Women’s lives are different from men’s lives. Women’s friendships are different from men’s friendships. That’s not a value judgment. It’s a fact. And it goes further than that, of course. Man or woman, you don’t see or experience things the same way your sister, your neighbor, your colleague, or your best friend does. We are all different from one another.
But it’s the differences that make things interesting, and it’s the differences that offer us opportunities. Opportunities to learn more about one another, to support one another, to feel passionate about one another, and even to hurt one another. Yes, our differences can cause problems–"wars" between men and women on one front, wars between nations on another–but they are more likely to add depth and complexity to our lives. Differences are cause for celebration.
In A Sudden Change of Heart, readers see evidence of this. Author Barbara Taylor Bradford shows us how friendship and love connect some very different people. She explores relationships between older and younger characters, men and women who are friends and lovers, thirty-something women who have been girlfriends all their lives, and much older women who become friends and confidants. Against the backdrop of Paris, New York City, and rural Connecticut, Bradford describes the nuances of love and friendship. It is one of her strengths. And in this novel, it comes out in full force through her two main characters, Laura Valiant and Claire Benson, who have been best friends since childhood. Now in their thirties, Laura and Claire face crises including divorce, death, and the residue of unhappy childhood.
Into this brew, Bradford mixes the poignant story of Holocaust survivors and the machinations of the high-stakes art world. Cruelty, horror, beauty, ugliness, abiding love–Bradford looks at the contradictions of life as we all know it. In A Sudden Change of Heart, readers will find that friendship, childhood memories, money, passion, history, and sorrow seize their attention and keep them engaged. In Bradford’s skillful hands, Laura and Claire come to life as they battle problems, share secrets, make mistakes, and triumph in the end. Probably not so different from many people you know.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Talk about the role of the prologue in setting the scene and holding the promise of the story.
2. What are some of the different "changes of heart" that occur in this novel?
3. In your experience, and in this novel, when people have endured great tragedy, personal or societal, are they destined to live unhappily for long periods of time? In other words, does tragedy demand its due?
4. Discuss the author’s use of art and the language surrounding it to convey emotion in this novel.
5. Is the beauty of art or nature powerful enough to battle the evil and ugliness in the world?
6. When you first meet Philippe and Rosa in the early pages of the novel, what were your impressions? Did you question Laura’s reaction to them? Talk about the author’s purpose here.
7. Analyze how the author uses the tale of stolen art to bolster the emotional tale of love and friendship and vice versa.
8. Comment upon the author’s use of foreshadowing in regard to plot and character development in the novel. For instance, in Doug’s reason for ending his marriage.
9. In the novel, characters often speculate on the inner lives of other characters, trying to guess the experiences or sorrows they’ve undergone that make them the people they are. Examine the role of secrets in this novel.
10. The author uses the Nazi plundering of art as a plot device and a morality tale. Discuss this dual role.
11. In one passage, Megan Valiant reminisces about her children and grandchildren and says, "You shouldn’t have favorites, but you always did" (page 141). Is this true in your experience of parenthood or grandparenthood?
12. Laura is a direct, forthright woman who believes "there’s a solution to everything" (page 160). Discuss her characteristics and temperament and how they fit, or seem at odds with, the work she does.
13. At one point in the novel, Hercule notes, "Sadly, women with successful careers were not always so lucky in their personal lives" (page 170). Do you agree with this observation? Is it true to your life or the lives of others you know?
14. Is the novel primarily Laura’s story? Claire’s? Both?
15. The strength of the Valiant family is a theme in the novel. But at one point in regard to the number of people in the family, Doug reflects, "There’s only you, Laura" (page 234). How does the author redefine family so that it fits her theme?
16. Do you think Claire anticipated Laura and Philippe’s relationship? Hoped for it?
17. Rosa speaks of the difficulties that children of Holocaust survivors sometimes have–the odd jealousy they may feel. Talk about this issue as presented in this novel or in your own experience.
18. Rosa and Claire were both silenced. Discuss this as a cause of their antipathy toward each other and their final coming together.