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Reading Group: A Novel
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Reading Group: A Novel

3.6 26
by Elizabeth Noble

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The Reading Group follows the trials and tribulations of a group of women who meet regularly to read and discuss books.Over the course of a year, each of these women become intertwined, both in the books they read and within each other's lives.

Inspired by a shared desire for conversation, a good book and a glass of wine-Clare, Harriet, Nicole, Polly,


The Reading Group follows the trials and tribulations of a group of women who meet regularly to read and discuss books.Over the course of a year, each of these women become intertwined, both in the books they read and within each other's lives.

Inspired by a shared desire for conversation, a good book and a glass of wine-Clare, Harriet, Nicole, Polly, and Susan undergo startling revelations and transformations despite their differences in background, age and respective dilemmas.

What starts as a reading group gradually evolves into a forum where the women may express their views through the books they read and grow to become increasingly more open as the bonds of friendship cement.

In The Reading Group, Noble reveals the many complicated paths in life we all face as well as the power and importance of friendship.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Editorial Reviews

Carole Matthews
“A thoroughly accomplished debut novel which embraces a wide range of contemporary issues. Fresh and sharp. Funny and sad.”
—Choice (London)
“A lively, witty novel that touches on themes of friendship and redemptive power of art”.
--Choice (London)
“A lively, witty novel that touches on themes of friendship and redemptive power of art”.
Entertainment Weekly
“A hot, soapy bubble bath of a novel. Go ahead and sink in.”
Seattle Times
“Tremendous amounts of female bonding, some witty byplay and very well-considered characters.”
“Noble keeps engagement high as her characters connect and interconnect...this entertaining read is very accessible.”
Choice (London)
"A lively, witty novel that touches on themes of friendship and redemptive power of art".
St. Paul Pioneer Press
“[Elizabeth Noble is a] reading club goddess.”
Publishers Weekly
Perfect indulgence for the eponymous set-or pandering to an anticipated audience? Or maybe both? As the London Evening Standard put it, "The blurb has [the author] down as a simple Surrey housewife who knocked this out between the Hoovering and the hot sex, but further investigation reveals her to be a veteran of book marketing married to the head of Time Warner UK." Go figure! Well, either way, this U.K. bestseller is a frothy page-turner that dissects the relationships, desires and discoveries of five English women, all members of a book club. Over the course of a year, the women read 12 novels (including Atonement, Rebecca and The Alchemist) and, through their playful but intimate discussions (few of which revolve around the books), they bond closely while coping with such matters as a philandering husband, a mother with dementia, a pregnant but unmarried daughter, an infertility crisis, a wedding and a funeral. It's a testament to Noble's characterizations and plotting that the novel is not overwhelming, despite its numerous (perhaps too many) points of view, complicated backstories and interweaving contemporary crises. Light but never flip, this is funny, contemplative and touching reading, and the group's familiar book choices allow readers to feel as if they're part of the gang, too, as they race to the end, eager to find out what happens, why it does and what it all means. Agent, Stephanie Cabot. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
When five women get together to start a book group, they never envision how their lives will change, become intertwined, and be reflected in their books of choice. Their meetings draw them into a surprising sisterhood as they work through a year of caring for an aging parent, unexpectedly becoming a grandmother, marital infidelity, a marriage gone stale, and infertility. Each chapter opens with the group's reading pick and uses it to frame the chapter, mirroring the plot and character development along a particular theme. Fast paced and funny, this is women's fiction worth staying up past your bedtime for. Noble's portrayal of each character remains steady throughout, and readers will readily relate to these women. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Amy Brozio-Andrews, Albany P.L., NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
British chick-lit bestseller hits all the right marketing buttons. Uplifting, interconnected stories of women in a reading club overcoming crises? Check. Twelve months' worth of mini book reviews? Check. And first-novelist Noble packages it so neatly, outlining the books and characters for reference before her story even begins. Harriet and Nicole are stay-at-home moms in their 30s whose husbands work "in the City." Harriet doubts she still loves sweet, upright Tim; Nicole loves philandering Gavin too much. Polly and Susan are a decade older. Polly, a divorced paralegal with a teenaged son and a college-aged daughter, has just accepted a marriage proposal from dashing lawyer Jack. Susan runs a soft-goods business; she and perfect husband Roger, a doctor, are dealing with her beloved mother's suddenly failing health. The club's fifth and most expendable member is Claire, the deeply depressed daughter of Susan's employee. A midwife who can't have children, Claire has withdrawn from long-suffering husband Elliot. Each month's chapter begins with a club meeting at which lightweight intellectual discussion takes place (hot for Heartburn, cool to Atonement), then follows the women's evolving situations. Harriet pulls back from the brink of adultery and wakes up to her real love for Tim once he threatens to walk. Catching Gavin in the act, Nicole finally finds the gumption to throw him out. When Polly's daughter Cressida announces that she's pregnant and doesn't want to marry the father, Polly decides to keep the child for her so that Cressida can finish her education. Jack balks at first, but the baby's charms win him over. Their mother's death brings together Susan and her bitter, long-absentolder sister after they realize that Susan was actually adopted. Shocked to learn that Elliot is the father of Cressida's child, Claire finds her calling as a nurse in Romania. Bound to be a hit, but depressingly adept at perfecting the formula. Agent: Shana Kelly/William Morris

