As part of our 2014 Book a Month program, each month we’re offering discussion questions about the featured work—for book clubs as well as thoughtful individuals. You may use the questions to reflect back on each book once you’ve finished it or to guide you as you read. Either way, we hope these features will enrich your reading experience. (We’ll do our best to avoid plot spoilers, but you should proceed with caution!)
As the temperatures start to rise around the country, we thought The Summer House would be an appropriate choice for our July Book a Month selection. An elegant and darkly comic British novel, The Summer House drew in reviewer AG from the beginning. Part of the novel’s appeal is its unusual format: It takes the form of a trilogy of novellas, each one presenting a distinct point of view on the build up to what seems to be a doomed wedding. As different elements of the plot and myriad (often ugly) facets of the characters are seductively revealed, the narrative builds to a scandalous climax. Memorable and thought provoking, while at the same time fiendishly hilarious, TheSummer House has become AG’s go-to recommendation for a literary “beach read”!
1. What keeps any one of the three main characters in The Summer House from calling the wedding off, even when they know the prospective marriage would be a disaster? Is it something about the English trait referred to as having “a stiff upper lip”? Is it some sense of spoken decorum that holds them back, even though Lili will ultimately break all rules of decorum?
2. There are scenes that appear in more than one of the stories—dinner parties, Lili and Margaret’s visit with Syl’s mother, the evening at the gallery exhibition, etc.—but viewed from a different narrator’s point of view. What effect did this change in perspective have on your feelings for the characters and events?
3. In the third novella, The Fly in the Ointment, Lili refers to herself as “Lilith” (page 307), letting the reader know she wants to be the equal of her husband, and all men. Does her “solution” to the “problem” of how to call off the wedding between Margaret and Syl express her sense of equality?
4. Many romantic Hollywood comedies end in happy marriage. It’s clear from the beginning that The Summer House won’t be a conventional “romcom,” but do you think that the novel manages still manages to be funny, despite the somewhat bleak happenings?