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The Ghost Notebooks Reader’s Guide

By Ben Dolnick

The Ghost Notebooks by Ben Dolnick

READERS GUIDE

This guide is intended to enrich your reading group meeting by providing topics of conversation associated with the book. The supernatural elements in the story may invoke lively discussion, so feel free to use these questions as guidelines only, and let your meeting take its own course!

Introduction

“[An] elegant, eerie new novel . . .  Powerful.” —The Washington Post 

A supernatural story of love, ghosts, and madness as a young couple, newly engaged, become caretakers of a historic museum.

When Nick Beron and Hannah Rampe decide to move from New York City to the tiny upstate town of Hibernia, they aren’t exactly running away, but they need a change. Their careers have flatlined, the city is exhausting, and they’ve reached a relationship stalemate. Hannah takes a job as live-in director of the Wright Historic House, a museum dedicated to an obscure nineteenth-century philosopher, and she and Nick swiftly move into their new home. The town’s remoteness, the speed with which Hannah is offered the job, and the lack of museum visitors barely a blip in their consideration.

At first, life in this old, creaky house feels cozy—they speak in Masterpiece Theater accents and take bottles of wine to the swimming hole. But as summer turns to fall, Hannah begins to have trouble sleeping and she hears whispers in the night. One morning, Nick wakes up to find Hannah gone. In his frantic search for her, Nick will discover the hidden legacy of Wright House: a man driven wild with grief, and a spirit aching for home.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. How do the quoted signs and teaching materials from the Wright Historic House add to the story?

2. Why does Nick agree to move with Hannah to the Wright Museum?

3. What prompted Nick to propose to Hannah?

4. What do you think Hannah is looking for in her new setting?

5. How would you feel living in a house that is also a museum?

6. The neighbors talk about things happening at the Wright Historic House in the past. What impact do these rumors have on Hannah and Nick?

7. One of Edmund White’s quotes is “Oh, what happy hours and torments, what odysseys unwritten and invisible, have taken place within this study’s sorry walls . . .” Describe some of the happy hours and torments Nick and Hannah go through in the Wright house.

8. What are torments that the other occupants of the house (such as the Wrights, the Kemps, or the former caretaker Jim) lived through?

9. Describe the progression of Nick’s and Hannah’s relationship throughout the book.

10. Discuss Hannah’s descent as she becomes obsessed with Edmund Wright’s notebooks.

11. How are Hannah’s notebook entries (as excerpted in the book) an indication of her state of mind?

12. In what way does the episode with the baby birds foreshadow Hannah’s death?

13. How does Nick initially react to Hannah’s death?

14. How was Hannah’s relationship with her parents different from Nick’s relationship with his?

15. Discuss Nick’s time with the Rampes. What about this situation leads to Nick’s breakdown?

16. After Nick leaves the Rampes, he breaks into Dr. Blythe’s office and steals Hannah’s file. How does reading the doctor’s notes affect him?

17. Nick drives back to the museum to find his belongings packed up. He is told by one of the Wrighters that Hannah didn’t die by accident or because of depression, but because she found something out about the house. How does Nick react to this information?

18. When Nick is arrested, he says: “[H]ere it was, finally—the punishment I’d been racing toward.” Discuss what this means.

19. In the mental hospital, Nick meets Jim. What do you think of the story Jim tells him? Do you believe it is true, or is it two mentally ill patients talking together?

20. After he breaks out of the hospital, Nick returns to Wright House, where he dreams that Hannah enters his body, begging for his help. He is exhausted, freezing, and starving. How much of the dream do you believe is real?

21. After digging up Wright’s grave and finding the notebooks, Nick decides to burn the house down. Why would fire be the answer to freeing the ghosts? Is the house itself the real problem?

22. Do you believe in ghosts? Do you think the events of the story are the result of the supernatural or the psychological?

23. In the end, whose notebooks do you think the title refers to—Edmund Wright’s or Hannah’s?

About this Author

BEN DOLNICK is the author of the novels At the Bottom of Everything, You Know Who You Are, and Zoology. His work has appeared in GQ and The New York Times, and on NPRHe lives in Brooklyn, New York, and with his wife and daughter.

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AT THE BOTTOM OF EVERYTHING, Ben Dolnick
YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT, Daniel Kehlmann
SLADE HOUSE, David Mitchell
WHITE TEARS, Hari Kunzru
ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR, Elizabeth Brundage
THE WINTER PEOPLE, Jennifer McMahon
 
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