Synopses & Reviews
In July 1789, the devastation of the French Reign of Terror forever alters the lives of three sisters: the precocious Mathilde, the angelic Claire, and the tall, plainspoken Sophie who refuses to relinquish the miracles of her extraordinary rose garden.
About the Author
Michelle de Kretser was born in Colombo in Sri Lanka. She emigrated at 14 with part of her family to Melbourne, where she now lives. She worked for many years for Lonely Planet, and took a sabbatical to write a novel.
Reading Group Guide
1. Stephen Fletcher, the charismatic American balloonist, makes a dramatic entrance. Discuss his contribution to the plot. What does he symbolise, taking into consideration his origins and attitudes?
2. The 'trivial' and domestic (food, fashion, gardening) are extensively detailed. How does this preoccupation with the minutiae of 18th century life contribute to the unsettling sense of realism when the Terror invades this idyll?
3. De Kretser sets the rose at the centre of her novel. Why does she do this and what does the rose symbolise? What do you think the 'garden' represents? And to what extent does the 'Nature' imagery colour the novel as a whole?
4. Discuss the conflict of the progressive and the passive. Compare the fates of the 'progressive' characters such as Dr Morel with Saint-Pierre who judges himselfguilty of 'inattention, selfishness, complacency.' (p.281) Consider the Enlightenment philosophy and the Darwinian 'evolution' theory.
5. Compare the three Saint-Pierre sisters different attitudes and reactions to their rapidly changing worlds. Discuss the themes of denial, sublimation and obsession.
6. Consider the conclusion. Is there hope and a moral at the end? Examine the author's narrative stance. Is it dispassionate throughout the novel? Do you think she condemns Sophie and if so, why?