Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- If The Great Fire is a historical novel"historical"
in setting as well as in its preoccupation with
weight of political and personal historyhow
does the novel feel particularly contemporary? What themes present in the book exist today,
in our world?
- 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
- 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?
- The idea of destinyfatecomes 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?
- 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.
- Discuss the paragraph on page 111, beginning
with "These were their days
- 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?
- Why, towards the novel's close, does Aldred
remember the stacking of his home's firewood
(page 223) with such immaculate detail?
- Infirmity is everywhere throughout The Great Firefrom 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
- What do you believe Benedict said when he
yelled at the Japanese servant who would
subsequently kill himself?
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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.