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The Still Point
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10/20 The Still Point > The Still Point - Whole Book Discussion - Spoilers Allowed

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LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2367 comments Let the discussion begin. I'll throw out a couple of questions as the kickoff, but feel free to toss out your own or just comment on the book.

What do you think of the two storylines? Did you think they meshed well? Did you like one more than the other?

Bretnie | 661 comments I liked it! Although sometimes I was conflicted about both switching the time periods AND characters. Ultimately I think I appreciated the POV changes, there were a few characters that tried my patience (strangely, Emily and Simon).

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2749 comments Mod
I finished my reread yesterday and felt it stood up pretty well.

The first time round, the Mackley expedition's story felt fairly dominant, which made the last third of the book a little anticlimactic, but this time I appreciated the contrasts and the overall structure much more.

The overall theme of romantic ideals and dreams being impossible to live by and maintain in an imperfect world links all of the components, and the arctic imagery and subtle repetitions are used very effectively throughout. For a debut novel it is a very accomplished piece of writing.

Mark Porton | 6 comments Finished this one last night and loved it. 4 stars for me, the way the author combined both threads of this story using the house as the common reference (Still) point - my interpretation only - was well done.

Simon got on my nerves as well, but I did feel for Emily - poor thing, imagine the pain? Julie was a great character, and when she heard 'the news' about Emily and John, from her cousin - well that just took me completely by surprise!

Edward's escapades in the Arctic Circle were nothing short of rivetting, even though we knew what was going to happen - I was still hoping he'd come home.

A wonderful story.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2367 comments Hugh, good point about "romantic ideals and dreams being impossible to live by and maintain in an imperfect world." Could you elaborate a bit on how you think that connects the two story lines?

Bretnie and Mark, I also found that Emily and Simon "tried my patience" even though I thought they were nicely developed as characters. What in particular got on your nerves about those characters? Do you think Emily's preoccupation with the Mackley story she grew up with was a wedge that created issues with her and Simon's relationship?

Was the cousin's revelation a shock to you all as readers? Was Emily's reaction believable?

Mark Porton | 6 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "Hugh, good point about "romantic ideals and dreams being impossible to live by and maintain in an imperfect world." Could you elaborate a bit on how you think that connects the two story lines?


Hey Linda, I thought Simon was a bit of a pedant, I didn't like the way Julie had to make his breakfast 'exactly' how he likes it - found that a bit much, he just seemed a bit 'particular'. Emily, well I quite liked her and really felt for her, poor thing - she waited ages for Edward to return and then to have her son right under her nose while she played the Aunt- that was terribly sad.

The cousin's revelation - yep, didn't see that coming. But didn't you wonder why he would just blurt it out? Surely he could have been a little more sensitive, It certainly rocked Julie's world view.

My favourite character in the whole book was Julie (oh....and Emily). Loved the cat too - who wouldn't??

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2367 comments The cat, yes, definitely the coolest character! I misspoke when I said Emily in message 5. I meant Julie.

Mark, I agree that Simon was a bit obsessive compulsive. Julie annoyed me because she was so wound up in the Emily story that she was unavailable until her bubble was burst. Then, after a shaky period, she seems to have woken up. Perhaps it was her sister who snapped her out of it?

I was surprised that the reveal came from the cousin as opposed to some document/letter that Julie would come across in one of the boxes.

Emily's fate was the saddest. While her husband died without fulfilling his promise to see her again, at least he was pursuing his dream. I wonder if Emily could have moved out of her brother-in-law's house and made a life of her own, with or without her son? I found it hardest to relate to Emily as a real person. She seemed to be the prop that provided the pivot for the Julie Simone story.

I'm looking at the cover of the paperback I read and wondering about the symbolism of the preserved butterfly and how it is displayed and of the butterflies in the book. Thoughts?

Bretnie | 661 comments I liked the reveal, but it also didn't seem THAT shocking. Certainly for that time, but the way it crushed Julie was more interesting than the reveal. She had invested so much emotionally and mentally into the romance and then somehow felt betrayed by Emily's actions.

I think my frustration was Julie didn't respond empathetically. Edward horny brother seems just as much, if not more, to blame than Emily. It wasn't like it was a sordid affair.

My beef with the Simon sections were it just felt too slow. But I thought his brief temptation into an affair was an interesting comparison against Julie's obsession with Emily and Edward's "romance."

Bretnie | 661 comments The other interesting thing that comes to mind is the pace between Edward's story and Julie's. Edward's is stretched out over more than a year, but Julie's is just one day. Maybe that's why Simon's sections felt slow - like they were having to describe minute details to fill up the day where Edward was more action.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2367 comments Interesting point Bretnie about the time involved in each story: we follow Edward for over a year but Julie and Simon for about 24 hours.

I thought both Julie and Simon's sections were slow. Julie would just disappear and then reappear with an explanation about where she'd gone. I felt like we followed Simon more closely.