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.04(d)

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Read an Excerpt

7:15 P.M.

Clare watched as the young woman passed her in the corridor. First-timer, definitely: excitement and panic were etched on her pale face as she made her way slowly down the hall, dragging the IV on its wheels beside her, legs bent and shoulders hunched, shuffling in girlish slippers bought for this special day. Her glance at Clare said, "Help me. When will this be finished? When will he be here?" Probably came in half a centimeter dilated -- when she'd fiddled with her TENS machine at home for a while, then called her mother and repacked the holdall with all the impossibly small, impossibly white sleep suits, scratch mittens and hats like egg cozies.

The double doors behind the woman swung open, and a big, dark man went to her, put one hand in hers, the other round her shoulder. He handled her gingerly. He was paler than she was. A Type X, Clare thought. They were copers, the strong ones. Type Ys barely made it through the epidurals without crying. They were a few decades too late -- would have been happier pacing the corridor with a cigar behind each ear. Clare liked the Type Ys better.

Elliot was probably an X. Or maybe the hybrid: Y masquerading as X. They were okay unless things got scary. Who was she kidding? She had no idea which type he'd be. Not that it mattered. Not anymore. The girl moaned, leant forward. Clare answered his imploring look. She never felt detached. Still, each story that played out, each life that started within these walls pulled her in. Still.

"Okay, hold on, let's give you a hand. What's your name?"


"Okay, Lynne. We'll get you back to your room. You probably need a bit of a rest. Who's looking after you?"

A colleague appeared from behind the same double doors. "Sorry, Clare. Hang on, Lynne. We've got you. Got it from here, Clare. You're off, aren't you?"


"Have a good night, then."


Tonight, thank God, she had a reason not to be at home, not to see Elliot. She'd probably be out again before he got back from college, and he'd be asleep by the time she made herself climb into bed beside him.

And that girl, Lynne, would be holding her baby in her arms.

7:20 P.M.

As usual Harriet climbed the stairs with a teetering pile of single socks, discarded sweaters, stray toys -- the flotsam and jetsam of the day. Down was usually a mug or two, plastic cups found under beds, read newspapers and sticky plastic medicine spoons. Up, the aforementioned. Still, she supposed, with a fairly twisted smile, variety was the spice of life. Ha, ha. Domestic bliss reminded her of that silly film she'd seen once, Groundhog Day, where this guy was compelled to repeat the same day over and over again, never quite getting the girl because he couldn't change what happened. And slightly higher up the cultural scale, wasn't there that guy in mythology -- Sissy something . . . Sisyphus, was it? -- sentenced by the gods for some transgression to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a big hill only to watch it fall straight down again, and on, and on. At least pushing a big boulder up a hill would soon sort out these bat wings she was developing beneath her upper arms, Harriet thought. Sweeping the flipping kitchen floor four times, loading and unloading the washing machine three times and answering forty-two questions about why there aren't any more dinosaurs, and if there were, how big their poos would be, wasn't doing much for hers.

