Synopses & Reviews
Twenty years ago, Jane Hudson fled the Heart Lake School for Girls in the Adirondacks after a terrible tragedy. The week before her graduation, in that sheltered wonderland, three lives were taken, all victims of suicide. Only Jane was left to carry the burden of a mystery that has stayed hidden in the depths of Heart Lake for more than two decades. Now Jane has returned to the school as a Latin teacher, recently separated and hoping to make a fresh start with her young daughter. But ominous messages from the past dredge up forgotten memories. And young, troubled girls are beginning to die again as, piece by piece, the shattering truth slowly floats to the surface...
"A wonderfully eerie sense of place...deeply atmospheric." Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Hopelessly addictive...definitely the season's guilty pleasure." Time Out New York
"Like Donna Tartt's The Secret History or a good film noir...Jane's low-key narration has just the right tone to keep readers hooked." People (Page-turner of the Week)
About the Author
Carol Goodman’s work has appeared in such journals as The Greensboro Review, Literal Latté, The Midwest Quarterly, and Other Voices. After graduation from Vassar College, where she majored in Latin, she taught Latin for several years in Austin, Texas. She then received an M.F.A. in fiction from the New School University, studying under Rick Moody, Francine Prose, David Gates, Amy Hempel, and Peter Carey. Goodman currently teaches writing and works as a writer-in-residence for Teachers & Writers. She lives in Long Island.
Reading Group Guide
In the evocative tradition of Donna Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History
comes this accomplished debut of youthful innocence drowned by dark sins. Twenty years ago, Jane Hudson left the Heart Lake School for Girls in the Adirondacks after a terrible tragedy. Now she has returned to the placid, isolated shores of the lakeside school as a Latin teacher, recently separated and hoping to make a fresh start with her young daughter. But ominous messages from the past dredge up forgotten memories that will become a living nightmare.
Since freshmen year, Jane and her two roommates, Lucy Toller and Deirdre Hall, were inseparable–studying the classics, performing school girl rituals on the lake, and sneaking out after curfew to meet Lucy’s charismatic brother Matt. However, the last winter before graduation, everything changed. For in that sheltered, ice-encrusted wonderland, three lives were taken, all victims of senseless suicide. Only Jane was left to carry the burden of a mystery that has stayed hidden for more than two decades in the dark depths of Heart Lake.
Now pages from Jane’s missing journal, written during that tragic time, have reappeared, revealing shocking, long-buried secrets. And suddenly, young, troubled girls are beginning to die again . . . as piece by piece the shattering truth slowly floats to the surface.
At once compelling, sensuous, and intelligent, The Lake of Dead Languages
is an eloquent thriller, an intricate balance of suspense and fine storytelling that proves Carol Goodman is a rare new talent with a brilliant future.
1. Given the trauma she endured there, why does
Jane return to the Heart Lake School for Girls?
Do you judge her options to be as limited as
she does? Are there other factors at work in
2. Jane acknowledges: "I had thought it was all
right to marry someone I didn't love, but what
I hadn't counted on was how it felt to share
someone I loved with someone I didn't." Discuss
the nature of Jane and Mitch's marriage
and the impact Olivia's birth had on it.
3. How does motherhood change Jane's life?
4. Discuss Jane's socioeconomic background and
its impact on her. Would you agree or disagree
that class mobility in the United States takes a
toll that is not always acknowledged or discussed?
5. How does Jane's image of herself correspond
(or not) with how others perceive her?
6. Lucy's aunt has a very different perspective
on Lucy that contrasts sharply with Jane's
worshipful remembrance. Do you think Jane is
finally able to see Lucy in a more complicated
light by the end of the novel? Why or why
7. How would you describe Lucy and how do you
understand her actions?
8. Lucy had a magnetism that drew people to
her, inspiring conflict and jealousy within her
circle. Have you ever had such a friend or been
such a friend?
9. Discuss the particular intensity of adolescent
friendships and the havoc they can wreak as
well as the benefits.
10. Do you think tragedy might have been
averted if Lucy had been able to tell Matt the
"something that changes everything," which
Helen Chambers shared with her?
11. Matt's aunt refers to Jane as "Mattie's girl."
What do you think was the true nature of
Matt's feelings toward Jane?
12. Discuss the merits and drawbacks of the
popular theories, ascribed to by school psychologist
Candace Lockhart in this novel,
about the crisis of confidence experienced by
adolescent girls and its effects.
13. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of single-
sex versus coed schools. Which educational
setting do you prefer and why?
14. Why do Jane's students decide to "go easy on
her"? What does she think? What do you
15. Do you consider Jane a good teacher? What
qualities constitute a good teacher?
16. What do you think of Helen Chambers's behavior
toward her students, particularly her
attitude toward and decisions regarding Lucy?
Was the school's decision to fire Chambers
justified? Do you think this decision was based
solely on her sexual orientation?
17. Discuss the many secrets finally brought to
light in this novel and the corrosive and destructive
impact secrets can have on those
keeping them and those from whom information
18. Jane has lived under a cloud of guilt and remorse
since her senior year at Heart Lake. She
wonders "if there's any end to this cycle of
guilt and retribution." Do you think the truth
will set her free?
19. Jane is haunted by a past that has severely
compromised her ability to live in the present.
Discuss how people can become
trapped by the past and how to make
peace with it.
20. What shape do you imagine Jane's life will
take after the end of this novel? Do you
think she will leave Heart Lake? Should she?
21. Do you think the Heart Lake School will survive
its most recent scandal?
22. There are many mysteries to be solved
over the course of this novel. How do you
read mysteries? Are you content to go
along for the ride or determined to unravel
the mysteries before the author reveals
them? If you are the latter kind of reader,
did the author stump you or did you figure
out what was going on in advance?
23. Discuss the structure of this novel as it
shifts between the present and the past.