Summary and book reviews of A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison

A Small Indiscretion

A Novel

by Jan Ellison

A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison X
A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2015, 336 pages
    Feb 2016, 352 pages


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About this Book

Book Summary

With the emotional complexity of Everything I Never Told You and the psychological suspense of The Girl on the Train, O. Henry Prize winner Jan Ellison delivers a brilliantly paced, beautifully written debut novel about one woman's reckoning with a youthful mistake.

Named one of the best books of the year by San Francisco Chronicle

At nineteen, Annie Black trades a bleak future in a washed-out California town for a London winter of drinking and abandon. Twenty years later, she is a San Francisco lighting designer and happily married mother of three who has put her reckless youth behind her. Then a photo from that distant winter in Europe arrives inexplicably in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.

Past and present collide, Annie's marriage falters, and her son takes a car ride that ends with his life hanging in the balance. Now Annie must confront her own transgressions and fight for her family by untangling the mysteries of the turbulent winter that drew an invisible map of her future. Gripping, insightful, and lyrical, A Small Indiscretion announces the arrival of a major new voice in literary suspense as it unfolds a story of denial, passion, forgiveness—and the redemptive power of love.

Paperback published Feb 2016. First published in hardcover & ebook in 2014.

A Small Indiscretion

London, the year I turned twenty.

I wore a winter coat, the first I'd ever owned—a man's coat purchased at a secondhand store. I wore it every day, along with a silk scarf tied around my neck, imagining I looked arty or sophisticated. Each scarf cost a pound, and I bought them from an Indian woman who kept a stall in the tube station at Victoria, where I caught my train to work. They were thin, crinkled things, not the sort of scarves that ought to be worn to work in an office or that offered any protection against the cold. But I could not resist them, their weightlessness and soft, faint colors. The money I spent on them, and the habit I adopted of wearing a different one each day, seems to me now a haphazard indulgence, an attempt to prove that I was the kind of girl capable of throwing herself headlong into an affair with her boss—a married man twice her age—and escaping without consequence.

"Church," he said, the morning ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In the beginning of the novel, Annie writes: "Between those bookends was a family whose happiness might still be intact if only I'd been able to see the threats to it more clearly." Is Annie reponsible for Robbie's accident, and for her family's unraveling? Is it in her power to protect them?
  2. There is more than one indiscretion in the novel. Which do you think the title refers to, or might it refer to more than one?
  3. On page 302, Annie writes that it is "easier to blame the impulsiveness of youth than the wanton self-indulgence of a grown woman." How can this statement be assessed in the context of Annie's story? Why does Annie confess to Jonathan upon her return from London?
  4. After Jonathan moves out, Clara and Polly ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about A Small Indiscretion.
You can see the full discussion here.

After the conclusion fo the novel, how do you imagine events unfolding?
I found it interesting that we don't get to know what happens in terms of any relationships except for Annie and Jonathan. I think Robbie will understand and accept the situation that Annie was in. There didn't seem to ever be a case where she ... - laurieh

Annie writes: "The heart is large, and there is more than one material in the bucket we call love." How does the novel address the theme of the nature of love? How do notions or definitions of love evolve as the novel progresses?
I am writing this with a month's distance from reading the book. This quote captures what I found interesting about the book - the examination of different kinds of love and the challenges we have in balancing these. Sexual love, love for children, ... - AmyD

Ask the Author
There isn't much I could say to my twenty-year-old self she wasn't already telling herself--then systematically ignoring. "All in good time," for instance. "Everything in moderation." These were the mantras I whispered then ignored as I rushed ... - davinamw

Did the revelation in the letter from Emmie's uncle come as a surprise? What previous scenes hint at this revelation? Is Emme justified in holding Annie responsible?
I had suspected that Emme was Daisy. But I didn't make the connection of the letter. I thought it was interesting that the Author never let us know exactly what the letter said. So the reader can imagine what the letter says. I probably think it ... - Navy Mom

How can Annie's statement that it is "easier to blame the impulsiveness of youth than the wanton self-indulgence of a grown woman" be assessed in the context of her story?
I agree with her that her transgressions as a young woman are more forgiveable than what she did as a mature adult. She obviously has impulse control issues. I think most everyone wonders what might have happened if they had made different decisions ... - darylb

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Media Reviews

The Huffington Post
Part psychological thriller, part character study ... I peeled back the pages of this book as fast as I could.

USA Today
Ellison is a tantalizing storyteller, dropping delicious hints of foreshadowing and shifting back and forth in time . . .If you are clinging to a stash of letters and ticket stubs from old lovers, Indiscretion may have you rethinking the cost of holding on to the past rather than basking in the virtues of the present.

San Francisco Chronicle (Book Club pick)
Astonishing . . . This voice is alive. It knows something. It will take us somewhere. The magic is accomplished so fast, so subtly, that most readers hardly notice . . . Lovely writing guides us through, driven by a quiet generosity... . This voice knows something, and by the end of the novel, so do we.

Rich and detailed ... The plot explodes delightfully, with suspense and a few twists. Using second-person narration and hypnotic prose, Ellison's debut novel is both juicy and beautifully written. How do I know it's juicy? A stranger started reading it over my shoulder on the New York City subway, and told me he was sorry that I was turning the pages too quickly.

San Jose Mercury News
An impressive fiction debut ... both a psychological mystery and a study of the divide between desire and duty.

The Rumpus
Ellison renders the California landscape with stunning clarity... . She writes gracefully, with moments of startling insight... . Her first novel is an emotional thriller, skillfully plotted in taut, visual scenes. The stakes are high from the start... . As Ellison pulls the thread that unravels the past, she weaves a rich tapestry of memory and desire, secrets and omissions, and exposes the knotted wages of love.

O: The Oprah Magazine (Editor's Pick)
Delicious, lazy-day reading. Just don't underestimate the writing. Ellison describes her various love triangles in lavish prose... . The real strengths of this novel are the foggy, intimate flashbacks that so perfectly capture the sexual and romantic confusion of a young woman in a foreign land.

The Week
In Jan Ellison's terrific debut novel, youthful sexual antics produce an 'astonishing' fallout decades later, said Joan Frank in the San Francisco Chronicle... . As we read on, the story 'morphs - flavorfully, artfully - into a sexual whodunit.'

Publishers Weekly
The book is a page-turner but the crazy connections are too orchestrated to be believable, and the epistolary format doesn't fit.

Library Journal
Part romance novel, part coming-of-age story, and part family drama, this somber book about a perpetually flawed woman is a challenging and thought-provoking read.

[A] cleverly constructed debut ... a deftly crafted, absorbing novel that peels back the layers of Annie's character as it reveals the secrets of her past and present.

Kirkus Reviews
Connoisseurs of domestic suspense will finish this book in a few breathless sittings, then wait eagerly for Ellison's next trick.

Author Blurb Emma Donoghue, New York Times bestselling author of Room
An engrossing, believable, gracefully written family drama that reveals our past's bare-knuckle grip on our present.

Reader Reviews

Penny P

A Small Indescetion
I really liked this book. I would rank it sort of like The Girl on The Train or Gone Girl. It explored a lot of areas, past mistakes and how they might follow us, the inability to really appreciate what we have and the need to search for even more. ...   Read More
Catherine McKenzie

Lovely novel
I really enjoyed this debut novel from Jan Ellison. Can we really leave the past behind? And what might you do to your life today if she try to go back to it? Those are two central questions at the heart of this suspenseful and lyrical novel.

Is one's character as a good person or a bad person ever defined by one or two acts or lies? Is a person's character defined only by one's acts as an adult and youth an excuse for bad behavior? Very well written and keep my interest throughout.

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