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The Gaddesden Society Book Club

Book Club                                                    

March - ‘Black Diamonds’ by Catherine Bailey

This book has two titles: ‘Black Diamonds’ and ‘The Rise and Fall of a Dynasty’.

‘Black Diamonds’ refers to the source of the family’s immense wealth, King Coal. The dynasty in question is that of the Fitzwilliams, a family who lived on the same site for over 700 years at their ancestral home, Wentworth House in South Yorkshire.


The book opens in 1902 with the funeral of the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam. At this point the family’s fortunes were at their peak and Wentworth was the largest privately owned mansion in Britain. Their immense wealth was gained from coal mining combined with land and assets they had inherited from their ancestors. They were one of the grandest families in the Kingdom.


The author goes on to explain the decline of the Fitzwilliams as a combination of family squabbles and politics which takes away their wealth and eventually their position in society. This happens over a period of 50 years.

The book closes with a description of a tawdry squabble between two brothers that results in the final extinction of the Earldom.


The story is set against the background of the two World Wars and the terrible conditions suffered by the workers in the coal industry that forces a political reaction. It didn’t help that the Fitzwilliams were good employers. Eventually, the political and economic changes of the times worked to destroy their sources of wealth and power.

Suzie Banerji

April - ‘The Memory Stones’ by Caroline Brothers

‘The Memory Stones’ is a tragic but beautifully written story. As it starts with the military coup in Argentina in 1976, it is recent history which we will all remember from that time.


This book reminds us of just how awful it was by following the events of one family. Although it is fiction, I am sure that it echoes what happened to hundreds of families at that time.


I hadn’t realised (or remembered) that there were an estimated 500 babies of the ‘disappeared’ who themselves disappeared by being stolen or illegally adopted by military couples.


My main complaint about this book is that at times I found it so gripping that it kept me reading into the early hours of the morning!


There wasn’t a really happy ending, too true to life for that, but how many families of the disappeared have at least traced their missing grandchild?  There are still grandmothers who meet every Thursday in the Plaza de Mayo, searching for the truth about what happened to their children and grandchildren.


It is a most enjoyable, well written and enlightening book, a very good choice and plenty to talk about in a Book Club!

Vivien Foord -Kelcey

May  - ‘The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness’ by Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy's second novel has been 20 years in the making, following on from her Man Booker winning ‘God of Small Things’. In the meantime she has been a political activist, writing non-fiction books and papers on the environment, Kashmiri independence, capitalism and Empire to name but a few subjects dear to her heart.


Her latest novel is an amalgamation of all those things distilled to evoke the essence of India. Rich and rambling, crammed full of characters and vignettes, its backdrop is the past fifty years of events, policies and politics on the Indian subcontinent. Kashmir, Bhopal, Prime Ministers past and present: a tapestry of half remembered events are brought into focus then flicker and fade as various colourful members of the cast take the stage.


There are no holds barred in Roy's depiction of this vibrant, chaotic, disparate nation and some scenes shock but ultimately this sprawling giant of a novel, set in a graveyard populated by outcasts, pays homage to the intrinsic value of every human life from the abandoned baby to the dictator in his noose. Beautifully written, informative and captivating; for me it was worth the wait.

Fiona Masters

How to get in touch…

Gaddesden Society President
Trevor Fernandes 01442 843498

Gaddesden Society Honorary Secretary
Mandy Haynes 01442 842496

Gaddesden Society Treasurer
Phil Heaphy 01442 842283

Diary Editorial Team

Phil and Rachael Heaphy 01442 842 283

Emma Thon

Genny Snowdon 01442 843834

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