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This reading group guide 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.
At 26, Emma has a near-perfect life – a steady job, a great group of friends, a cute Dublin apartment and the perfect person to share it with, her long-term boyfriend John. But in an instant, with the screech of brakes, everything changes and Emma is left devastated.
Through their grief, Emma’s friends help her to put her life back together while weathering their own life changes: successful but perpetually single best-mate Clodagh; newlyweds Richard and Anne; Emma’s brother Noel, a Catholic priest struggling with a crisis of faith; and Sean, John’s handsome best friend, reeling from his loss. As Emma reemerges into her life, she must find the courage not just to go on, but to accept the joy, adventure, and new love waiting around the corner.
1) Discuss how the five stages of grief are explored through the reactions of Emma and her friends. Do you think the group’s grief process helps Emma to move through her own pain? Do you agree with Emma that guilt is the step before acceptance?
2) Explore some of the strange events that happen in Emma’s life after John’s death, such as the appearance of the kitten on the second floor window and Emma’s vigilante attack on the mugger. How did each event help Emma to become stronger or set her on a new path? Emma believes John has a hand in the mysterious occurrences in her life. Do you agree?
3) Both Sean and Emma have recurring dreams of John. Why do you think they share this? Explore the symbolism of each, including the playful sun in both. How do the dreams help Sean and Emma to heal? When does John finally say goodbye? Why do you think this is the moment?
4) Why does Emma resist her feelings for Sean for so long? In what ways does she consider it a betrayal of John? Does Sean’s position as John’s best friend complicate matters? Do you think Emma always loved Sean?
5) The novel begins with Emma’s pregnancy scare and her direct address to an unknown reader. Were you surprised to discover that she was speaking to her daughter? Why do you think it is important for Emma to share this story with her child?
6) In what ways do Noel’s struggle and crisis of faith stem from the loss of John? How do you think his faith was validated by his travels to the third world? Do you think he was right to leave the church in the end?
7) Why is Anne so unhappy in the country? Why does this issue cause such a rift between she and Richard? How is their marriage ultimately strengthened by the dispute?
8) Sean is introduced as a perpetual ladies man and later expresses insecurity about his own ability to be a responsible partner and father. Why do you think he is so afraid? How do you think he is able to leave all this behind for Emma?
9) Discuss the changes all the characters undergo over the course of the novel. Who do you think has changed the most?
10) Discuss the Auden poem excerpt that serves as the book’s epigram and the source of the title. How does the poem express grief? How is the poem subverted by the eventual message of the novel?
Enhance Your Book Club
Research the settings of Pack Up the Moon at wikitravel.org. Explore both young, vibrant Dublin and beautiful Kerry. Which better represents your conception of Ireland? Discuss the aspects of Anna McPartlin’s Irish perspective which may have surprised you.
If you were to write the story of your life for someone, who would it be? What would be the message and the central event? Share your ideas with the group.
Why not congregate at an Irish pub, just as Emma and her friends do? Don’t forget a cold Guinness, or, if you prefer, a cup of tea.