Upstairs, all was quiet for the first time since 6:00 a.m. Harriet followed the sound of Tim's voice to their bedroom. He was sitting on the sofa under the window, having been allowed by his kidnappers to remove his shoes and jacket, and loosen his tie. The children, damp and clean from their bath, were huddled, one under each arm, listening to their story. Tim was reading slowly, ascribing to each character his or her own voice, occasionally making animated gestures. Harriet felt a twinge of habitual guilt. She usually chose the shortest story and speedread it: her children might be forgiven for thinking that every character in literature had been raised in the middle-class South, for all the effort she made with her inflection. Still, it was easier, wasn't it? Coming in at the end of the day, when the snot and the pasta sauce and the tears had been wiped away, and the fight over the toothbrushing, and the frantic shoving of toys into too-small cupboards had all been done. Easy to reward the exuberant greeting with warmth and affection and a story reading fit for Radio 4. The kids had spent their energy through the long day, and Harriet had absorbed it. Now the fight had gone out of them: they were passive, gentle. And she was catatonic.

Harriet hovered at the doorway, not wanting to go in and disturb the perfect tableau, the circle of love. Somehow, she didn't fit into these moments. Instead, she deposited her bundle on the guest bed and went into the bathroom. Studiously ignoring the bubble scum around the bath, the toothpaste squeezed carelessly across the washbasin tap, she poked ineffectually at her mad hair in the mirror and flicked some powder across her nose and chin. She hastily drew a line of lipstick on her upper lip, then rolled her lips together in concentration. (Not for her the liner-brush-blot prescribed by glossies she only saw every three months in the hairdresser's.)

Tim appeared in the doorway, carrying a slumped, sleepy Chloe. "Say 'Night-night, Mummy.'" Thumb firmly plugged in, Chloe waved her plastic beaker of warm milk vaguely in Harriet's direction.

"Night-night, sleep tight, darling." Harriet smiled.

Behind Tim, Josh asked, "Are you going out, Mummy?"

"Yes, I am, sweetheart. Daddy's going to look after you. I'll be home again later, though."

From The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.

What People are Saying About This

Carole Matthews
“A thoroughly accomplished debut novel which embraces a wide range of contemporary issues. Fresh and sharp. Funny and sad.”

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Noble is the author of the internationally bestselling novels The Reading Group, The Friendship Test, and Alphabet Weekends. She lives with her husband and their two daughters in New York City.

Brief Biography

Wonersh, Guildford, Surrey, England
Date of Birth:
December 22, 1968
Place of Birth:
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England
B.A., St. Edmund Hall, Oxford University, 1990

