Reading guide for Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

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Pardonable Lies

By Jacqueline Winspear

Pardonable Lies
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2005,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2006,
    368 pages.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Three significant figures in Pardonable Lies -- Avril Jarvis, Pascale Clement, and the younger Maisie Dobbs of the detective's own tormented recollections -- are all about thirteen years old. Why does the novel choose this moment in the three girls' growth and development as a focal point for observation? Do the three girls have anything in common apart from age?
  2. Although a number of mothers, including Agnes Lawton, Irene Nelson, Mrs. Jarvis, and Maisie's own mother, are essentially absent as characters, they exert profound influence over events in the novel. What is the significance of the theme of the absent mother in Pardonable Lies?
  3. In quite a few classic detective novels, including The Maltese Falcon and Farewell, My Lovely, homosexual characters experience violent or disrespectful treatment. Does the treatment of homosexuality in Pardonable Lies fundamentally differ from that in older detective fictions? How and why?
  4. Compare Maisie's current relationship with Dr. Andrew Dene and the role that her crippled ex-lover Simon continues to play in her life. Which is more important to Maisie, and why?
  5. Maisie lied about her age to go to war and now routinely risks her life as a private investigator. Nevertheless, Priscilla Evernden observes that Maisie has "kept to the safe places." Is she right? Explain.
  6. Many of the characters in Pardonable Lies, including Maurice Blanche, Ralph Lawton, Jeremy Hazleton, and Maisie herself, engage in elaborate deceptions. Is there a deception in the novel that you consider less "pardonable" than the others? Why?
  7. Is there a deception in the novel that you consider more "pardonable" than the others? Why?
  8. Like Jacqueline Winspear's previous novels, Maisie Dobbs and Birds of a Feather, Pardonable Lies is haunted by inescapable memories of World War I. In a sense, the war is the great crime from which the legal offenses and ethical transgressions of Winspear's novels are the offshoots. How are the webs of falsehood and deception in this novel a response to the experiences and traumas of war? Do the lies in the novel make the aftermath of the war easier to bear, or do they compound the war's original immorality?
  9. Although Jacqueline Winspear frequently focuses on the physical and psychological scars of warfare, Pardonable Lies offers instances of something beautiful or noble that has emerged from the horror. Examples include the birth of Pascale Clement and Ralph Lawton's heroic service in the Flying Corps. How does the novel's introduction of these silver linings enrich or complicate Winspear's depiction of the war and its aftermath?
  10. Maisie often uses her training as a psychologist to take decisive control of a situation. Nevertheless, she sometimes experiences social situations in which she feels a lack of control. What are some of these situations, and why does she find them daunting?
  11. The daughter of a costermonger, Maisie has risen somewhat above the limitations often encountered by members of her class. However, issues pertaining to class persist in the novel. Compare Jacqueline Winspear's treatment of aristocratic characters like Sir Cecil Lawton and Priscilla Evernden with her rendering of characters like Billy Beale and Lady Rowan's servants.
  12. Maisie, who gives such extraordinary courage and support to others, must continually battle an inner sense of her own inadequacy. What are the sources of this feeling, and does she triumph over it?
  13. Maisie knows a great deal about comforting others. Consider, however, the persons from whom she derives comfort. Do they have anything in common? To whom does she turn for particular kinds of support, and why?
  14. In Chapter 8, Maisie asks herself, "What do I believe in?" Is this question answered in the novel? Does Maisie have beliefs that either strengthen or hinder her in her work or in her life?
  15. Jacqueline Winspear offers a number of detailed descriptions of her characters' clothing. Given that Maisie is such a cerebral character, highly focused on the inner workings of the mind and heart, what may be the purpose of such external descriptions in the novel?
  16. What role do Maisie's nightmares play in the unfolding of the plot and her character?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Picador. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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