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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions


1. Throughout her life, Constance is troubled by her confused sense of identity. To what extent does our knowledge of ourselves depend on our knowledge of our own antecedents—of where we came from?

2. Much of Constance is concerned with identity. Via the Roxana subplot and the identity theft that takes place in the book, the author tries to show that identity is embedded within us and is not related to status or possessions. Do you think this is successful?

3. Roxana longs to be “an English girl,” dressing herself in Constance’s clothes and pretending to own her London apartment. Is attempting to inhabit a new identity always an unrealistic aim? Or can we transform ourselves if we want it badly enough and try hard enough?

4. Constance reflects that love and hate are so close as to be almost the same thing, and links herself and Jeanette in this light. Do you think this is true of some family relationships, particularly between adolescent siblings like these two?

5. Do think that if they had been mothered more sympathetically, or if Tony had not died prematurely, the sisters’ relationship might have been better? Or, given the secrecy surrounding her birth and Constance’s probably mixed parentage, was the Thorne family likely to have been troubled from the outset—even if Hilda had been the most enlightened of mothers?

6. Constance does a very bad thing in having an affair with her sister’s husband. Can we forgive her in the end, given that Jeanette herself manages to do so?

7. What about Bill? Do you think he did the wrong thing in marrying Jeanette, even though he knew that she was not the sister he truly loved? Or was it the honorable thing to do? Do you think Jeanette’s deafness should have influenced his decision?

8. Do Bill and Constance deserve to be happy after Jeanette’s death?

9. Another of the book’s themes is the contrast between outward appearance and internal character. Jeanette looks sweet and angelic, but is highly driven and determined. Constance looks dark and coldly independent, but she longs for the love of one man and the security of the family that has been denied her. Can appearances often deceive?

10. There is a lot of sound in the book—the noisy frogs, the storm, Constance’s music, and above all the Balinese gamelan. Do you think that this underscores the way Jeanette’s deafness isolates her? And do we therefore sympathize with Constance because her deeper, crueller isolation is not physical?

11. The author’s favourite scene is the one where Constance and Roxana go to the sea together and Roxana dashes into the waves. Do you agree?

by Rosie Thomas

  • Publication Date: April 29, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook TP
  • ISBN-10: 1468308785
  • ISBN-13: 9781468308785