Synopses & Reviews
"A novel of stunning subtlety, grace, and depth . . . compos[ed in] dueling letters of breathtaking wit, seduction, and heartbreak." —Booklist
, starred review
A letter can spark a friendship.
A friendship can change your life.
In the summer of 1957, Frances and Bernard meet at an artists colony. She finds him faintly ridiculous, but talented. He sees her as aloof, but intriguing. Afterward, he writes her a letter. Soon they are immersed in the kind of fast, deep friendship that can take over—and change the course of—our lives.
From points afar, they find their way to New York and, for a few whirling years, each other. The city is a wonderland for young people with dreams: cramped West Village kitchens, rowdy cocktail parties stocked with the sharp-witted and glamorous, taxis that can take you anywhere at all, long talks along the Hudson River as the lights of the Empire State Building blink on above.
Inspired by the lives of Flannery OConnor and Robert Lowell, Frances and Bernard imagines, through new characters with charms entirely their own, what else might have happened. It explores the limits of faith, passion, sanity, what it means to be a true friend, and the nature of acceptable sacrifice. In the grandness of the fall, can we love another person so completely that we lose ourselves? How much should we give up for those we love? How do we honor the gifts our loved ones bring and still keep true to our dreams?
In witness to all the wonder of kindred spirits and bittersweet romance, Frances and Bernard is a tribute to the power of friendship and the people who help us discover who we are.
PRAISE FOR LIFE OF PI: "Life of Pi
could renew your faith in the ability of novelists to invest even the most outrageous scenario with plausible life."
—The New York Times Book Review
"A story to make you believe in the soul-sustaining power of fiction."
—Los Angeles Times Book Review
"A gripping adventure story . . . Laced with wit, spiced with terror, it's a book by an extraordinary talent."
—San Jose Mercury News
"A terrific book . . . Fresh, original, smart, devious, and crammed with absorbing lore."
"An impassioned defense of zoos, a death-defying trans-Pacific sea adventure a la Kon-Tiki, and a hilarious shaggy-dog story . . . This audacious novel manages to be all of these."
—The New Yorker
"Readers familiar with Margaret Atwood, Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje and Carol Shields should learn to make room on the map of contemporary Canadian fiction for the formidable Yann Martel."
"A story of conversion, shattered love and the loss of faith, recalling 20th century masters like Graham Greene and Walker Percy…Frances is refreshingly down-to-earth in her spiritual convictions…Bauer gets right… the shifting balance of literary ambition and emotional need, Yeatss old choice between perfection of the life or of the work. Bauer is herself a distinctive stylist who can write about Simone Weil or Kierkegaard with wit and charm. A fresh voice thinking seriously about what a religiously committed life might have felt like and perhaps, in our own far-from tranquil period, might feel like again." -
New York Times Book Review "Graceful and gem-like
…. Through Bauers sharp, witty, and elegant prose, [Frances and Bernard] become vibrant and original characters
…. These are not your typical lovebirds, but writers with fierce and fine intellects.… We are reminded of the power of correspondence — the flirtation of it, the nervousness, the delicious uncertainty of writing bold things and then waiting days, weeks, or even months for a reply. After finishing this sweet and somber novel, we might sigh and think, 'It's a shame we dont write love letters anymore' — before stopping for a moment to marvel at the subtlety of what Bauer has wrought out of history and a generous imagination, and being thankful that someone still is." --Boston Globe "Frances and Bernard
portrays two writers drawn into a friendship sparked by mutual admiration. They elegantly convey their reflections, encouragements and chastisements in letters written over a span of 11 years…Bauer captures the style and language of the period with gleeful dexterity
.…Bauer is masterful
in whipping up the frenzy of Bernards unstable certainty that she is the answer to his Olympian quest…Bauer, who has published a memoir about her evangelical childhood and subsequent conversion to Catholicism, writes with authority and gusto about issues of faith
. The prose here is exquisite, winding between narrative momentum and lofty introspection
. And she employs the epistolary form nimbly, providing an intimate, uncluttered space for her characters to develop
. The most unexpected pleasure of this period love story is spending time in the company of people who are engaged in the edifying pursuit of living as Christians — a good reminder that
, regardless of the current upheaval in the church, the big questions are still worth asking
. -- The Washington Post
"A debut novel of stunning subtlety, grace, and depth
. Bauers use of the epistolary form is masterful as she forges a passionately spiritual, creative, and romantic dialogue between characters based on two literary giants famous for their brilliant letters, Flannery OConnor and Robert Lowell
. Though she changes the particulars of OConnors life, Bauer retains the great writers rigor, humor, faith, penetrating insights, and wisdom. Bauer is phenomenally fluent in the voices and sensibilities she so intently emulates, composing dueling letters of breathtaking wit, seduction, and heartbreak
. Spanning a stormy decade, Bauers piercing novel is dynamic in structure, dramatic in emotion and event, and fierce in its inquiry into religion, love, and art.
