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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions


1. How do Rex and Irene find one another and marry? How does disappointment come to define their marriage? Are either of them in control of their lives or do they just let life happen to them? Does either of them have a sense of personal power?

2. When Irene shakes her head in judgment of Girlie's fear of snakes and says, "Poor, Girlie, such a scaredy-cat," is she being cruel or is she commenting on some larger rule of life that Girlie had better realize if she is to survive? What do the different images of snakes in this novel represent?

3. Irene lines up Girlie and Boy to teach them about the botany of irises and tells them that "unlike people, flowers never disappoint." What does she mean by this? Why does Irene garden?

4. Explore Irene's tempestuous relationship with her children. Do you feel sympathy for her, particularly regarding her frustrations with being a mother?

5. Rex seems like a visitor in his own home. He is "permanently distracted" and is not an active father to his children. What are the defining moments of his relationships with Girlie and Boy?

6. How does religion figure into the lives of the family? Are Rex and Irene spiritual in any way?

7. After Irene leaves, Rex buys pigs and gives them the run of the farm, including her garden. Why? What is happening to him? Does his suicide reveal more about his personality than his life did?

8. Irene leaves Rex for another man for a month. How does this change her vision of her life?

9. How does the Australian landscape play a part in the lives of this family? Does it become a metaphor for the spiritual desolation in which they find themselves?

by Kate Jennings

  • Publication Date: January 19, 1999
  • Paperback: 157 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316912581
  • ISBN-13: 9780316912587