THE MEMORY OF LOST SENSES

By Judith Kinghorn
New American LibraryJanuary 2014
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Trade Paperback448 pages, $16.00, ISBN: 9780451466129
Subject: History / Relationships / Intrigue

  1. What did you enjoy most about The Memory of Lost Senses? What do you expect to recall about it six months from now?
  2. Judith Kinghorn describes the themes of the book as duplicity, prejudice, child abuse, bigamy, lies, and reinvention. Discuss how each theme plays out in the novel.
  3. The countess’s arrival in the village causes a stir of speculation. Discuss how life in a small English village in 1911 might foster such intense interest in the countess. What might the reaction be today?
  4. The author fills the book with lavish descriptions of Cora’s estate, especially the art treasures she has brought back from Europe, and the surrounding gardens. Do these descriptions convey something about Cora’s state of mind?
  5. Discuss the novel’s complex narrative structure—the many points of view, the back and forth in time and place, and the author’s deliberate withholding of information. Why do you think Judith Kinghorn chose to tell her story this way? How might she have done it differently, and would a different way have been more or less effective?
  6. Discuss the major characters’ notions of romantic love. Do Cora, Cecily, and Sylvia all see love similarly? And how do those different ideas influence the choices they make?
  7. Discuss the complex relationship between Cora and Sylvia, especially in light of the author’s comments about them in the Conversation with Judith Kinghorn. How do they each manipulate the truth? How do they each foster the other’s illusions?
  8. By the end of the book, do you have a clear sense of the chronology of Cora’s life? Can you list its significant events? Are there parts of her life that remain uncertain?
  9. Did the resolution of Cecily and Jack’s relationship surprise you? Satisfy you?
  10. Discuss the surprise twists at the end. Were you shocked? Did they help to complete your understanding of Cora and the choices she made? Of the choices the other characters made?
  11. Discuss the idea of reinventing one’s life. How do the characters in this novel reinvent themselves? Can you think of other fictional characters who reinvent themselves? And do you know people in real life who have reinvented themselves?
  12. The unreliability of memory is an important theme in the novel. Cora has forgotten her painful early memories as she has reinvented her past. With this in mind, to what extent can we trust her recollection of her love affair with George? And how is memory used in the second part of the book to expose Sylvia’s own delusions?

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