"There are so many reasons to love this perfect novel, not least because before our eyes, Bauer quietly reveals the lovers to each other, and to themselves
, while she explores all of the important problems of faith, work, art, marriage, passion, and how best to lead the life that you think you're meant to live. Frances and Bernard
is smart and clear and deep and beautiful.
I worship it." - Jane Hamilton "I'll never stop raving about FRANCES AND BERNARD.
I loved, admired and devoured it; didn't want it to end. What is better than a good
novel in letters? A great one. Carlene Bauer has written a book that is dear, brilliant, and unforgettable
." --Elinor Lipman "Short but satisfying
...well written, engrossing
, and succeeds in making Frances and Bernards shared interest in religion believable and their relationship funny, sweet, and sad. A lovely surprise.
" --Publishers Weekly
(starred) "A series of erudite
letters, some of which are exchanged between the two rich and somewhat eccentric protagonists
, and some are written by these characters to others. This remarkable method of storytelling
provides snapshots of the events that shape the story." --Library Journal
"I have rarely encountered historical fiction that seems to spring so authentically from the period in which it's set. The two correspondents in Carlene Bauer's book, along with their families and friends, come wittily alive in the letters they exchange, and those letters end up accumulating a terrific narrative and emotional force. Bauer recaptures a time in which people took one another more seriously, an era when they still inclined toward epistolary explorations instead of self-promoting tweets. Frances and Bernard is one of the best first novels I've read in years.
" --Thomas Mallon "Dazzling and gorgeously written
, FRANCES AND BERNARD features a pair of brilliant, complicated writers who present themselves to each other in letters that form the most exciting epistolary novel in recent memory
. A slim book, it still seems to say all of the important things about friendship, faith, love, the literary life, and especially the costs of living as an artist while still inhabiting the real world. Its a marvel
." - Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausens Pier
and Songs Without Words
"I had ten pages left as the bus pulled into my home station, and I wanted to murder the driver for rousting me from my seat. Instead of heading home, I stood in the parking lot and finished the book right then and there. I did not merely love Frances and Bernard; I worried myself sick over them. And the prose! So delectable you could eat it for dessert.
" - Monica Wood, author of When We Were the Kennedys
and Any Bitter Thing
"A truly original, very moving novel about how sometimes the deepest relationships in our lives are also the most impossible
. The letters between Frances and Bernard-- which begin as witty, sometimes wary, and full of unusual confidences about love and spiritual matters-- explode with passion on the page. My eyes filled with tears. It is wonderful to read something so rare and true. What a rich writer and two unforgettable lovers!
" -- Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille: a novel of Monet
and The Physician of London
(American Book Award) "A surprising and insightful novel
… blooming with richness and intelligence
…. The two [main characters] share and joust and tease and advise and explore and analyze and admire …. The careful trajectory of their intertwining and deepening relation becomes "a beautiful thing" — these two voices in Bauers fine rendering sing counterpoint that is exhilarating, and heartbreaking….
