Dear Match Book,
I am a member of an English-speaking book club based in Barcelona. For more than 15 years, we have been meeting over good food and wine to talk about an eclectic selection of books — fiction and nonfiction, classics and best sellers, some prizewinners and some not — all randomly chosen with no real criteria.
Some titles that have inspired lots of discussion and were generally enjoyed by all include “Infidel,” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “Life After Life,” by Kate Atkinson, “The Crimson Petal and the White,” by Michel Faber, “Americanah,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “My Brilliant Friend,” by Elena Ferrante, and “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini. Others, though, have sparked more mixed, though still lively, reactions, such as “Cloudstreet,” by Tim Winton, “Freedom,” by Jonathan Franzen, “The Gathering,” by Anne Enright, and “The Lacuna,” by Barbara Kingsolver.
We were intrigued by the Match Book column “Works of Fiction That Are Best Read Together,” and have decided to take its advice, but with two novels instead of short stories. For our next book club we have chosen “The House of Mirth,” by Edith Wharton, and we are now looking for a more contemporary novel that would be a good accompaniment.
I don’t share Henry James’s famously undermining opinion, which he slipped into a letter to Wharton, that her 1905 novel is “better written than composed.” In the same missive, however, James also complimented his friend on her portrayal of the book’s heroine, the charming social climber Lily Bart, as “very big and true.” You can follow any number of thematic paths out from “The House of Mirth” — money, freedom, confinement, marriage, beauty, among others — to arrive at a compelling companion novel for your book group, but while looking for books to pair with the Wharton I also made sure to seek out protagonists who match James’s favorable assessment of Lily Bart.