And then there is Emily. Her story covers a really long time with practically no action. Her liaison with her brother-in-law seemed spontaneously to me and quite natural. What did not seem natural was the rest of her life.

message 11: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2749 comments Mod
My comment was deliberately vague, but I think Edward, Emily and Julia all had unrealistic and somewhat romantic aspirations, maybe Simon too.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2367 comments That is certainly true, Hugh -- unrealistic and somewhat romantic aspirations. And Simon is certainly among them - he fell for Julia's dreaminess believing he would be able to penetrate it. Julia, however, was wrapped up in her belief in the great romance of Edward and Emily.

message 13: by Pamela (last edited Oct 09, 2020 12:17AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pamela (bibliohound) | 34 comments Just finished, I really enjoyed this but mostly for the quality of the writing. It had a dreamy feel that worked well with the story - Sackville often comments on the characters’ dreams about ice and snow, and that came through well in contrast with the slow, hot summer’s day in the contemporary story.

I liked Julia and felt empathy for her - she seemed to have got stuck in grief (the loss of Aunt Helen and her baby) just like Emily. The romantic illusions about Edward were a shield for her, that she had to lose to move forward. Her cousin was a bit abrupt, but he genuinely thought she would already have known the family secret.

I didn’t care much for Simon, probably my prejudice against anyone who kills creatures for their own aesthetic pleasure. He was trying to capture and fix Julia like his butterflies, but he had to let that idea go just as she let the idea of Edward go. His nearly affair with Sandra was pretty feeble, but it was very convincing, I thought.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2367 comments Interesting points Pamela. I do think Sackville created a dreamy feel with her writing, especially with respect to Julia. Good to see Julia has a fan and I think your view of her is good one. I think Sackville did a good job with bring Julia and Simon to what, reflecting on the novel, was a crisis point and leaving us with hope for their future.

Sackville's interplay of ice and snow and summer heat was quite brilliant I thought. I felt both!

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 276 comments I have somewhat of a different take on things.

I see Julia as the romantic. She has been fed a huge dose of the fairy tale love between Emily and Edward. She confuses the fairy tale with reality and spins a vibrant fantasy about their love. She is caught up in a fantasy realm which is more real to her than her own life. Reality will always come up short by comparison. She goes through the motions of the day, but her heart and mind is embroiled in the fantasy of Emily and Edward. She wants to transform Simon into her fantasy image of Edward. Doesn’t she even suggest he grow a moustache or beard so he can look more like Edward? Even Miranda calls her a “hopeless romantic.”

For whom love has always been this perfect unrealized thing, free of the complications of real life, of annoying piles of laundry and dishes and kids yelling and crying . . .

I see Julia as a combination of Madame Bovary and Don Quixote. She is not nearly as annoying as Madame Bovary but is minus the charm of Don Quixote. Her cousin did her a huge favor when he punctured her fantasy and plonked her down on terra firma.

I don’t see Simon as being unrealistically romantic. I feel sorry for him. He is expected to live up to his wife’s romantic fantasy of a Prince Charming who will sweep her off her feet and carry her into the sunset to live happily ever after. No wonder he feels inadequate. No one can live up to a fantasy. He does want to try, though. He thinks of performing romantic gestures like carrying her over the threshold, buying flowers, etc. etc. but is never able to carry it off. He loves a woman who is not even present in their marriage. He wants a woman who will see him and love him for who he is, warts and all, and not some fantasy image she has conjured up.

I loved the final scene. All this time, Julia and Simon have been tiptoeing in their marriage. They even tiptoe around each other in the bathroom. But now that reality has intruded into her fantasy, she wakes up. And Simon does something for her he hasn’t done before. He plays the piano. It’s as if they connect for the first time. He plays some of the wrong notes, but she applauds him, anyway. She finally sees him. And she loves him—warts and all.

A wonderful conclusion to an amazing novel.

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 276 comments Just a quick note to say thank you for introducing me to this great new-to-me author. I'm so glad I joined this group read. This is the first novel I've read by Amy Sackville, but it certainly won't be the last! I love the way she writes. It reminds me of another author I constantly gush about--Rachel Cusk.

So, thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm still in gushing mode :)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2367 comments Tamara, so glad you have found a new author to love! She has only written two other books. I've read one - Painter to the King - and loved it.

I love your take on Julia and Simon. It is interesting how folks are seeing Julia and Simon a bit differently -- it is always fun to see how characters are differently perceived by different readers. It reminds me of how differently my husband and I give directions -- he never sees the landmarks I do and I never see those that get his attention!

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 276 comments Thanks, Linda. I've put Painter to the King on my TBR.
I'm so excited to find a new author to love.

Bretnie | 661 comments Tamara, I like your take on it. Julia's fairy tale romanticism blinds her from the reality of all marriages - Edward and Emily's but also her own, that people are flawed and no marriage is going to live up to the one she has imagined.

Also, dreamy writing is spot on!

