Synopses & Reviews
"A Simple Tale" is the moving account of Maria Poniatowski, an aging Ukrainian woman who was taken by the Germans for slave labor and eventually relocated to Canada as a displaced person. She struggles to provide her son Radek with every opportunity, but his eventual success increases the gulf between him and his mother. What of the past is she to preserve, and how to avoid letting the weight of that past burden the present? Maria's story is about the moments of connection and isolation that are common to us all.
"The Hunters," the second novella, is narrated by an American academic spending a summer in London who grows obsessed by the neighbors downstairs. Ridley Wandor, a plump and insipid caretaker of the elderly, lives with her ever-unseen mother and a horde of pet rabbits she calls "the hunters." While the narrator researches a book about death, all of Ridley Wandor's patients are dying. Loneliness breeds an active imagination. Is having such an imagination always destructive? Or can it be strong enough to create a new reality?
Far-flung settings and universal themes give a sweeping appeal to Claire Messud's work.
"These two fine and remarkable novellas, each a modest tour de force, are sure to advance Messud's critical standing and to broaden her readership." Publishers Weekly
"Messud's short novels are well written, intense examinations of isolation that will appeal to readers of literary fiction." Library Journal
"As smart as they are affecting, these stories aren't novels: it's in their brevity that they loom so large." Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Claire Messud, born in 1966, was educated at Yale and Cambridge. Her first novel, When the World Was Steady, was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1996. Her second novel, The Last Life, received widespread positive critical attention, and has been translated into seven languages. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Reading Group Guide
Q> Why does Messud tell us nothing specific about the narrator's gender, age, appearance, or past? How does the lack of these specifics influence the way in which we receive the narrator's impressions and observations? Q> What might explain the narrator's being drawn to "the suggestion of society, without its actual impingement" and the narrator's admitted "carefully controlled existence"? Why does the narrator feel invisible? What are the causes and consequences of this sense of invisibility? At the same time, why has the narrator selected this flat in what Richard Copley later calls "a voyeur's paradise"? Q> What are the roles and consequences of loneliness, isolation and seclusion, and dislocation in "The Hunters"? Are these conditions chosen by the characters, and if so, why; or are they imposed upon the characters, and if so, from what source? Q> Why is Ridley Wandor's very existence, from their first meeting, "irredeemable, heinous, utterly unpardonable" for the narrator? Why is the narrator's one wish that "she would not be," and what are the implications and the consequences of that wish? Q> Who or what are "the hunters," and who or what are the hunted? What variations of the two conditions occur? What transformations from hunted to hunter and vice versa occur? Q> "It was difficult to think of her life as anything but a story," comments the narrator, referring to the discovery of the facts of Ridley Wandor's "story." In what ways does that statement indicate the nature and extent of the narrator's understanding of self and others? What might be the dangers of thinking of anyone's life, including one's own, as "anything but a story"? What might be the relationship between any life and the story of that life? Q> Why is the narrator unable, even when recognizing "the true agony of Ridley Wandor's days," to "believe in the sorrows of others"? Why does the narrator persist in feeling "my sorrows to be by far the greatest, my wounds the source of the only real blood"? What does it take for the narrator and for each of us to accurately perceive and empathize with the sorrows of others? Q> If, as the narrator repeatedly states, "I'm guilty," guilty of what? To what extent might the narrator's guilt be a guilt shared by/with all of us?
Copyright (c) 2002. Published in the U.S. by Harcourt, Inc.