A Hundred Small Lessons

A Novel

A Hundred Small Lessons

Through the richly intertwined narratives of two women from different generations, Ashley Hay, known for her “elegant prose, which draws warm and textured portraits as it celebrates the web of human stories” (New York Times Book Review) weaves an intricate, bighearted tale of the many small decisions—the invisible moments—that come to make a life.

“Readers who loved the quiet introspection of Anita Shreve’s The Pilot’s Wife and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge will enjoy the detailed emotional journeys of Hay’s characters. Their stories will linger long after the final page is turned” (Library Journal).

When Elsie Gormley leaves the Brisbane house in which she has lived for more than sixty years, Lucy Kiss and her family move in, eager to establish their new life. As they settle in, Lucy and her husband Ben struggle to navigate their transformation from adventurous lovers to new parents, taking comfort in memories of their vibrant past as they begin to unearth who their future selves might be. But the house has secrets of its own, and the rooms seem to share recollections of Elsie’s life with Lucy.

In her nearby nursing home, Elsie traces the span of her life—the moments she can’t bear to let go and the places to which she dreams of returning. Her beloved former house is at the heart of her memories of marriage, motherhood, love, and death, and the boundary between present and past becomes increasingly porous for both her and Lucy.

Over the course of one hot Brisbane summer, two families’ stories intersect in sudden and unexpected ways. Through the richly intertwined narratives of two ordinary, extraordinary women, Ashley Hay uses her “lyrical prose, poetic dialogue, and stunning imagery” (RT magazine) to weave an intricate, bighearted story of what it is to be human.

“Readers who loved the quiet introspection of Anita Shreve’s The Pilot’s Wife and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge will enjoy the detailed emotional journeys of Hay’s characters. Their stories will linger long after the final page is turned.” (Library Journal)
  • Atria Books | 
  • 304 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781501165139 | 
  • November 2017
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for A Hundred Small Lessons includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

When Elsie Gormley leaves the Brisbane house in which she has lived for more than sixty years, Lucy Kiss and her family move in, eager to establish their new life. As they settle in, Lucy and her husband, Ben, struggle to navigate their transformation from adventurous lovers to new parents, taking comfort in memories of their vibrant past as they begin to unearth who their future selves might be. But the house has secrets of its own, and the rooms seem to share recollections of Elsie’s life with Lucy. In her nearby nursing home, Elsie traces the span of her life—the moments she can’t bear to let go and the places to which she dreams of returning . . .

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. In the Michael Ondaatje poem, we see the titular phrase “a hundred small lessons” (ch. 12), describing children dreaming of their past lives. How does this idea of dreaming and learning from our previous incarnations relate to the major themes of the book? What are some of the “small lessons” you see in this novel see more

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The Body in the Clouds
The Railwayman's Wife

About the Author

Ashley Hay
Photograph by Nigel Beebe

Ashley Hay

Ashley Hay is the internationally acclaimed author of the novels A Hundred Small Lessons, The Body in the Clouds, and The Railwayman’s Wife, which was honored with the Colin Roderick Award by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the most prestigious literary prize in Australia, among numerous other accolades. She has also written four nonfiction books. She lives in Brisbane, Australia.

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