Thank you for choosing Family Secrets for your book club. I hope you enjoy reading it and you have an interesting discussion
Here are some discussion points you may like to use.
You can also download an easy to print version of the notes here – Family Secrets Book Club Notes
After Connie arrives in England she realises “There have been so many times in the long marriage to Gerald when she has longed to be free, and never more so than during the last ten years. But what will she do with this freedom?…how is she supposed to live this freedom, overhung with grief and guilt?”
What makes feeling free after caring for someone with a terminal illness so complex?Was Connie’s decision to immediately go away after Gerald died the right one? Why do you think she allowed Gerald to curtail her freedoms during the marriage?
While she is waiting for Connie’s arrival in Port d’Esprit, Flora considers her life working with Suzanne at the hotel. “It hasn’t all been work of course, and much of it has been a very good life, but right now Flora sees herself as she fears others might see her: the willing helper, the dogsbody, making someone else’s life work because she has no life of her own”.
Why do you think Flora cares how others see her at that particular time in her life? Is this something that affects men as well as women? How do we learn not be affected by others’ opinions of ourselves?
Secrets are at the heart of this book. Connie tells Brooke “It’s Grandad’s way. I think it made him feel in control of things, but it’s divisive. I suppose I learned it from him”. Flora struggles with Connie’s apparent complicity in keeping the secrets that Gerald demanded. Brooke is affected by all the secrets the adults in the family seem to be keeping from each other.
Why did everyone agree to keep the various secrets? When secrets damage others, is the person who demands the secret more responsible for that damage than those who agree to keep them? How responsible is Connie for how much Flora’s life was affected?
Both Kerry and Andrew struggle with a lifetime of feeling they were unnoticed by their father or that he even acknowledged their achievements.
Why do we continue to seek parental approval as adults? Can parental approval as an adult make up for lack of approval as a child?
While we as readers never ‘meet’ Gerald directly, from others’ thoughts, memories and discussions, he is not a very likeable character. He seems to have acted from a position of fear. Bea “realised long ago that Gerald’s apparent confidence and sense of his own authority was rooted in a fear of his own irrelevance”.
Does that mean he deserves our sympathy?
Both Andrew and Kerry thought about missed opportunities as adults to get to know their father better.
What do you think stopped them from trying? Would understanding him better have helped them with their own issues?
Despite the physical distance and the strictures from Gerald, Connie kept up contact with Flora via email and skype. After Connie abruptly left the lunch at the Ivy, Flora commented “You came to France and I was thrilled to see you again, but I knew it would be different, because we had both changed. Our friendship needed work – it needed updating.”
How was their friendship affected by living in different countries? Did Flora and Connie have an investment in using the past to define their friendship? How is it possible to ‘update’ a friendship?
It seems that Kerry knows she has depression and has had it before. “Some sort of wall has grown up between her and other people, cutting her off from everyone she loves, even her children… She has gone through periods like this in the last few years but they have passed: this time, however, it seems to have become a permanent state.”
Why do you think she didn’t seek help or even talk to Chris about it? How much do you think her inability to cope with her father’s deterioration would have contributed to her not speaking of how she was feeling?
As Flora ponders her future she grapples with how her life has unfolded. “Wisdom has evaded her, she has not achieved great spiritual depths, nor discovered lasting earthly love, despite many attempts. Now as she teeters towards an unplanned old age, she might as well be stepping into a void.”
We can plan financially for old age, but is it possible to plan for the emotional changes old age brings? And what do you think those changes might be?
Both Connie and Flora revisit their past when they visit England, both looking for answers. Connie says “That’s why I’m here now with you, churning up the past, burrowing into it like woodworm into precious timber, pricking myself on the splinters as I go, believing if I dig deeper I will somehow discover something I left behind that will nourish me now, all these years later.”
Does revisiting the past help us to work out who we are as we age? Or is it purely indulging in nostalgia?