From my shed window I can see my wife unpacking a load of shopping. I cross the wet garden and pull the back door open.
â€œWow,â€ I say, looking at all the stuff.
â€œItâ€™s not for you,â€ she says. â€œItâ€™s book club tonight.â€
â€œHere?â€ I say. â€œItâ€™s not even the right day.â€
â€œThis is a different book club,â€ she says. â€œMy other book club.â€
â€œWhoâ€™s in it?â€ I say. She names four women.
â€œBut theyâ€™ll be here all night!â€ I say. â€œWhat am I supposed to do?â€
â€œThatâ€™s not my problem,â€ she says.
â€œI just donâ€™t understand why a person would need two book clubs,â€ I say.
â€œThis one is for people whoâ€™ve never been in a book club before,â€ she says.
â€œIâ€™ve never been in a book club before,â€ I say. â€œWhatâ€™s the book?â€ She tells me.
â€œIâ€™ve actually read that,â€ I say. My wife gives me a hard stare.
â€œObviously youâ€™re welcome to join us,â€ she says, through gritted teeth. â€œAnd youâ€™re also very welcome to stay away.â€
At 7pm, when the doorbell rings for the first time, I am watching parliament vote on something I have been promised will be Meaningful. So far it does not mean much to me. My wife and the first book club member, Caroline, walk into the sitting room and stand in front of the TV.
â€œHave they voted yet?â€ Caroline says.
â€œTheyâ€™re about to,â€ I say.
â€œWeâ€™re in the kitchen,â€ my wife says.
â€œSo excited about book club!â€ says Caroline, pointing in my direction. â€œIs he coming?â€
â€œNo,â€ my wife says. â€œHeâ€™s not allowed.â€ The doorbell rings.
â€œAwww,â€ Caroline says. â€œPoor Timmy!â€
â€œI have actually read the book,â€ I say. The second new member, Emma, walks in.
â€œHave they voted yet?â€ she says.
â€œAny minute,â€ I say.
â€œWait,â€ Emma says. â€œIs he in the book club?â€
â€œNo,â€ my wife says. â€œHe isnâ€™t.â€
My wife leads Emma and Caroline away. The next arriving member is ushered past the sitting room, straight into the kitchen. I watch the vote, which is followed by a series of talking heads speculating about what will happen next. By 7.20pm my wine glass is empty. Another vote looms, but Iâ€™ve lost interest in politics. I want more wine. The sound of bright laughter reaches me through two closed doors. The bell rings. There is more laughter. At 7.25pm I stand up.
I twist the knob as gently as I can, but the kitchen door is wedged snugly in its frame. When I give it a shove with my shoulder it opens with a sharp little bark. Everyone at the table turns to look at me. I find myself responsible for a brief, perplexed silence.
â€œSorry Iâ€™m late,â€ I say. I sit down in front of the cheese, and refill my glass.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€ my wife says.
â€œLet him stay!â€ says Caroline.
â€œHow do we start?â€ Sasha says. â€œDo we go around and say what we thought?â€
â€œThe first rule of book club is we never talk about the book,â€ I say.
â€œHe has no idea,â€ my wife says.
â€œI think the main order of business is to elect a club captain,â€ I say. â€œIâ€™d like to put my name forward, just to get the ball rolling.â€
â€œIf youâ€™re going to stay,â€ my wife says, â€œyou canâ€™t speak.â€
I drink my wine. The discussion turns to the bookâ€™s treatment of larger cultural forces of the period, and whether they are rendered in sufficient depth.
â€œOoh,â€ I say, raising my hand.
â€œChrist,â€ my wife says. I lower my hand and talk about the enforced isolation of the main character, whatâ€™s his name.
â€œSo the lack of historical depth is maybe part of the point,â€ I say.
â€œInteresting,â€ Fran says.
â€œNo, it isnâ€™t,â€ my wife says.
I wake up the next morning with a terrible headache. My wife is sitting up in bed, thumbing her phone.
â€œI love book club,â€ I say, my voice creased and crackling. â€œWho knew?â€
â€œFrom now on, youâ€™re officially barred,â€ my wife says.
â€œThatâ€™s not going to be very popular,â€ I say. â€œUnlike me, in book club.â€ My phone pings on the bedside table: the unmistakable sound of Sasha adding me to their WhatsApp group.