1. What does the first sentence tell us about Irene? “For a girl to defeat one father is a challenge, but there were two standing between me and what I wanted, which was—not to fiddle-faddle—a lovely little fellow named Titch Bobs.”
2. Carey uses two voices to tell almost all of the story, frequently presenting two views of the same events. How does this affect your understanding of what happens? Who is the main character?
3. Maps and their usage are a powerful metaphor in the novel. How does Carey build his story around them?
4. The novel is set in the 1950s. How does Carey use the era’s casual sexism and post–World War II prejudices to advance the story?
5. On page 8, Willie says, “I had lived with the expectation that something spectacular would happen to me, or would arrive, deus ex machina, and I was, in this sense, like a man crouched on a lonely platform ready to spring aboard a speeding train.” Several things in the novel could be considered a “deus ex machina”—which do you think had the largest effect on Willie?
6. What is the metaphor of Willie’s time on the radio quiz show?
7. How strong is the Bobses’ marriage at the start of the Redex Trial? How does it change?
8. Discuss the relationship between Irene and Willie. What does each person get out of it?
9. Faithfulness has multiple meanings in the novel—via romantic relationships, communities, in business partnerships. Which characters show the greatest faith?
10. Compare the parenting styles of Irene and her sister. What do they have in common?
11. In a similar vein, discuss the primary father-son relationships in the novel: Titch and Dan, Willie and Mr. Bachhuber. How does each father influence his son?
12. At several points in the novel, Irene says that she wrecked Titch’s life. Why does she say this? Is she correct?
13. On page 159, Irene decides to leave Titch behind. How did she reach this decision? She seems to regret it immediately, yet doesn’t turn back—why?
14. What prompts Willie to let Lochy ride in the car with them? Do you think Lochy recognized him?
15. On page 182, Willie begins to realize that he may be half-caste. When Irene says it doesn’t matter to her, he responds, “You think it doesn’t matter to me?” How does Willie’s discovery about his heritage change his understanding of his place in the world?
16. Why does Irene feel compelled to contact Mr. Bachhuber, and Adelina?
17. Discuss the character of Tom the Tailor. What purpose does he serve in the novel?
18. After his altercation with Carter, Willie says, “In shock, I watched Tom Tailor siphon the petrol directly from the Chev truck into the Peugeot and then I saw young Susie and my brother Crowbar and it was clear they were my friends and would not abandon me now.” (page 309) Was he right about this?
19. The final chapter, told by a new narrator looking back on the events of the novel, offers several new insights. What surprised you the most?
20. How does the racism on display in this novel compare with what we experience in the United States? Where does it intersect, and where does it diverge?