Reading guide for The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell

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The Girl Next Door

A Novel

by Ruth Rendell

The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell X
The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2014, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. "In those days you had to get married. There were no two ways about it" (p. 1). In part, The Girl Next Door is an investigation of traditional marriage—its rewards, its obligations, and the ways couples are viewed by others. Compare and contrast several of the unions portrayed in the novel, including Anita and John Winwood, Rosemary and Alan Norris, Michael and Vivien Winwood, Freya and David, and Stanley and Helen Batchelor. What does each partner provide the other? In what ways do these marriages improve or stymie the characters' lives?
  2. What is the significance of setting the characters' childhood in World War II? How does the specter of the war overshadow the novel?
  3. Rendell introduces us to two murderous characters in John Winwood, whose killings open the novel, and Rosemary Norris, an unlikely assassin. Contrast John Winwood's murders and their aftermath with Rosemary's attack on Daphne. How do their deadly impulses change each of these characters and their relationships to others?
  4. In your opinion, which character seems to be the most afraid of death and aging? Why? How does this fear inform his or her actions in the book?
  5. "Life hadn't been unhappy, only dull" (p. 97). For Alan, boredom seems to be an inherent accompaniment to growing older, whereas many of the characters seem intent on satisfying their urges and living fully in old age. What do you make of Rendell's views?
  6. Rendell makes the distinction between growing older and growing up (p. 124). Discuss the moments when this novel's characters become "grown-ups." You might consider Michael's relationship to his father, Zoe and the lady on the train, as well as Daphne, especially in her childhood relationship with John Winwood. What do these moments of growing up have in common?
  7. We often equate age with wisdom, but The Girl Next Door questions that assumption by introducing us to characters who are questioning their lives and their choices. Who do you think are the wisest characters in the novel? Who are the most naïve?
  8. What effect does caring for Clara Moss have on Michael and the Batchelors? How does it impact their senses of themselves and of aging?
  9. "'Did you see that?' she said as the door closed behind them. 'He had his arm round her like they were young.''Maybe they feel young.'" (pp. 88–89). Is age more about how you feel or how you act?
  10. How does Rendell parody the younger characters in the novel, including Freya, Fenella, and Detective Inspector Quell?
  11. Though The Girl Next Door is an ensemble drama, who would you characterize as the book's protagonist? Who pushes most of its action forward? Similarly, which character do you think is most changed by the discovery of the hands?
  12. Rendell is best known for her mystery and psychological suspense novels. In what ways is The Girl Next Door a typical mystery? In what ways does it confound your expectations for the genre?


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