Some questions for your book club…
1. Jessie struggles to maintain her sense of self. Do you think many women struggle with this? Why? How does building a community help?
Mandy says: Errr yes. Pretty much every woman I know over the age of forty-five is juggling a gazillion roles at once – mother, partner, employee/business owner, social secretary, entertainment director, chief cleaner and cook, carer, decision-maker and they are exhausted. For some reason, women have tried to squeeze working into their other responsibilities of reproducing and caring for the species at the beginning and end of life and we are killing ourselves in the process. What do you think?
2. How does the novel deal with the idea of grief and loss? Who or what does Jessie grieve for? What is the relationship between baking and her mother? What words of wisdom and actions help Jessie deal with loss? What role does her mother play in the novel? Jessie has come to her own view about how she wants to relate to her mother in death – what do you think?
Mandy says: Both my parents have passed away. My Dad died when I was six and my Mum passed away a few years ago. I know it’s crazy but I hate the idea they have completely disappeared from the earth, so I like to think they are with me. Dad sits up on a cloud, looking down at me. And Mum – well she is just everywhere – encouraging me, constantly telling me to get my shit together. I can accept the finality of death, I just wish I could call Mum once a year and we could have a chat. Can anyone relate? Mum was a wonderful cook – all the women in my family are – my children mourn the loss of her roast potatoes in our lives. What are the things you miss about someone special in your life?
3. The writer CS Lewis said, ‘The happiness now is part of the sadness later.’ Does Jessie believe this? Why or why not?
Mandy says: My Dad died one Friday night in 1974, I was six years of age. The shock of that death and events that followed certainly made me very cautious about the world and reluctant to experience happiness and attachment because I knew the pain when it is wrenched away. Like Jessie, I had to learn that life is messy and ambiguous and loving is worth the pain later. I’ve found many people think I am a little crazy for thinking this, but inevitably they haven’t had a disruptive event or period in their childhood which has challenged their sense of stability. What do you think?
4. Why do you think Jessie is the way she is? How hard is it to change at fifty years of age?
5. When should people stay in a relationship? What kind of considerations should parents make for their children? What is the balance between the needs of parents and children? What choices do you think many women make in their relationships?
6. What do you think the future holds for Jessie and Matthew? What is the nature of their relationship? Is it romantic and/or sustainable love?
7. How important is creativity in life? On what basis did Jessie make decisions for her life? Do you think they were good reasons? What role does creativity play in your life?
8. How important is friendship to Jessie? How does her friendship with Marion change Jessie’s life? What does Peter bring to her life? How important has friendship been in your life? How has it changed your life? Is it hard making new friends in middle age?
9. Why is Jessie so angry at the beginning of the novel? Do you think many women in their late forties and fifties feel the same way? Why?
Mary Shelley wrote, “I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” How does this quote relate to Jessie? Do you relate to it? Why or why not?
10. What do you think of this quote from John Donne, ‘My God, my God, thou art a figurative, a metaphorical God?’ What are the things you consider when making an important decision? Do you have any special phrases or quotes which have helped you make a major decision?
11. What role do the older characters play in the novel? How do they help Jessie? Is there a special person or source from whom you draw wisdom? Do you do the ‘permission dance?’