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Group 2 Modern Novels

Although Alice McDermott is an award winning American author, she had gone under Group 2’s radar until her eighth novel, The Ninth Hour, was chosen for discussion. We all agreed that this was a beautifully written and powerfully affecting story. It was not an easy read as the author doesn’t shy away from the pain, suffering and sinfulness of human beings; she explores death, depression, motherhood, girlhood, religious life, and illness, to name a few of the themes. But we all felt it was a very worthwhile read. The title of the book alludes to the ninth hour of prayer (nones) at 3:00 in the afternoon, but also the hour that Jesus died: a hint to readers that this book does not ignore darkness; instead it is embraced.

Spanning the 20th Century, it is the story of a widow, Annie, and her daughter Sally (who becomes the focus of the story) and the nuns belonging to the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor who serve their Irish-American community in Brooklyn. These characters and others who feature in the lives of the main protagonists are vividly brought to life.

The reader is drawn into the book by the recounting of the suicide of a young Irish immigrant, Jim, who opens the gas taps in his Brooklyn tenement, while his pregnant wife, Annie, is out running an errand. The Sisters come to Annie’s aid, providing her with employment in the convent laundry, where Sally experiences an unconventional, almost-cloistered childhood.

The book primarily follows Sally’s life, born in a tragic situation, and her heartrending struggles with faith and helping others in her journey to adulthood. It is narrated retrospectively by unidentified descendants of Sally and her husband. We don’t know their gender, or even how many voices we are hearing, nor do we know their ages or their names. This was confusing at times as it was slightly difficult to decipher the relationships of some characters and the time frame which any particular section is placed within. But it ultimately builds to a comprehensive picture of a family tree, one which, without the help of the Sisters, might not have survived. Jim’s suicide, although never spoken of, reverberates through many lives and over the decades, even through multiple generations.

Modern Novels Group 2 highly recommends The Ninth Hour. It provided the group with material for a very vibrant discussion.

Celia Harris




Modern novels group 9 would like to share and recommend our book choice with other groups and U3A members

This is Claire Fuller’s third novel and we were keen to read it as she is a local author. It tells the story of Frances Jellico who is dying and remembering the summer of 1969 when she was commissioned by Mr. Lieberman, the new owner, to survey the follies in the gardens of a decrepit and almost derelict country house in Hampshire. An old friend, a vicar, is with here at her deathbed and is encouraging her to tell him what really happened that summer. A sense of suspense is quickly established.

Frances is an ungainly, lonely, socially inept woman of 39 who has spent most of her life caring for her ailing, difficult and critical mother. On arrival at Lyntons she discovers Cara and Peter (who has been commissioned to survey the interior) already in residence on the floor below her. Early on she discovers a Judas hole in her bathroom through which she can spy on the couple. Frances is bewitched by this exotic and hedonistic pair and the prospect of friendship with them beguiles her. She is drawn into a summer of extravagant and elaborate meals cooked by Cara, where champagne flows and the three of them lead a seemingly idyllic, lazy, indulgent summer, totally neglecting their brief from Mr. Lieberman. Frances is entranced by Cara’s fantastic stories of her past life. Peter initially seems less complicated, but his character is gradually revealed to the reader. Frances refuses to heed the pleadings of the vicar to distance herself from this pair and remains charmed by them.

We all enjoyed this gothic novel where Fuller blends a sense of the languid, hot August and gentle bucolic descriptions of the Hampshire countryside with an air of undefinable menace and foreboding. There are strange sounds, a face at the window , a dead bird and the eyes have been cut out of the peacocks on the wallpaper. The tension increases throughout the novel as the weaknesses of the protagonists are revealed and hints of impending disaster build. This is a novel full of surprises.

Jenny Brennan




The Birdwatching group has now met four times. The first meeting was over coffee for planning. We have been on visits three times to watch birds – to Titchfield Haven, Winnel Moors and Blashford Lakes.


The birdwatching group still has room for new members and has been out an about a few times. We had a great trip to Blashford Lakes followed by a pub lunch when we discussed other possible outings. The following month saw us at Framlington Marshes looking out for very different wading birds and some beautiful lapwings performing their spectacular aerial courtship displays. Lunch that time was a picnic in an open shelter. Eating is of course an important part of birdwatching!

If you would like to join us, please contact me, Janie Penn Barwell contact details

Janie Penn Barwell