Charlotte and Claudia Keeping in Touch by Joan Barfoot


At the end of every book club year, the members choose their most and least favourite reads. We don’t call it ‘best’ and ‘worst’ book- we’re kinder than that. We call it “Book I enjoyed reading the most” and “Book I enjoyed reading the least”. That way, we assume, there will be no hurt feelings. Of course, the way our book club works, we’re not allowed to choose our most favourite book of all time as our pick, anyway. Ten years later, no one has left in a huff because the rest of the group didn’t love a book with quite the same fervor as the person who picked it did. Still, as each member only picks one book a year everyone is highly aware that if their book’s a flop they might be the recipint of ” the poopie prize.”

I deliberate endlessly over my book club choice. I read reviews and I spend a lot of time making my choice. Although I’ve had a few excellent choices over the years, I’ve only ever won favourite book once (with last year’s choice Fingersmith by Sarah Waters) I was afraid that I might win this year’s poopie award with At A Loss For Words. I think I was saved by providing a fabulous dessert on the night I hosted (review and dessert recipe are posted here). Also, despite the book’s limited scope, I had really great questions that generated excellent discussion.

Tonight we meet to discuss Joan Barfoot’s novel Charlotte and Claudia Keeping in Touch. While reading this book I couldn’t help but think, “well, at least I won’t win the booby prize this year.” The novel plods along without momentum and consists mainly of ruminations on the loss of youth, spouses, lovers, children, and perky boobs. I hated the title. I mostly disliked the two main characters: Charlotte an unmarried 70 -year -old retired social worker and Claudia, a 70 -year -old home maker whose philandering husband has just died of cancer. Their life-long friendship seems contrived especially given that we see it through the filter of their own personal stories and not much else.

And yet – I found the story strangely affecting. I mean, I’m not anywhere near 70, but I could somehow relate to these women. What have you got a the end of your life? Your children, in Claudia’s case, are grown with their own families and concerns. Your husband, (also in Claudia’s case) lying cheat that he is, is by turns loving and nasty as he dies a slow painful death in the bed you once shared. As for Charlotte, she’s taken to hiding in the hedge next to the house of her former, married lover. Former as in they parted ways 30 years ago. So there’s poor Charlotte wedged in the cedar trying to make sense of her feelings for this guy, who stayed with his wife and children after all.

The novel’s plot- such as it is- turns on a huge secret Claudia wants to reveal to Charlotte. It’s not really that great a secret and hardly worth the wait and the whole tidy ending is just sort of dull. Still.

So, while I have a feeling that I won’t be taking home any plastic flowers this year, I bet we’ll have lots to talk about tonight.

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