Reading guide for Mr. Phillips by John Lanchester

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Mr. Phillips

by John Lanchester

Mr. Phillips
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2000, 304 pages
    Apr 2001, 304 pages

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. For much of the novel, the author refers to his protagonist as "Mr. Phillips" as opposed to his first name. What does he accomplish by doing so? What is the significance of Lanchester’s choice of Victor as Mr. Phillips’ first name considering the events that befall the character?

  2. How would you describe the depiction of women in Mr. Phillips? What is your opinion of Mrs. Phillips and Clarissa Colingford? To what extent do you feel that this opinion is influenced by the fact that these women are described through the voice of Mr. Phillips instead of an impartial narrator?

  3. In some sense, Mr. Phillips is a voyeur—watching the women playing tennis in the park, staring at people in their cars, viewing the adult film. In what sense is the reader also a voyeur in terms of observing both the people Mr. Phillips watches and Mr. Phillips himself?

  4. John Lanchester employs a unique method of transitioning between chapters, often making an inexplicable jump in chronological order. How does this add to the mood of the novel? Do you view this as Lanchester’s comment on our tendency to "lose" parts of our day because of their monotony only to recall the specifics from memory if so required?

  5. What do you make of Mr. Phillips’ preoccupation with numbers and calculations? Does it contribute to his lack of emotional intensity or is it simply a manifestation of it?

  6. Mr. Phillips focuses on numerous aspects of business, from the promises of the travel agent’s posters to the disregard with which Mr. Wilkins fires Mr. Phillips. What major comments do you feel this novel makes regarding the influence of the corporate world on our everyday lives?

  7. In what ways does his experience with the bank robbery prove to be a maturation process for Mr. Phillips? Do you feel that his survival in the face of danger will provide enough of an impetus for him to tell Mrs. Phillips that he has been fired?

  8. What compels Mr. Phillips to help the elderly woman with her grocery bags? Is this ultimately an act of kindness or an attempt by Mr. Phillips to reconfirm his own usefulness? In what ways does the story of Mr. Erith relate to that of Mr. Phillips?

  9. The final line of the novel ("He has no idea what will happen next") does not provide the normal sense of closure. Is this a disappointment to the reader or the appropriate way to finish the novel? What do you see as the future of Mr. and Mrs. Phillips?

Reproduced with the permission of Penguin Putnam Publishing

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