Reading Group Guide
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1) Noah Locke is an interesting protagonist. While much of the action centers on him, often -- in large part due to his quiet, somewhat stoic nature -- it is difficult to tell what is going on beneath the surface. The novel's third-person omniscient point of view makes it possible for the author to describe Noah's thoughts and feelings, but even so, it is difficult for the reader to decipher Noah's true emotional state. Did you feel, by the end of the novel, that you understood what motivates Noah as a character? Why do you think that he came back from the war unable to settle down in one place?
2) On page 4, we learn that Noah "always believed there would be a place to stop the walking, to stay, to become his own forest, show his own seasons." What is it about the Valley of Light that allows Noah to finally, at least for a little while, find a modicum of peace? He has walked through countless numbers of towns and met scores of good people, and yet he has never felt the tug to settle down. Does the novel give a clear sense of why this is? Were you surprised that Noah did not decide to stay in the Valley of Light?
3) Although organized religion does not seem to be a central focus of this novel, religious connotations and symbolism abound. Noah himself is on a quest, it seems, wandering aimlessly in a kind of emotional desert, a journey that brings to mind the stories of Moses. Names (of the town, of the characters) appear to hearken back to the Bible as well -- Noah, for instance, assumes that his mother named him after the builder of the ark. What significance can you draw from the parallels between characters in this story and religious figures? Do these resonances reflect the characters' own central belief systems, or is the statement intended by this a more profound one?
4) We learn in the first few pages that "The man, who offered his name as Hoke Moore, had put him [Noah] on the path to the valley." Keeping in mind the other religious undertones in this novel, discuss Hoke Moore's role in the story. Is he a prophet, a wise man, a visionary, or perhaps a guide of some sort?
5) What did you make of the presence of Hoke Moore's fish? The first time Noah sees the fish it "erupted from the water, flinging itself high, like a god becoming flesh." Why is Noah so certain that it is the fish that has lured Matthew to his death and why does he believe so fiercely that he must be the one to catch it? Why is this fish described in such mythical terms? Noah ultimately realizes, "The fish did not kill the boy...The boy died from being who he was." What causes him to change his mind?
6) Fishing, a preoccupation of Noah as well as many of the townsfolk, gets a lot of time in this book and the language that describes it is fascinating, as it seems to change from scene to scene. Sometimes, the act of fishing seems almost to be a sexual or primal one: "Got to make him [the fish] want you, much as you want him." At other times, it almost appears to be a religious experience. What do you think fishing represents to Noah? To the people of the Valley of Light? Does fishing have new significance by the end of the novel?
7) In this novel, much is made of things that are present, yet unseen. Like the Lake of Grief itself, which seems to be barren, but which is actually teeming with fish, the characters in this story struggle to recognize what's hidden beneath their surface. How might this metaphor better help us understand the effect that Noah has on other people? Is there significance to the fact that only he can see (and harness) the fruitfulness of the lake? In what ways does he act as an emotional catalyst for all of the characters in this story?
8) Talk about the way Terry Kay described the war and Nazi Germany, and the way he presents the innocent, almost Garden of Eden-like view of small-town life as it is presented in this novel. What happens when these two worlds collide? In what ways do they both become more polarized in light of each other?
9) There are many kinds of transformations in this novel, but who transforms the most? Is it Eleanor, who physically, mentally, and emotionally comes to life during the course of the story? Is it Noah, who finally seems to take a look at his life and gains a better understanding of himself and his situation?
10) Terry Kay has often said he is not a genre writer and his works, from After Eli and Dark Thirty to Shadow Song and To Dance with the White Dog, seem to support that claim. Have you read any of Terry Kay's other novels? What kind of thematic or structural similarities do his other books share with this one? If you have not read any of Terry Kay's other works, would you want to after reading The Valley of Light?
Copyright © 2004 by Terry Kay