Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
No unnecessary anecdotes.
Stella, the narrator and heroine of Janni Visman's new novel Yellow
is an obsessive-compulsive shut-in. She lives in a compartmentalized,
controlled environment of her own design in which everything she needsfrom
work to lovers to makeupcomes to her. Within this framework of rules and
repetition, Stella has achieved a kind of psychological security. But when
Ivan, her lover, violates the agreement of their affair with a revelation
about his past, Stella's hermetic existence breaks wide open.
Visman embraces the issues of identity, sexuality, power, and trust with
unrelenting honesty and masterful control. A taut 192 pages, the book is an
exploration of one woman's psychological unravelingor, in what amounts to
the same thing, one woman's progress from paranoia to freedom. The truth, as
the author so cleverly demonstrates, is often more complicated than it first
appears. In the same manner that Stella has reduced her life to what is
elemental, so has Visman pared her prose to its essence, writing with a
haunting simplicity that perfectly matches her subject. Despite its
pithiness, this is a novel that lives in its details; every moment of Yellow
is infused with a cinematic beauty and carefully moderated
tension that build, in combination, to a thrilling resolution.
As Stella follows one trail of secrets and lies, she leaves behind
another for the reader to follow in turn, labyrinth of family, neighbors,
lovers, and strangerscharacters whose roles and loyalties shift from day to
day. Stella steers readers through her convoluted psychological landscape,
presenting life as she lives it. As a guide, she is both stern and fragile,
possibly unreliable and possibly at risk. Together, reader and narrator
discover the scope of Stella's situation, inspiring each to retrace their
steps through the novel, reexamining what and who they thought they knew.
Readers of Visman's previous book, Sex Education
, expect style,
intelligence, and candor, and Yellow
does not disappoint. She boldly
examines the most intimate and difficult aspects of lifethe sexual politics
and power plays that lie at the heart of relationships, the creation and
maintenance of identity within a shifting landscape of lovers and
acquaintances, the common yearning for stability, and the lengths to which a
woman will go to stave off her darkest fears.
- Discuss the significance of the yellow gas in terms of the context in
which it appears throughout the novel (What events precede its appearance?
How does Stella react?) and what it symbolizes.
- The narrator is the guide through the events of a novel, but when
presented with a guide who is paranoid, deceptive, or otherwise ill, one's
approach to the story is altered. What are some other famously unreliable
narrators? What connections can you draw between their stories and Yellow?
- How does Stella's psychological condition affect your sympathy toward
her? Do you separate yourself from her presentation of the story and
examine it according to your own instincts? At what point and why?
- Was Stella truly paranoid or was she only intuiting trouble she
couldn't yet prove? In her case, what was the line between obsession and
caution? In what ways do you depend on your sixth sense or gut instinct?
- In Yellow, the characters are never completely honest with each
other, or even with themselves. Do you expect a certain amount of
deception in all your relationships? Is it possible to live a completely
honest existence? Is there a difference between the lies you tell yourself
(to feel happy, confident, or safe) and the lies you tell others (in order
to spare their feelings)?
- Describe a private ritual you have that must be met in order for you
to feel balanced in your daily life. What separates your behavior from
- How does the idea of privacy manifest itself in Yellow in terms of
property, sexuality, psychology, and trust?
- Stella knows people only in the context of her own apartment and,
therefore, has a very compartmentalized view of them. To a lesser extent,
this is true of everyone in that we know people only in how they fit
within our own life. Can you picture the various fractions of your own
personality that others see? How does your idea of self change when you
consider yourself limited only within the scope of employee, parent,
- The novel is comprised mostly of female characters, interacting on
levels private and professional. Name the issues displayed in the
relationships of the primary and secondary characters and how they echo
one another. For example, does Mrs. Philips's betrayal prefigure the one
committed by Skye?
- Did your feelings toward Stella and Ivan change by the end of the
novel? If so, how?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Plume.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.