Also, how about the tragedy of Edward finding land and SHELTER only to die there?!

message 20: by Mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mark Porton | 6 comments Yes Bretnie, Edward's situation was so sad. Particularly after finding land. The whole thing was very sad, especially with Emily waiting at home.

message 21: by Mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mark | 334 comments Linda, thanks for leading me to this novel. I never would have looked at it if it hadn't been part of a discussion. As it is, I would give it 4 stars. I was constantly reminded of the tone of Lopez's Arctic Dreams. I was charmed at the end to find that it was indeed one of her source books. More than the tales of arctic adventure, Lopez captures a shifting light that Sackville also infuses in her story.

message 22: by Tamara (last edited Oct 11, 2020 09:43AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 276 comments I second that, Linda. Thank you for introducing me to a great, new-to-me novelist.
I just posted my review of the novel in case any are interested.

message 23: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2749 comments Mod
I am glad you all enjoyed the book so much - as it was a book I rated very highly before my judgment was sharpened by peer pressure here, I was a little apprehensive that it might not be as good as I remembered. Orkney is worth reading too - a mixture of Orcadian myth (one of its protagonists is obsessed by selkies) and an odd couple modern love story, but it is still probably the weakest of the three if only because this book and Painter to the King are so good.

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 276 comments Hugh wrote: "I am glad you all enjoyed the book so much - as it was a book I rated very highly before my judgment was sharpened by peer pressure here, I was a little apprehensive that it might not be as good as..."

Thanks, Hugh. I've been introduced to so many great novelists through this list. I really appreciate the group reads and discussions even though I'm not always able to participate.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2367 comments Great review Tamara. All thanks should go to Hugh because but for his review, the book would not have been on my shelf when I was surveying unread books to nominate!

We spent a good bit of time on Julia and Simon and the discussion has heightened my interest in that portion of the book. I did, however, enjoy Edward's story more. I'd love to hear more from all of you about that part of the book. Sackville did such a wonderful job of pulling me into that bitterly cold world. I think she captured Edward's dream, even the why of its importance to him. He failed to fulfil either his dream or his promise to Emily to return but I never pitied him. But Emily I pitied.

Bretnie | 661 comments One thing I liked about Edward's story was it made me reflect on the explorers of that time and their desire to "be the first" at exploring at seemingly any cost. And how often that was their destruction. It was interesting watching the group make terrible decisions knowing how it was going to turn out for them.

And the guy that steals all the medicine!

I don't know much about real Arctic explorers, but I imagine the fictional story isn't far off from so many real ones.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2367 comments I've read more about Antarctica explorers than Arctic, but I suspect the challenges were the same. It occurred to me that those explorers were similar in a way to today's astronauts and cosmonauts -- ready to explore space at any cost and leave their families behind. Of course that might just be because I watched a couple of episodes of Away on Netflix.

message 28: by Mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mark | 334 comments If you were captivated by the arctic side of the novel, our author includes a useful bibliography at the end.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2367 comments That she does Mark. What I liked best about the Artic adventure was how the author was able to capture the atmosphere, i.e., the conditions the men were dealing with on the boat when it was frozen in, when traveling on the dog sleds, and when they are forced to stop and take shelter. She did a great job with the atmosphere of Julie and Simon's world, too, but the Artic cold would seem to be harder to do, as the author had certainly not experienced it. The journal entries she wrote attributed to Edward were brilliant.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2367 comments Thank you all for participating. We had some excellent discussion. Anyone still reading or who gets to it later should feel free to comment, as the thread remains live and someone will likely respond! Thanks again.

message 31: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2749 comments Mod
Thanks for choosing it Linda - I enjoyed the discussion.

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 276 comments Hugh wrote: "Thanks for choosing it Linda - I enjoyed the discussion."

I second that, Linda. Thanks for choosing it and for a great discussion. A special big thank you for introducing me to a new favorite author :)

message 33: by Mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mark | 334 comments Also thanks to Linda and Hugh for getting this title in the lineup. I would never have tried it without the suggestion. It got me rereading Lopez's Arctic Dreams, slightly dated (no notice of global warming in 1986), but evocative and poetic - especially chapter 6 on icebergs.

Catherine | 48 comments Thank you all for an excellent discussion, and for introducing me to this wonderful book! This book hits a sweet spot for me. I’m a real sucker for arctic/antarctic adventures, and loved that part of the book. The writing is beautiful – with a “dreamy feel” as Pamela said. Julia’s obsession with the romance, and how it interfered with her marriage really resonated for me, too. Her cousin’s news shattered her version of her family, and I was relieved to see that the author used that to bring Simon and Julia closer. Very satisfying.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2367 comments Glad you enjoyed the book, Catherine. Check out Painter to the King by Sackville. Same style perfected, I'd say.

Catherine | 48 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "Glad you enjoyed the book, Catherine. Check out Painter to the King by Sackville. Same style perfected, I'd say."

Thank you, I will!

message 37: by Hugh (last edited Dec 12, 2020 07:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2749 comments Mod
I have just been reading The Ice Museum: In Search Of The Lost Land Of Thule, a wide-ranging mixture of memoir, travel writing and history, and Joanna Kavenna talks quite a lot about Nansen - I think Nansen is the primary inspiration for Edward's expedition - Nansen also left an icebound ship in an attempt to walk to the North Pole, and found his way back in much the same way, but was luckier in that he was found before he perished.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2367 comments Hugh, Sounds like a great book for fans of freezing adventures tales.

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