Winton has been acclaimed for his evocation of place. What details in The Riders evokes its settings, and what is the relation between Winton's settings and his themes?
At various times, Winton deviates from his third person narration by changing the point of view, giving voice to other characters, such as Arthur Lipp, Jimmy Brereton, Billie, Irma, and perhaps even Jennifer. Why does he do this? What effect does it have on you? Do these passages enhance the story?
Scully thinks of himself as the primary parent — the true caregiver of Billie. Yet under his care, Billie is dragged all over Europe. She is rarely fed, is up at all hours, accompanies her father into bars, and is mauled by a vicious dog. Is Scully simply unaware of what he is doing to Billie? Is keeping Billie with him and never abandoning her enough to make him the parent he sees himself as? Is Scully a good parent?
Billie gets off the airplane traumatized. Why doesn't Scully try to get more information from her, especially once Billie resumes talking? At one point Winton writes, "God, how he wished he could ask her again, know what had happened at Heathrow. But he couldn't push her now." By not forcing Billie to open up and tell him what happened, is Scully just avoiding the truth? Were you disappointed that Scully didn't push her further? If he'd pushed her to tell him more, would it have been harmful for them both, or beneficial? Why might Winton have made this choice?
Why do you think Scully didn't contact the police? Why might Scully have chosen to search for her himself, in effect running himself? Do you think he was surprised Jennifer had it in her to take off like that? What is the dark side of this love?
As Scully becomes more and more unhinged, Billie finds it necessary to take care of him. She takes the money from his pocket and holds onto it herself. She cleans him while he sleeps, and when they are on the boat, she watches over him. Why did Winton reverse their roles? What significance does this have for Scully and for Billie, for their family? Later, on the boat when Scully opens his eyes and comes out of his stuporous sleep, Billie looks him in the eye and simply says, "Me." What did she mean by this?
A picture of Jennifer emerges in the course of the novel. Describe who you think Jennifer really is. Does Scully truly know her? What does she want? What was Jennifer looking for that Scully couldn't provide? How do you feel about Jennifer at the beginning of the book? How do you feel about her when it becomes obvious that she's purposefully left her husband and child?
Scully gets an unexpected view of Jennifer from her painting teacher. The teacher confides, "No artistic instincts whatsoever....She's something of a snob, a dilettante. She wants recognition. She wants to be more interesting." Are these acceptable reasons for a woman to run away and desert her husband and child? What do you think of such reasons, such needs? Are they ever acceptable?
What really happened to Jennifer? What clues does Winton provide us with? Did it bother you that Winton never really let us know exactly what happened?
"People like you," Jennifer used to say to Scully. "You don't get it, do you? You like your life just fine, you take whatever comes with a sick kind of gratitude. That's where we're different." He had to agree. He just didn't get it. What is it that Scully doesn't get? What might be Scully's view of life? Does Scully pay in the end for his vision of life? Where does it lead him? What do you think of Winton's vision of contemporary marriage? Of life?
Throughout the story there are many references to Scully's unaffractive physical looks — his rugged face, his unruly hair — and to the fear he could sometimes inspire from his looks alone. Yet there was also much mention of his kindness, of his gentle nature. What might have been the point of this? What might Winton be trying to say about appearance and truth? Winton also makes some parallels between Scully and the comic book character, Quasimodo, with whom Billie is so captivated. What is the significance of this?
Irma tells Scully that she thinks they are alike. Do you agree with her? In what ways might this be so? What do you think Irma wants from Scully? What does it mean for Scully when he finally steals her money? What kind of passage is this for him? What would you have done in a similar situation? After Scully betrays Irma, he stumbles his way into Notre Dame, "and is confronted by the bigness he has always suspected arches over him. He has grown up with some apprehension of the divine. Now he has an almost physical confrontation with it — both with his own mortality and with the probability that he's being observed by more than the two people who took part in his fall. What does this scene mean to you?
Why might Winton have chosen an Amsterdam sex shop, specifically among the dildos, as the denouement of his novel? Is this effective and/or fitting? Discuss why or why not?
Would the story have been substantially different had a woman and a child been deserted by a man? if so, in what ways? Are we more conditioned as a society to a story of a man leaving his wife and child, rather than the other way around? If so, why might this be?
Who are the riders? What are they doing and why? Where else do they appear in the novel, besides outside the castle? What is their significance? Why did Winton title the book after them? Are they real or a figment of Scully's imagination? What do they mean to Scully? In effect, what is Scully choosing when he chooses to abandon the riders? What can we learn from Scully's choice?
The Aunt's Story, Patrick White
An Autobiography: To the Island; An Angel at My Table; Envoy from Mirror City, Janet Frame
Scribner Book Company -
Anticipating the arrival of his wife and child in Ireland, Fred Scully is devastated when his little girl appears alone at the airport. She carries no note, and offers no explanation for her mother's absence. As father and daughter frantically search Europe for the woman who has mysteriously abandoned them, Tim Winton paints a searing portrait of how one love destroys a man--and another saves him. "Satisfies on every level".--The Washington Post Book World.
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