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book. It's about women friends. I didn't want this one to end. I can't wait to read another one of her books. This book draws you in from the beginning. Harriet, Susan, Nicole and Polly will get to you!
DemyD More than 1 year ago
Lindsie More than 1 year ago
This is my first novel by Elizabeth Noble and I will admit that I enjoyed it. It surely makes readers want to be a part of or start a reading group! I will say though, that it was a bit like short stories combined into one novel. Im not sure which would be better because at first with all the characters it gets a bit confusing to remember everyones own story. However, it picks up after the first few chapters. Therefore, it is an enjoyable read and it fits in well with the stories the women read in the book. I would give it a B or Good If you like a bit of drama in novels, and you enjoy a few conflicts the pick up the readnig group. It won't dissappoint!
amyemily56 More than 1 year ago
This unique book kept my interest throughout the entire story. The clever way Ms. Noble incorporated each month's book choice into the book group conversation was brilliant! Her characters were well written and I was genuinely interested in what happened to them. I love the way their lives intertwined and how they could relate to the stories they read. I would highly recommend this book and any other book written by this author. She's a fun writer and I've already read almost every book she's written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I expected the book to be more like "The Jane Austen Book Club." The book club choices seemed to correspond with the issues the characters were facing, but I wasn't familiar with all of the books so some of the intended layers of meaning were undoubtedly lost on me. The characters are well-written and I totally identified with one of them, which kept me engaged in the book to the end. There was just enough overlap in the character's lives to hold the book together as a cohesive unit. Having the list of characters at the beginning is a good indicator that keeping track of everyone was going to be a challenge. Many times in the book I had to figure out how one person was connected to another. Overall, a good rainy day read... which is exactly what I bought it for!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sure, it wasn't the light-hearted book I was expecting, but it is a truly amazing book. It is depressing and uplifting, and contrary to popular belief, can reach far beyond its target audience. Chances are you've experience some of the same feelings as the characters, and if you haven't, you can still relate to them. Noble does an amazing job of capturing every aspect of relationships and love.
solvigbirch More than 1 year ago
I was thoroughly taken by this book.  I enjoyed the story, the five women central to the book club, the relationships that developed, with such ease, were easy to imagine and surprises popped up along the way.  The Reading Group was written with humor, drew characters that were believable, and the books chosen by the group offered a few titles that I plan to share with my own book club.  The British terms, that naturally came up, kept my interest going.  Very satisfactory read.  If a sequel were to surface, I'd read that, too.  I liked Harriet, Susan, Nicole, Clare and Polly and wouldn't mind reading about them again. 
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I agree, it's not a great book to lift your spirits. Pretty depressing, actually.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wow...what a disappointment. The book sounded light-hearted, encouraging, and like a fun read. It was totally depressing and portrays intimate relationships in such a poor light...I want my money back. What a complete joke of a book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a great book. I think any woman of any age could become interested. With having such a variety of characters who are different ages, come from different backgrounds, etc., anyone can relate. This is a book I couldn't put down. With many turns and twists, this book keeps you interested from beginning to end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. It is a up-lifting heart warming kind of story! You really get the feeling like you know Harriet, Polly, Nicole, Susan and all the other characters. Contrary to what some others have said, it is not all about abortions and bad marriages. These women go through things that everday woman deal with. I would recommend this to any woman of any age!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a great start to a newly formed book club of my own. The characters were written with clarity and delivered in a way that describes them as women who you would like to be friends with. I also thought however that the author tried to attack too many 'big life changing events' into each character's lives and it became predictable at times. Yet, I found myself laughing, crying, and giving a 'you go girl' to the characters which brings my rating of this novel up. It's a good start, and I hope it only gets better for my group.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Contrary to other opinions, this book has nothing to do with 'loveless marriages, abortions and teen pregnancy.' It is about the strength of women as friends, mothers and individuals. The lives of women involved are far from picture perfect which let's you appreciate their experiences and how they resolve their problems and celebrate their joys. The ending left me with a positive feeling about friendship, love and my strengths to face the ups and downs of life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book and thoroughly enjoyed each character and the story of their lives thus far. It kept my intrest all the way through. It is refreshing to read a book that the author truely seems to enjoy writing. i am so tired of all the flat chic books I have read about rich,boring snobby women...(stay away from Trading up, Wolves in Chic Clothing,and 4 Blondes.) I think there is something to be learned for everyone by reading this book. It was heartwarming. i recommend this to all my girls..
Guest More than 1 year ago
Really good read. A little slow at the start but once you stick with it you won't be able to put it down. Demonstrates the strength of women in several different areas of the family and society.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was going to be a light book about a group of women. IT is realy about loveless marriages, abortion, and a pregnant teen. Not the best book to bring your spirits up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She packs her stuff in a bag, clutching her picture of Silas and Salem and her. She left.