Reading guide for The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Great Fire

by Shirley Hazzard

The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2003, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2004, 336 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. If The Great Fire is a historical novel—"historical" in setting as well as in its preoccupation with weight of political and personal history—how does the novel feel particularly contemporary? What themes present in the book exist today, in our world?

  2. The novel is, as well, a veiled critique on Imperialism, on the Western world's presence in foreign lands. In what way does each character reflect a different reaction to the East? What sorts of roles do they (Aldred, Peter, Oliver, the Driscolls, Calder, Talbot) play in its changing politics?

  3. In what ways is love expressed in the novel? Do these characters put themselves at risk for such expression, and furthermore, what must they stand up against to love others?

  4. The idea of destiny–fate–comes up again and again in this world. The word "destiny" itself is mentioned at least four times throughout the novel. If both love and war are then meant to be, if these people's damages lead them to new places, what do these characters' individual lives say about humanity as a whole? Does the novel leave you with hope or worry?

  5. More specifically, what is the fate of women in The Great Fire? Think of the discussion on Western weddings in Hong Kong, on page 159. Of Aldred and Peter's impressions and experiences with women. Of Helen's plight.

  6. Discuss the paragraph on page 111, beginning with "These were their days…"

  7. What role do the mailed letters play in the book? Are they "the sad silly evidence of things," as Aldred says to Helen, or are they more? How does Hazzard use the epistolary form to fuel the narrative?

  8. Why, towards the novel's close, does Aldred remember the stacking of his home's firewood (page 223) with such immaculate detail?

  9. Infirmity is everywhere throughout The Great Fire—from Benedict Driscoll's degeneration to Aldred's wounds to Peter's fate to Dick Laister's father's amputation. What deeper, quieter infirmities exist in the book? What are your impressions about the characters' reaction to their wounds?

  10. What do you believe Benedict said when he yelled at the Japanese servant who would subsequently kill himself?

Copyright Picador Publishing. All rights reserved. Page numbers refer to the USA paperback and may differ in other editions.

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.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Castle of Water
    Castle of Water
    by Dane Huckelbridge
    When a whopping 24 out of 27 readers give a book 4 or 5 stars, you know you have a winner on your ...
  • Book Jacket: Havana
    Havana
    by Mark Kurlansky
    History with flavor...culture with spice...language with gusto...it would be hard to find a better ...
  • Book Jacket: Temporary People
    Temporary People
    by Deepak Unnikrishnan
    In this powerful and innovative collection of 28 short stories, Deepak Unnikrishnan presents a ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    If We Were Villains
    by M. L. Rio

    An intelligent and captivating story of the enduring power and passion of words.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    No One Is Coming to Save Us
    by Stephanie Powell Watts

    One of Entertainment Weekly, Nylon and Elle's most anticipated books of 2017.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

The thing that cowardice fears most is decision

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -