Book Club questions

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If you have any book or author you would like a list of book club questions for, please let us know! So far we have questions for: The Life & Travels of Saint Cuthwin, The Fabrications and The Egret. Have fun reading and mingling!

Hill’s discussion questions for The Egret by Russell Hill

Here are some suggested questions that a book group might examine after reading The Egret. Of course, there are other questions that might arise, but these questions are presented as a starting point.

  1. The author has crafted a protagonist who has few redeeming features. Why do you suppose he presented the reader with a protagonist that is so unlikeable?
  2. What’s the first clue that Winslow, the rich man, will survive his forced entry into the ocean?
  3. A what point does the Sheriff’s detective begin to suspect that the protagonist is involved in the violent events (the swim that Winslow survives, the death of the young man in West Marin).
  4. Why do you suppose the author left the protagonist unnamed?
  5. At what point is the protagonist suddenly able, once again, to work as a carpenter? He claimed that he had turned to building birdhouses because he “couldn’t hammer a nail straight,” and then he returns to work where he apparently does a good job. What signaled that change for him?
  6. At what point does the protagonist reflect on what he has done that convinces the reader that he is so obsessed with the idea of revenge that nothing will deter him?
  7. Why the inclusion of the scenes with the old Basque sheepherder?
  8. Are you satisfied with the way this story ends?Why or why not?

The Fabrications by Baret Magarian – Magarian’s Questions:

  1. In Chapter 1 the cinema projection room is dark and dingy, whereas Lilliana’s shop is filled with colour and animation – what other contrasts are there in the first chapter in terms of setting, meaning and atmosphere?
  2. In the third chapter Oscar and Bloch go swimming – Bloch’s perception of Oscar is at first alien as he cannot see him while he is submerged in the water – does Bloch know Oscar at all in fact? In what sense can Oscar be said to be Bloch’s friend? Or is Oscar really Bloch’s shadow and reflection?
  3. In the first part of the novel Najette emerges as a person of moral integrity. But can she also be said to be selfish and egotistical?
  4. In Chapter 8 Oscar encounters Ryan Rees for the first time. How is this meeting orchestrated? What is the atmosphere of the library in which they meet like?
  5. Bloch’s story starts to come true – what details from the story manifest in reality (throughout the whole book)?
  6. Is Webster really no more than an idiot ?
  7. Oscar’s visit to the brothel seems to be a descent into an unsuspected underworld – after Oscar emerges from it, is he any different? (Remember that the events he described in chapter 9 took place earlier in the book, between chapters seven and eight. He visits Bloch at the beginning of chapter 9, after having been to the brothel.)
  8. What is your impression of Bloch’s father, Samuel?
  9. The Sopso family dinner rendezvous in Chapter 12 is an amalgamation of different elements – farce, tragedy, trashy sub-plot. Does this amalgamation work?
  10. What symbolic function does the renovation of Mr Grindel’s apartment building have?
  11. The Duchamp Prize Banquet is incredibly farcical and absurd but does it have a more serious side ?
  12. Is the party in chapter 17 the kind that you would like to be invited to?
  13. In what sense can Oscar in Part Three be said to be sympathetic? Is his transformation the making or the breaking of him?
  14. What do you think of Ryan Rees? Is he completely horrible or does he have any redeeming sides?
  15. What do you think of the way Alastair Layor and Lilliana meet ?
  16. Is Vernon Lexicon a manifestation of one possible alternative destiny for Oscar?
  17. Do you find Bloch’s breakdown to be understandable in any way?
  18. The orgy sequence is followed by a riot – is there an implication in the book that sex and violence are linked?
  19. When Najette and Oscar make love what is the nature of that love?
  20. How is Egham evoked in the book?
  21. How is Oscar and Bloch’s reunion staged?
  22. How would you interpret the story that Béla tells Oscar in the final chapter? What is its relevance to the rest of the book?
  23. How would you interpret the ending of the novel?

The Life & Travels of Saint Cuthwin by Irving Warner – Warner’s Book Club Questions:

  1. The Life & Travels of Saint Cuthwin took place in an 11th century England that was dominated by Western Catholicism. There were various good and bad parts of that institution that drove the story. What parts of it might be thought of as ‘good’, from the 11th century viewpoint of an ordinary working person.  
  2. Cuthwin’s prime motivation for dictating his life to the monks of Cornwall (modern region’s name), was to show contemporary and later people how he was not a saint. The standout example was his inability to forgive. This alone is heretical, but are there others as well?
  3. Cwenburh, Cuthwin’s wife, went about “things” in a less clever way than Cuthwin. Is that true, actually?  One dark spot is she wouldn’t/couldn’t perceive the threat of noble and/or powerful people as Cuthwin did. Her open defiance of his word, though demonstrating strength of character, led to disaster. 
  4. If there is an 11th century hell, will the character “Frog” inhabit it after death?
  5. Abbot Elsin of Peterborough often played a direct role in the making of Cuthwin what he became. But if you had to choose a scene in the novel where “Father Abbot” had the most influence on Cuthwin, what would it be? 
  6. As readers we see Cuthwin make an extraordinary transition from his youth in Peterborough Monastery, to the closing years of his life. First off, we have a transition from the work in the stable, to that of a commercial scribe, to the grueling (comparatively) unskilled labor building stone fences. How did these transitions enhance the fundamental moral compass Cuthwin had? 
  7. In almost every place in the novel, the reader ‘sees’ Cuthwin’s presence of mind. There is a single occasion, though, when Cuthwin ‘loses’ it and flies into a froth of anger: When the tragedy of Cwenburh and Cuthwin’s stillborn child is used by a churchman in an attempt to bilk the clasp from Cuthwin. There is a profound irony at this moment which lends itself to this grim human scenario.  
  8. In the fictitious ‘introduction’ by the equally fictitious “R. Aubrey Richards”, the reader is forewarned about “earthier words and expressions”. Furthermore, that the story of Cuthwin might be felt “negative” by the [Catholic] church of the early 19th century. What was Warner’s purpose in writing this fictional introduction? 
  9. When the reader encounters Marvis of Tilton, they have a rude and practical demonstration of Saxon women different standing in society than they had under Norman rule. Discuss a woman’s role in Saxon society as seen in this novel and in historical fact.  How did this role add to the tragedy of a Norman victory over the Saxon army at Hastings in 1066? 
  10. A thoroughly cantankerous mule came into Cuthwin’s life after the Norman slaughter all Cuthwin’s loved ones and friends in that fatal copse. Was this mule a spiritual continuation of Cwenburh’s vigorous, uncompromising essence?
  11. There were many places in the novel where Cuthwin and Cwenburh actions flew in the face of eleventh century (and modern!) Christianity’s basic tenets. In fact, their relationship and child are begotten prior to marriage; her youthful pregnancy didn’t seem to bother Cwenburh one bit. Isn’t this a form of “shopping cart” religion, i.e. that you select here and there bits and pieces of a religion that meet your approval, then ignore others that do not?  Does this not limit the serious spiritual standing of Cwenburh and Cuthwin? (Reminder! Cuthwin even ‘forgives’ Cwenburh’s adultery—a most grievous sin both ways.)