Reading Groups’ Guide
Book group questions for ‘The House at Tyneford’/ ‘The Novel in the Viola’
Elise points out how different Kit is from other boys she knows. What is your first impression of Kit? Are you drawn to him? How would you describe his relationship with his father, Mr. Rivers?
A confrontation with Diana inspires Elise to shock the partygoers during Kit’s birthday. What was your reaction to this moment? How did it affect Kit and Elise’s relationship? How did it change the way Mr. Rivers and the staff at Tyneford saw Elise?
What sacrifices does Mr. Rivers make to help Elise and her family? What did this tell you about Mr. Rivers? How would you describe his feelings toward Elise as the novel progresses?
Kit and Elise’s romance stirs up a great deal of emotion in and around Tyneford. What is your opinion of how Mr. Rivers receives the news of Kit’s love for Elise? What social and class challenges do you feel Kit and Elise faced?
What was your opinion of Kit’s decision regarding his involvement in the war? What do you feel motivated him in this decision? How did his relationships with Elise and his father affect his decision?
What happens to Kit? How does this affect Elise and Mr. Rivers? How does it affect the relationship between them?
The danger of war comes home when Elise spots a German fighter flying near Tyneford. What is significant about this event? What do you gather about Elise’s character from her reaction to this moment?
What does Elise discover about the novel Julian hid in the viola? What did you make of this turn of events? What impact does it have on Elise? What piece of work does the novel inspire and what significance does it have for Elise in the end?
What is your opinion of where Mr. Rivers and Elise’s relationship ends up? As you see it, what events led to Tyneford’s fate? What significance did Tyneford have to Elise, Kit, and Mr. Rivers? Can a place like Tyneford exist in today’s world?
Why do you think the novel in the viola blank?
The novel contains a concerto, and the viola contains a novel. What is the significance of music in the novel?
Book group questions for ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’/ ‘Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English’
‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ explores the real split between the need to adopt the host country’s customs while not losing one’s own heritage, and an ambivalence about wanting children to blend in but turning them into strangers in the process. Do you think these tensions can ever be reconciled?
Names are significant indicators of heritage in the novel, and signify who belongs and who doesn’t. Do you think it is important to preserve what Jack calls the ‘chain’ of names?
Could a Helpful Information booklet such as the one Jack uses, ever be of any use? What items would you put on a modern list?
The novel mingles folklore and Jewish tradition. What do you think the woolly-pig symbolises?
Sadie bakes obsessively to remember her family. Does this help her overcome her grief, or does it paralyse her further?
Jack’s obsession leads him to neglect his wife and their relationship is often strained and distant. Yet, when he nearly loses her, he regrets his behaviour and tries to make amends. Does Sadie forgive him? Can you?
What makes Jack ‘a true Englishman’?
There is an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the book, exemplified in the character of Sir William Waegbert. Why does Sir William despise Jack so much? Is it just because Jack is a Jew, or is it also that he is upwardly socially mobile and a threat to Sir William’s ‘old England’?
The landscape of Dorset becomes a conduit for Jack and Sadie. After years of growing apart, they connect once again through a mutual love of the countryside. It reminds Sadie of her idyllic childhood in Bavaria and she is able to recall happy memories of her family, but why do you think that Jack falls in love with the landscape? Why do the countryside rhythms comfort them both?