Their relation stirs into the love, for each, of a lifetime. A marvelous tracing of these lives
." -- Buffalo News
It’s 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. Over twenty years, snapshots of that relationship are revealed on the same day—July 15th—of each year. Dex and Em face squabbles and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. And as the true meaning of this one crucial day is revealed, they must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself.
The beloved and bestselling novel and winner of the Booker Prize, Life of Pi, now in a trade paperback edition with cover art from the major motion picture directed by Ang Lee, set for release in November 2012
MORE THAN SEVEN MILLION COPIES SOLD
New York Times Bestseller * Los Angeles Times Bestseller * Washington Post Bestseller * San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller * Chicago Tribune Bestseller
"A story to make you believe in the soul-sustaining power of fiction."—Los Angeles Times Book Review
After the sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan—and a 450-pound royal bengal tiger. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary and beloved works of fiction in recent years.
Universally acclaimed upon publication, Life of Pi is a modern classic.
Loosely inspired by Robert Lowell and Flannery O'Connor, this absorbing, charming novel brings us into mid-century New York and the lives and letters of two writers-- their intense friendship, their discussions of writing and art and faith, and their bittersweet romance
About the Author
Yann Martel was born in Spain in 1963 of Canadian parents. Life of Pi won the 2002 Man Booker Prize and has been translated into more than forty languages. A #1 New York Times bestseller, it spent 104 weeks on the list and was adapted to the screen by Ang Lee. He is also the author of the novels Beatrice and Virgil and Self, the collection of stories The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, and a collection of letters to the prime minister of Canada, 101 Letters to a Prime Minister. He lives in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of One Day by David Nicholls. “A wonderful, wonderful book: wise, funny, perceptive, compassionate, and often unbearably sad” (The Times [London]), One Day was a #1 bestseller in England and across Europe.
1. To what extent do Emma’s thoughts and assumptions about Dexter [pp. 5-6] and Dexter’s sketch of Emma [pp. 8-9] rely on facile stereotypes they each harbor? In what ways do they embody more measured reflections? How accurate are their assessments? Does their initial encounter make the reader more sympathetic to one of the characters? In what ways might the reader’s gender, experiences, and prejudices affect their feelings about Emma and Dexter?
2. What determines the path Emma follows in her post-university years? In addition to being a wonderfully comic interlude, how does her stint with Sledgehammer Theater Cooperative enrich the portrait of the time in which the novel is set? Is Emma’s explanation of why she ended up working at the tacky Mexican restaurant—“there was a recession on and people were clinging to their jobs. . . . the government had ended student grants” [p. 56]—honest? Have circumstances and “the city defeated her” or is she responsible for her own plight?
3. In his unsent letter Dexter writes, “I think you’re scared of being happy. . . . that you actually get a kick out of being disappointed and under-achieving, because it’s easier. . . .”[p. 42]. How do Dexter’s insights into Emma compare to her own? Is he more perceptive about her than he is about himself? Does Emma underestimate her talents and potential? Despite its carefree tone, does Dexter’s letter betray certain doubts or misgivings about himself?
4. Does Dexter’s meteoric rise in television change the fundamental dynamics between Dexter and Emma? What aspects of their relationship remain unchanged? What influences the things they say and, perhaps more importantly, what they don’t say, during their afternoon on Primrose Hill [p. 60-72]? Were you surprised to find them vacationing together in Greece the following year? Who is more aware of—and affected by—the sexual tensions and temptations they both experience?
5. Is Dexter’s idle vision of his future [p. 9] realized during “the late twenties” (chapters six through nine)? In what ways is the actuality of his life an ironic comment on his expectations? Does he act in ways that undermine his happiness? Discuss, for example, his visit to his parents [pp. 120-135]; his humiliating debut on Late-Night Lock-In [pp. 176-7]; his hostile, crude manner at dinner with Emma [pp. 205-210]; and his glib excuses and rationalizations for his actions [p.190]. What glimpses are there of his more vulnerable side? Do they make him a more appealing character?
