Friday, July 13, 2018

Literary Sewing Circle: Book Talk

Photo by César Viteri on Unsplash

Are you halfway through The New Moon's Arms yet? Do you have opinions? Today is the day to start talking about our responses to the book.

Here are a few questions to ponder today and for the next while -- whether you have begun reading, or you've only read blurbs & our interview so far and still have something to say, join in!

I'll add some of my own thoughts and you can riff off of them or add your own impressions. If you want to hear other takes on a part of the book that you are curious about, leave your own questions in the comments, too. I hope you are all enjoying it!

  1. What did you think of the writing style?  Did it take any effort to get used to it? Do you like it?

    I really enjoyed the style of this book -- a bit sharp, sassy and reflecting the setting very well. You get a feel for the rhythms of life in Dolorosse from the way Calamity talks. I also liked that the flavour of the setting is there but it's not completely localized, so that it is easy to attune your reading ear quickly. I enjoyed the pace of the story even more on my second read.
  2. Calamity is a hard character to like -- why do you suppose she is so cantankerous? Is her  stubbornness always a flaw or are there ways it is also a strength?

    I didn't like Calamity all that much when I first encountered her -- she is rude, self-absorbed and homophobic, not to mention prickly to her daughter as well. But as I read I found myself more and more fascinated by her, and more understanding of why she was the way she was. I feel that her stubbornness came from the years that she had to look after herself, and then her child as well. She had to be tough and hard to survive. This characteristic helped her care for Agway in his particular situation as well.
  3. Do you have a favourite character yet, or one who particularly appeals? Why?

    As I say, I liked Calamity after a while; her voice is so distinct. I do feel sorry for Ifeoma, having to deal with her mother's attitude. And I like Ifeoma's style and brains, and the way she keeps going and makes things happen for herself; her political activism is also appealing. I'd probably dress more like Ife (at the end of the book) than anyone else.
  4. Calamity makes a good point about the invisibility of older women in our society. Have you noticed this phenomenon as well? How does Calamity fight back against this tendency?

    Oh yes! That first time you are called "ma'am" is always interesting, isn't it? ;)

    Calamity makes a spectacle of herself on purpose, dresses like she wants, still has a strong libido, has a "hot mouth", and generally makes a space for herself in the world even as she is heading into a new stage of life. I love this part of her. As Nalo Hopkinson said in her interview, she is a "mature woman being gloriously disgraceful"! :)
  5. The magical realism in this book is highlighted by Calamity's 'finding' and by the appearance of Agway. What did you think of this element? Did you find the inclusion of folklore a successful part of the story?

    I really loved the slightly fantastical elements of the book. They were folded in so naturally they kind of felt realistic to me. I also liked the heightened language in the scenes that shared the slave boat narrative; it felt like a perfect fit. The hints of selkie folklore, Caribbean legend, and female power all meshed together really well for me.
  6. There is a thread of serious social commentary in this novel, from Calamity's opinions on older women in society, to the history of slavery in the Caribbean, to Calamity's own homophobia. Did you think that Hopkinson's approach to these themes worked in the narrative?

    I did. That's my short answer. I liked that there are no easy answers in the book - Hopkinson leaves some of the narrative up to us. What do we think happens in the end? Do we believe Calamity's version of events at all times? It's up to us to discuss and decide. I also thought it was interesting that Calamity's homophobia seems to come from her defensiveness and hurt over Michael's 'rejection'. I found her appalling in some of those scenes; I was only able to give her some leeway and be patient with her attitude because I knew that the author did not support these views as a queer woman herself, and there would be a reason for them in the end.
  7. The writing style reflects Calamity's quirky voice and the Caribbean setting.  Do you have a favourite line or quote to share?

    There's a throwaway line in there: "Don't trouble trouble or trouble will trouble you" I liked that!
  8. Is there anything specific  in the book that has sparked an idea for a project yet? Are you mulling over any ideas?

    For me, some of Calamity's findings are inspiring me... the colours and patterns of teacups, cashew groves, or red trikes might show up somewhere... Also, the shapes of Ifeoma's style or the colours of the Caribbean ocean might appear... But it's pretty likely that I'll end up with a dress of some kind! ;)  How about you?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


  1. I liked Calamity. She is definitely a work-in-progress (aren't we all?), but I felt like she had an awareness of that which made me sympathetic toward her even when she behaved really badly. The finding part of the story worked for me, but the slave ship narrative didn't felt out of place to me. As far as a project, I am playing around with a mermaid-themed purse. I loved the imagery of the cashew grove, but that didn't inspire a vision for a project.

  2. Calamity is definitely a work in progress! Glad that you're finding her character appealing. I liked the 'finding' as well.

    Interesting idea for a project, too! I may have to think about mermaids now that you've mentioned it. Though I do have ideas for a couple of dresses now.

  3. Unfortunately my copy of the book has still not arrived. I am sure post deliveries have been getting slower and slower!
    However, I have been reading various reviews of this story, and can certainly see a few themes recurring. One is of course the invisibility of ageing women and the other is looking back at the mistakes we make in our lives. Both which I am interested in, as a sixty something woman, and as somebody who also looks back. It is often said with mental health, that when something good happens in our life we enjoy it for a short moment and then forget, but when something not good happens we dwell on it for oh so long (forever?). Which, I imagine, is why we look back in life at times, remembering what we regret. And yet life is never perfect, and having the good and the bad is what life is. The rich tapestry of life. Easier said than done.
    Now on a sewing front this opens up a rich selection of possibilities! I admire the women who just go out and 'wear' their clothes, not to hide themselves or aspects of their bodies, but who believe we should all be able to all love wearing what we choose and feel good in our clothes. From what I have read about Calamity I bet she was one of those women. So I feel I would like to make something, not outrageous, but something I would just love to wear and feel good about, that is different and colourful (Caribbean) and fun.

    1. I hope you get your copy soon! Good thing we will have until the end of summer to read and post and project this time around. I think I'll announce the book earlier in future. Love your ideas for a project based on the reviews and what you already know of the story!

  4. And the image of the Book sign at the top of this post - I would definitely go in any book shop that had that sign out the front. I love it!

    1. Yes I agree! It's very mysterious isn't it? :)


Share your comments, ideas or suggestions here -- I am always interested in hearing from readers. It's nice to have a conversation!