There are many book clubs in the UAE, of which the most interestingly structured must be the Twitter Book Club, which organises itself around, you guessed it, Twitter. @TwitBookClub or #TwitBookClub are the places you'll find 'em lurking and growling bookishly.
Olives was 'read of the month' last month and so yesterday I sat down at Wild Peeta, Dubai's famously social gourmet shawarma joint (@WildPeeta to you) and faced the Twits in attendance as well as one who had to travel to India but who had left behind a review and some questions she wanted to ask.
The conversation started with a review of the club's other picks for the month (Olives was 'mandatory', there were a number of other reads also recommended) and I started to get a dry mouth when club members weighed in. Virginia Woolf took a couple of particularly hefty kicks to the literary derrière and even Umberto Eco's semiotically inclined behind got a drubbing.
And then the searchlight was on me, the sirens going off and the dogs barking. Olives has some similarities to John Le Carré's The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, observed one member, in that it is about a fool who falls in love with a local girl and tries to save her from herself and/or the baddies. While I am always delighted at any comparison with Le Carré (well, obviously apart from 'has less talent than Le Carré's discarded thumbnail'), I couldn't quite get this one.
The conversation, as I have learned it usually does, really kicked off with how everyone thought Paul was a sap although, as the session went on, it was observed that perhaps part of the reason everyone thinks that is the book is written in the first person so we are privy to Pauls' thoughts, feelings and doubts and perhaps pick up more of his vulnerability than we would if it were written in the third person and, therefore, were perhaps a slightly more dispassionate account. We talked about Aisha, her place in society and her role in the book and about how Olives would go down in right wing America (not well at all, apparently. In America, I am assured, this book would be highly controversial, which rather had me raising the old eyebrow). Everyone was surprised Gerald Lynch goes on to be the main character of my next novel, Beirut (I did a short reading of Beirut, which is a very different book indeed to Olives) because they all hated the drunk, blackmailing SOB. Well, who wouldn't?
We talked about the controversies - the Jordan blocking name thing (general agreement that it's, errr, fiction) and also the issues of alcohol and sex in the book, as well as the research behind (and very reality of) the water crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean, the history of Palestinian families and Palestine and other questions the book raised with readers.
Three hours went by in subjective minutes, at the end of which they thanked me for coming. I was amazed. You spend three hours talking about my work with me and thank ME for coming? The thanks, as always, are fervently from me to you.
I have to add, There Were Cupcakes, thanks to @TheRegos...
In short, it was a blast. I do like book clubs!