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3 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

Noah's Compass


Noah's Compass Cover

ISBN13: 9780307272409
ISBN10: 0307272400
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. When Anne Tyler was just starting to write Noah’s Compass, a journalist asked her what it was about. She replied, “I’d like to write about a man who feels he has nothing more to expect from his life; but it’s anybody’s guess what the real subject will turn out to be in the end.” Did that turn out to be the real subject of the book?

2. What does the title mean?

3. After reading the first chapter, did you have any idea where the story would lead?

4. On page 26, Tyler writes, “The distressing thing about losing a memory, he thought, was that it felt like losing control.” Why is Liam so interested in control?

5. Is this really the first memory he’s lost?

6. At the top of page 49, Liam thinks about his true self, and how it seemed to have disappeared after the incident. What does Liam consider to be his “true self”? Is he right?

7. Why does Liam become so obsessed with Ishmael Cope?

8. Discuss Liam’s attitude toward women. Does he treat his blood relatives differently from Barbara and Eunice? Why or why not?

9. Why does Liam’s initial impression of Eunice transform into something completely different? Why does he keep their relationship a secret from his daughters?

10. What does religion represent in the novel?

11. On page 186, Eunice insists, “I’m not . . . devious, Liam!” What does she mean by this? Does she actually believe it?

12. What does the palm-reading scene on page 204–5 tell us about Liam? What point is Tyler making?

13. Reread Barbara’s description of Liam on page 224. Is it accurate? Why or why not?

14. Ultimately, why does Liam turn Eunice away, soon after telling her, “You’re the woman I love, and life is too short to go through it without you!” (page 230)?

15. When does Liam stop wishing he could remember the break-in? Why?

16. On page 243 Liam wonders, “Why was it that he had known so many sad women?” How would you answer this question?

17. What is the meaning of the Epictetus quote on page 266? What does Liam intend by reciting it?

18. Discuss the ending. Is Liam happy?

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RICHARD JOHNSON, January 2, 2011 (view all comments by RICHARD JOHNSON)
Human foibles. No one captures them, documents them, better than Anne Tyler.
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OneMansView, January 13, 2010 (view all comments by OneMansView)
Pretty thin stuff (3.5*s)

With Anne Tyler, the reader knows beforehand that he or she will get a close look at families, usually large and multi-generational. They’ve generally withstood the tests of time managing to stay connected in some manner, but it is the quirkiness, the awkwardness, the stumbling, the misunderstandings, and the naiveté that the author subtly exposes about her characters and their interactions that make her novels so interesting. The subject matter is invariably simply the stuff of everyday life – no catastrophes to distort her view that normalcy itself has some rough spots.

This time around, sixty-year-old Liam Pennywell has been downsized from his job as a fifth grade teacher at a private academy. Divorced, with three daughters - two grown, one a senior in high school, he takes the economical move of moving into a small apartment with no idea of what he is going to do. But the story soon receives a jolt when Liam wakes up in a hospital hooked to any number of machines with a large bandage around his head. Apparently he has been mugged that first night in the apartment; most disturbing to him is that he remembers absolutely nothing about it.

Given his usual passivity, the reader is surprised when Liam decides to contact a neurologist, whose son he tutored over twenty years prior, concerning his lack of memory of his incident. In the process of being quickly dismissed, he learns that an elderly gentleman in the waiting room is being accompanied by a “rememberer.” That notion so intrigues Liam that he launches into an investigation of the concept including tracking down the parties. But that atypical bit of initiative is not indicative of a significant change in his placid nature.

The book essentially consists of Liam recovering from his mugging episode, his daughters and ex-wife both hovering over and admonishing him, and also without hesitation imposing on his free time for odd jobs, such as babysitting a grandson interested in a religious themed coloring book. More salient, it is Liam’s sudden, strange attraction to a rather homely, persistent woman who he meets in the course of his investigation that must be resolved.

Unfortunately, this book is rather thin stuff. It’s hard to get too excited over a rather unremarkable character who is pretty disconnected from modernity and has little clue about where he is headed. Given that he was a philosophy major, Liam is not particularly reflective so he tells us little. Tyler fans will undoubtedly enjoy her sharp ear for the oddities of communications and her subtle observations of places and people.
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terranfrommaui11, January 6, 2010 (view all comments by terranfrommaui11)
I felt that i could connect well to the theme... it was almost inspirering... in a way. Just how Tyler writes, it feels harmonious, but simple and not monotone... its a masterpeice!
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Product Details

Tyler, Anne
Psychological fiction
Humorous fiction
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
9.62x6.50x1.18 in. 1.19 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Noah's Compass Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.95 In Stock
Product details 288 pages Knopf Publishing Group - English 9780307272409 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Waking in a hospital with no memory of a burglar's attack, Liam takes steps to recover that memory and finds his life opening up in unexpected ways. Tyler's seemingly ordinary characters are crafted with such depth and compassion, you'll begin to see the people around you with new eyes.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Like Tyler's previous protagonists, Liam Pennywell is a man of unexceptional talents, plain demeanor, modest means and curtailed ambition. At age 60, he's been fired from his teaching job at a 'second-rate private boys' school' in Baltimore, a job below his academic training and original expectations. An unsentimental, noncontemplative survivor of two failed marriages and the emotionally detached father of three grown daughters, Liam is jolted into alarm after he's attacked in his apartment and loses all memory of the experience. His search to recover those lost hours leads him into an uneasy exploration of his disappointing life and into an unlikely new relationship with Eunice, a socially inept walking fashion disaster who is half his age. She is also spontaneous and enthusiastic, and Liam longs to cast off his inertia and embrace the 'joyous recklessness' that he feels in her company. Tyler's gift is to make the reader empathize with this flawed but decent man, and to marvel at how this determinedly low-key, plainspoken novelist achieves miracles of insight and understanding." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Everyone loves Anne Tyler, and her 18th novel will doubtless supply another reason. Wry and affectionate, Noah's Compass reads quickly, in language so plain and simple it carries the aura of a folktale."
"Review" by , "Reading Anne Tyler's 17th novel reminded me of my neighbor's legendary Maryland crab soup: pure pleasure going down. And as with the soup, the long-term rewards lie in trying to figure out how she did it."
"Review" by , "This is an arresting premise and it pays off in unexpected ways....Tyler's writing is as lovely and transparent as ever..."
"Review" by , "Noah's Compass...is one of Tyler's more deceptively rich [novels]....By the end of the novel, the particulars of Liam's life really haven't changed that much, but he is utterly transformed. And so will be the reader."
"Review" by , "Working at her characteristically leisurely pace, Tyler poignantly portrays one man's search for wholeness and redemption as he picks up the shards of a life shattered by the crashing waves of aging....Another winning effort by Tyler..."
"Synopsis" by , From the incomparable Tyler comes a wise, gently humorous, and deeply compassionate novel about a schoolteacher who has been forced to retire at age 61, who must suddenly come to terms with the final phase of his life.
"Synopsis" by , The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Noah’s Compass, Anne Tyler’s subtle, deeply empathetic, and richly rewarding new novel.
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