The Shadow of a Smile, Kachi A Ozumba

What a welcome change from last month!  On the very day that Kachi Ozumba’s book The Shadow of a Smile was longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize, our group judged it highly – for some it was even one of their favourite books of the group so far.

Many aspects of the book were praised – in particular, the strength of the descriptions brought back memories for one member who’d lived in Nigeria, and for the rest of us vividly introduced us to the country and its people.  There was felt to be a good balance between a gripping story told in a clear and interesting way, and the beauty of the writing itself.  We talked about Zuba, how his essential “goodness” and naivety was challenged through the course of the book and whether that almost made it a coming of age story.  We also discussed Ike and how as a character going through the same situation as Zuba, he seemed to end up losing far more than Zuba even though the situation was even less of his making.  Many readers were left with strong feelings of impotent frustration at the situation Zuba and Ike faced, and also recognised that although all was resolved at the end of the book for Zuba and Ike, the menace remained in that the justice system remained corrupt and therefore further injustices were possible if not inevitable.

Some small niggles – it was felt that there were perhaps too many characters, particularly in the jails, making it hard to continually identify and relate to each one, and also that the ending felt rather abrupt.

We finished the meeting with a talk and Q&A session with Liv from New Writing North about the processes a book goes through once the manuscript is finished but before it is published – many thanks to Liv for coming, and for a very interesting talk!

Two reminders for next month – firstly, we will be choosing a “classic” to read for our July meeting.  If you have a favourite (published before 1900) please bring it along to the May meeting – everyone will have a couple of minutes to “sell” it and we’ll then vote on which one to read for the July meeting.  Hopefully, like the last time we did this, although we can only choose one to read for the group, we do get to find out about lots of other books in the process which is always good – not that my to-read shelf really needs adding to!

Secondly, we agreed to change the date of the May meeting, moving it on a week to Wednesday 19th May.  By doing this, those who would like to (and hurry up and get tickets) will be able to go to a talk being given by Chris Cleave, the author of Feb’s book The Other Hand.  He will be at Newcastle City Library on Weds 12th May, from 6-7.45pm, and will be talking about The Other Hand and his first book Incendiary.  The event is free but ticketed – tickets are available from any Newcastle library, by calling 0191 277 4100 or by emailing

I hope to see you there, or else on 19th May back at the Trojan Rooms in Whitley Bay, to discuss Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn.



Meetings take place on the second Wednesday of the month from 7.30pm until 9pm with reader in residence Cathy McCracken.

We meet in the Windsor Hotel on South Parade, Whitley Bay. Come into Reception and go through the double doors in front of you, then turn left and follow signs to the Conference Room.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

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