reading which is not a bad thing. It has widened our experience and knowledge greatly. Whatever we decide in purplecooland I will go with the majority decision. AnnaK wants some ‘beef’, I am all for that but how we decide what has beef and what doesn’t - might this prove controversial? Not that I am afraid of controversy.

At every book group meeting we seem to end up discussing whether a book was ‘true’ or not, especially memoirs, even history books. Everyone’s version of the truth will be different so who can say what is true and what isn’t We have to believe the story we are spun or not or be selective and take all that we hear with a pinch of salt - in this political climate perhaps we are well used to such and should practice this selectivity even more so.

It was a good feeling reading the Diary again and knowing that it was being read by people all over the UK and in New York and France. (anywhere else?). Thank you lampworkbeader for dreaming the idea and organising it so well. I can’t wait to read the next choice.

I have just found this link to an interview by Margaret Forster on the book, wish I had found it months ago. I will have a look at it and you can do the same. If you can’t get it to come up go to and type Margaret Forster in the search box.

Just for your info our library group are reading ‘The Expected One’ by Kathleen McGowan at the moment. It’s another Mary Magdalene inspired novel and should make for a lively evening’s discussion.

Bye for now,


lampworkbeader said...

Hi Cait
I found your take on Diary ... very interesting. I was glad to read your comments as you obviously enjoyed the book, many of the other people who commented were far more negative about the style and format. I think if I had read the book and then found out it is fictional I would feel quite cheated. As it was I was onto the truth from the start so could feel very comfortable with the format.
Any ideas as to how to organise the Purple Prose book group would be very welcome. We need to keep the format as simple and accessible as possible. That is why I chose the voting format. I felt it would please the majority of participants. Of course, in pleasing the majority we may miss out on some inspired reads.
Best wishes L


Skipped over the book review and really only popped into to say high, am not reading the reviews as I have not had a chance to read it so want to savour that later.

Wish I could tell you the name of the washing artist all i can remember is that he was American turn of the century but all that was on my old computer nad I lost teh link.. I fi find it again I shall e mail you!!

Blossomcottage said...

I will read this book when I am in Switzerland next week but its nice to have read someones review on it before, you make it sound a very good read. I will let you know.

Pondside said...

Hi Cait - I took your advice and googled the auther as I couldn't get to the address given. This is where I went - may be the same interview - very interesting.

Frances said...

Hello Cait,

I am still thanking you for the music that you have made available to us!

Music, books, tea, friends, ideas, generosity. Maybe we could consider what are the ingredients for life. Everyone would have a different cake recipe. Sort of a variation on Desert Island Discs.

Maybe deeper, maybe not.

I did like your review of the Diary. Have not written mine yet.
In a way my favorite part was the beginning when the diarist was a precocious upstart. It struck me that she was writing her diary in a style that seemed a bit "futuristic." But that was amusing.

Glad that you liked my first photos. As weeks pass, I am sure that I will figure out more about my camera and will be able to do a better job of sharing my world.

Best wishes.

The Country Craft Angel said...

I might have to read this on holiday later this year...I have a pile of books lined up in front at mo.

You do give a good review Cait.

warm wishes

PS-Thank you for your interest in purple coo merchandise. With regards to order if you would like to go into my DIARY OF A COUNTRY BUMPKIN BLOG, my last but one blog gives full details of all products, prices and how to order etc.

I look forward to hearing from you and assure you of my best attention

Kind regards