Reading guide for The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

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The Illusion of Separateness

A Novel

By Simon Van Booy

The Illusion of Separateness

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Define the phrase "illusion of separateness." The author uses it three times—in the epitaph, as the name of a photo exhibit curated by one of the book's characters, and as the book's title. How do all three tie together? What is the author's message to the reader about "separateness"? Is it a part of the human condition that we feel isolated and alone? Describe the ways in which all the characters in the novel are connected.
  2. In your group, have each member play the game "six degrees of separation." What, if any, links do you share that you had not realized—or consciously recognized—before?
  3. Think about the various characters. How did their choices unite the circle of their connection? Focus on one. What might he or she have done that would have broken the link?
  4. Does it matter that at the end of the novel, the various characters do not recognize their importance to each other? Is it enough that you, the reader, understand the link between them? How do such invisible links shape our lives?
  5. At the beginning of the novel, after Martin discovers the truth of his existence, the author writes, "He had been reborn into the nightmare of truth. The history of others had been his all along." What is the author's conveying with these words?
  6. Amelia describes being blind. "Being blind is not like you would imagine. It's not like closing your eyes and trying to see. I don't feel as though I'm lacking. I see people by what they say to others, by how they move and how they breathe." Think about this. Do you think that while sight affords us much, it also closes us off to other aspects of life, and makes us "blind" in another kind of way? Do you "see" with all of your senses? How can doing so change your perception?
  7. Amelia tells us that she believes, "people would be happier if they had admitted things more often. In a sense we are all prisoners of some memory, or fear, or disappointment—we are all defined by something we can't change." Do you agree with her? How are each of the characters defined by something they cannot change? How do they adapt to this defining element? What about your own life? Is their something that you cannot change that would like to? How do you cope with this?
  8. Discuss the origin of Mr. Hugo's name. Is this an apt moniker for him? Is he reminiscent of a character from a Hugo novel?
  9. Analyze the structure of the novel. Why do you think the author chose this structure versus straight linear narrative? Would the story have the same emotional impact if it had been told from one or two character's points of view alone? What makes this a novel rather than a collection of short stories?
  10. What was your emotional reaction to the book? Did you relate to one character more than another? What did you take away from reading The Illusion of Separateness?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Harper Perennial. 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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