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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

The Fig Eater

1. Why is Erszébet so interested in investigating Dora's murder? What motivates her?

2. What is the relationship between Erszébet and Wally? What role do they play in each other's lives?

3. How do Erszébet and the Inspector approach crime-solving? How do the male and female approaches differ?

4. Who did you suspect of the murder? Did your suspicions change at various points in the story?

5. The real Dora, Freud's patient, was seduced by her father's friend Herr K. In exploring women's psychology and sexuality, Jody Shields takes the seduction one step further and turns it into murder. Discuss the symbolism of seduction leading to murder.

6. Are the rules of investigation, as stated in the System der Kriminalistik, still relevant today? Are they followed today? Which ones struck you as particularly crucial to Dora's case?

7. Erszébet and the Inspector's marriage has many ups and downs. Explore these in relation to their separate investigations of the murder. When are they close? When are they distant?

8. What is the role of food in The Fig Eater, particularly as it figures in the relationships between the characters? What about hunger?

9. In what ways is sexuality constrained in the characters' lives? How does the repression of sexuality manifest itself?

10. Think about the notion of parallels and doubles in the book: the double investigation, rational versus mystical, truth and lies, bourgeois propriety versus sexuality. How does Shields play these off each other?

11. What is the historical significance of figs? How does their presence and the knowledge of them as a major part of the story (from the title) affect your reading?

12. Discuss how photographs and photography figure in the novel. What role does Egon play? What powers does he attribute to photographs?

13. What is the significance of the time period, the turn of the century? Think about the mixing of old and new worlds, including ways of thinking.

14. What kind of writer is Jody Shields? Does her style remind you of any other writers?

15. Whom would you cast in the film?

The Fig Eater
by Jody Shields

  • Publication Date: March 6, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316785261
  • ISBN-13: 9780316785266