I have been asked by several readers for book club questions for The House By The Lake. What I’m interested in when researching and writing these novels is the idea of secret histories- stories of families and people who have largely been forgotten, whose histories may have been overlooked as not important enough to be recorded by historians. The story of Marthe de Florian fascinated me, along with that of her grand-daughter- no-one knew about their secret lost apartment in Paris, they had been forgotten, as had the dramatic impact of the courtesan during Paris’ Belle Epoque. So often, these things are swept away, and I feel that it is the novel that can bring these characters to life again, in a small way. And when I came across the story of a family who had been forced to flee their home after having lived in it for centuries, just out of East Berlin, I read the memoirs of one of the family’s daughters and wrote The House By The Lake from there. Of course, I was also interested in what would compel someone to become a Nazi, and how far they would take such a mandate. The effects of history, of time, place and family on character development interest me greatly, as do relationships, the choices we make as humans at different stages in our lives, and why we do what we do. It is these questions that compel the stories, along with a great fascination for history and context and every little detail that goes into making up a period in time. But it is character, ultimately, that drives the novels. I have a great interest in how modern day characters can learn from the past in order to ultimately improve their own understanding of the world, in order to improve, in some way, their own lives, to live them, I hope, to their fullest extent.
Here are the questions for your book club:
- How realistic do you think Max’s silence about his life and youth in Germany was?
- How much of a choice, if any, do you think Max had in joining the Nazi party?
- What did you think of the ending of the novel? Do you think Ingrid’s acceptance of her family’s fate was realistic? In an earlier version of the book Ingrid did not evolve as she did in the final draft- would you have preferred this? Why?
- The book highlights the fate of these old palaces and buildings a part of a country’s heritage and past. What role do you think- if any- governments to support these palaces’ preservation? How important is their preservation?
5. The German people were told to move on after the war and to keep quiet about their experiences. Do you know of people who remained quiet about their wartime experiences and did not talk? Why do you think there is a resurgence of interest in that generation and their stories now?
6. How important is it that we share our own personal histories with our children? Do you judge Max for staying silent and denying his family the right to know about their heritage and past? Do we have an obligation to talk about such things?
7. Are tragic love stories the best love stories? Why/why not?
8. Did you have empathy for Marthe de Florian in the novel?
9. Which of the two stories drew you in more- Max and Isabelle or Wil and Anna?