6. “At twenty-seven, Emma wonders if she is getting old” [p. 115]. Do Emma’s feelings about both the satisfactions and regrets that come with being “grown-up” ring true? What explains Emma’s relationship with Ian? Is she willingly deceiving herself (and Ian)? Despite her impatience with him and his desperately unfunny comedy routines, does she have genuine feelings for Ian?
7. At the disastrous dinner on July 15, 1995, Emma declares, “Dexter, I love you so much. . . . and I probably always will. I just don’t like you any more. I’m sorry” [p. 210]. Does Dexter recognize why his behavior leads to this break? Does he care? Could the dinner have ended differently?
8. Compare Dexter’s reaction to his agent’s report on how he is perceived [pp. 240, 243] and Emma’s reaction to her unsuccessful interview with a publishing executive [p. 245]. What do they reveal how each of them approaches life’s ups-and-downs?
9. “Now that she was actually involved in an affair—its paraphernalia of secret looks, hands held under tables, fondles in the stationery cupboard—she was surprised at how familiar it all was, and what a potent emotion lust could be, when combined with guilt and self-loathing” [p. 221]. What does the affair with Mr. Godalming reflect about Emma’s state of mind as she approaches her mid-thirties? What satisfaction does it give her? To what extent is she influenced by the romantic notions and expectations society imposes on unmarried women?
10. When he meets Sylvie Cope, Dexter thinks, “And yet, despite all this, the downturn in professional fortunes, he is fine now, because he has fallen in love with Sylvie, beautiful Sylvie. . . .” [p. 251]. In what ways does the affair open Dexter’s eyes to new possibilities and a different way of life? What flaws in their relationship does he fail to grasp fully and why? What consequences does this have on the course of their marriage?
11. What is the significance of the wedding Dexter and Emma attend [p. 269-296]? What do they learn about themselves and each other that surprises, pleases, or unsettles them? What do their conversations [pp. 286, 290, 293, for example] represent in terms of their personal development as well as the evolution of their friendship?
12. What does the rendezvous in Paris share with Emma and Dexter’s trip to Greece nine years earlier? What impact does Emma’s success as an author and Dexter’s failed marriage have on the “balance of power” between them? Discuss the factors—including age, their individual circumstances, and the length of their friendship—that contribute to their willingness to be more honest and open with each other.
13. Do Emma’s musings about where life has taken her [p. 381] resonate with you? What do Emma and Dexter at forty have in common with the people they were on graduation night? How does Nicholls simultaneously capture the ways people change and the persistence of individual characteristics through the passage of time?
14. What demands does the unusual structure of One Day make on the reader? Discuss how the yearlong gaps between chapters; the focus on sometimes-mundane happenings rather than “big” events; and the alternation between Dexter’s and Emma’s journeys within each section increase your curiosity and engagement with the novel.
15. Callum is casually mentioned as mutual friend in Chapter 2 [p. 21] and chapter 6 [p. 109] and Ian makes his first appearance simply as Emma’s co-worker in Chapter 3 [p. 37]; both will become significant figures. What other secondary characters become more important than the protagonists—and the reader—anticipate? What do these “surprises” reflect about the way lives unfold?
16. What does One Day share with traditional boy-meets-girl stories you are familiar with from books or movies? What does it suggest about the relationship between love and happiness?
17. How well does the novel capture society and culture over the twenty-year period? What specific details (references to books, television programs, political events, etc.) help bring the different periods to life? In what ways do the characters embody the qualities, good and bad, of their generation?
18. Throughout the novel, Dexter and Emma withhold or suppress their feeling for one another. Is one of them more guilty of this and, if so, why? What role does fate (e.g. Dexter’s unsent letter, missed phone calls, etc.), along with the characters’ assumptions and misinterpretations, play in the plot? The final section of the novel is introduced with a quote from Tess of the D’Ubervilles and in the acknowledgments [p. 437] Nicholls says, “A debt is owed to Thomas Hardy.” If you are familiar with Tess or Hardy’s other novels, discuss how his works might have influenced Nicholls in writing One Day.
For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit: www.readinggroupcenter.com.