Richard and Judy Book Club

December – Elizabeth Winthrop

December is set in New England, and follows the Carter family through the wintery month, as they try to find ways to encourage their eleven-year-old daughter to speak. A long line of psychiatrists have given up on Isabelle, declaring that there is nothing medically wrong with her, and therefore nothing that can be done. Isabelle has now been locked in a world of self-imposed silence for several months, and her parents are struggling to cope with their daughter’s problem.

It is a well observed look at a typical American family, but ultimately nothing happens. It is a very gentle novel, with light touches of humour. If you like books by Anne Tyler, then you’ll probably love this, but I like a bit more action in my novels.

10 replies on “December – Elizabeth Winthrop”

I guess it could have been great, if there was a secret reason behind Isabelle’s silence that we had to work out, or some other event that occurs.

I haven’t read (m)any books in which so little actually happens.

Perhaps I’m actually being a bit mean by comparing Anne Tyler to this, as I think Anne Tyler has a bit more depth to her novels.

I’d love someone else to read this though, to compare notes.

Caught up in the confusion of a child that can’t/won’t speak, I am about two thirds through and struggling to go on. Isabelle has found herself in a habit of silence that she can’t break, I sympathise with her, but at the same time see no real reason for the situation or for the lack of harmony between her parents. The professional help she has received has been useless and her school is no better.
Irritating book where the reader feels unenlightened and as though they are going round in circles. I am hoping for a great revelation but judging by the 1st half the book will stumble to its end with no real meaning.

Jo – I think that was what I found most annoying. There is no reason for her silence. I was hoping for some secret reason to come out at the end, but it doesn’t. She just decides to stop talking.
If you’re not enjoying the beginning, then I’m afarid to say that there isn’t much to go on for, as it continues in the same way, and has a fairly flat ending.

I’ve just finishedDecember this morning. I understand the frustrations of fellow readers as there are so many unanswered questions. Interesting that folk are looking for a ‘big’ reason’ for Isabelle’s silence. I think the author’s skill is in making the ordinary extraordinary-she kept me guessing. There is a real tension in the partents’ relationship- remember the row that prompted Isabelle to slam the knife down, the repeated ‘shut the door’ in the country house, their separateness-even in the dog’s illness, their response to the dying apple tree. Actually Wilson, the Dad, demonstrates the same intricacies of thinking that Isabelle does. I wondered if there is an autistic element to both their behaviours. Then you have Ruth’s brother- interesting behaviours again. I think the point, though frustrating, was precisely that there was no hugereason for Isabelle’s silence- she slipped into it and it held her there as she realised that she could control her parents, her world through it.

Yvonne, Thank you so much for all you comments. I agree with many of your points, but felt that the book was not emotionally charged enough to be able to cope without a real reason for Isabelle’s silence. Very few writers can manage to make a non-plot driven book that engages me (The Gathering is the only one I can think of) This book was just too ordinary for me. I didn’t engage with any of the characters, they just came across as a bit stupid, and stubborn. I’m pleased you liked it though – it just wasn’t for me!

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