Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- What does the title mean?
- The novel opens with a handful of water-related images. What is the significance of each? How does Barnes use water as a metaphor?
- The phrase "Eros and Thanatos," or sex and death, comes up repeatedly in the novel. What did you take it to mean?
- At school, Adrian says, "we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us" (p. 13). How does this apply to Tony's narration?
- Did Tony love Veronica? How did his weekend with her family change their relationship?
- When Mrs. Ford told Tony, "Don't let Veronica get away with too much" (p. 31), what did she mean? Why was this one sentence so important?
- Veronica accuses Tony of being cowardly, while Tony considers himself peaceable. Whose assessment is more accurate?
- What is the metaphor of the Severn Bore? Why does Tony's recollection of Veronica's presence change?
- Why did Tony warn Adrian that Veronica "had suffered damage a long way back?" (p. 46). What made him suspect such a thing? Do you think he truly believed it?
- In addition to Adrian's earlier statement about history, Barnes offers other theories: Adrian also says, "History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation" (p. 18), and Tony says, "History isn't the lies of the victors... It's more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated" (p. 61). Which of these competing notions do you think is most accurate? Which did Tony come to believe?
- Discuss the character Margaret. What role does she play in Tony's story?
- Why does Mrs. Ford make her bequest to Tony, after so many years? And why does Veronica characterize the £500 as "blood money"?
- After rereading the letter he sent to Adrian and Veronica, Tony claims to feel remorse. Do you believe him? What do his subsequent actions tell us?
- When Veronica refuses to turn over the diary to Tony, why doesn't he give up? Why does he continue to needle her for it?
- What is Tony's opinion of himself? Of Adrian? How do both opinions change by the end of the novel?
- How does the revelation in the final pages change your understanding of Veronica's actions?
- Discuss the closing lines of the novel: "There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest" (p. 163).
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.