Discussion Points

Discussion Points

Feb 11

You can think about these questions in relation to each book, and they will also form the basis of the discussion on the night. You might wish to share your views in the comments section (below).

  1. How did you explain what Ben is, or what, if anything, is ‘wrong’ with him?
  2. Did this novel remind you of anything else you have read and if so why?
  3. Although it starts off as quite a realistic novel, it seems to make more use of ideas from horror, gothic, and fairy-tale as it goes on. What did you make of that?
  4. David and Harriet seem to stand for traditional family values at the beginning. Do you think the novel supports or challenges such values?
  5. Why do you think Harriet rescues Ben from the institution, even though this will damage the rest of the family?
  6. Are there any episodes of the novel that particularly stand out for you and if so, why?
  7. The novel was published in 1988. Is there any way that you think it might connect with things that were happening in the UK in the 1980s?


  1. Mark

    I’m not sure that David and Harriet stand for ‘traditional family values’ but I did think Doris Lessing was sharp on tracking the marriage journey from heat, hope and expectation to not quite being able to say just when, where, how or why it didn’t quite work out as expected….
    I recognized (just a few examples):
    the increasingly unsustainable cycles of family visits based on Summer, Christmas, Easter
    the unspoken judgments of the mother/s in law
    the incompatibility of the sets of inlaws
    the sibling insecurities extending into adult life
    the inexplicable and radically different natures of brothers and sisters

    • bookclub

      Interesting points, Mark. Thanks for contributing.

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