Skip to Main Content

About The Book

After a long-buried, harrowing incident, a woman whose promising film career was derailed has an opportunity for revenge in this visceral and timely thriller about power, privilege, and justice.

A Hollywood has-been, Sarah Lai’s dreams of success behind the camera have been put to the wayside. Now a lecturer at an obscure college, this former producer wants nothing more than to forget those youthful ambitions and push aside any feelings of regret…or guilt.

But when a journalist reaches out to her to discuss her own experience working with the celebrated film producer Hugo North, Sarah can no longer keep silent. This is her last chance to tell her side of the story and maybe even exact belated vengeance.

As Sarah recounts the industry’s dark and sordid secrets, however, she begins to realize that she has a few sins of her own to confess. Now she must confront her choices and ask herself, just who was complicit?

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Complicit contains discussion questions that 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.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Complicit tells a story that we think we already know through real-life headlines, but from a lesser-known perspective. How did the book make you feel about this topic in the end? Did it make you feel angry? Sad? Empowered? Hopeful for change? Did any part of the story come as a surprise to you? And what does this say about our expectations around so-called #MeToo stories?

2. Can you understand why Sarah Lai made the choices she did at the time, when she was working with Hugo North? Do you believe she was complicit in a system that abused and mistreated women, or was she a victim in her own way? What could she have done differently, and how would this have affected her subsequent life and career? Does the book help you understand why some real-life perpetrators were able to get away with their behavior for so long?

3. At first glance, some of the characters in the book may seem like stereotypes: the wide-eyed starlet, the visionary film director, the hard-working Chinese-American woman, the gay hairdresser, the wealthy Brit, etc. But did these characters go beyond the shallow outlines of these stereotypes? In what way? What do you think the book is ultimately saying about stereotypes and the way individuals are judged externally?

4. Did you like the character of Sylvia Zimmerman? How would you describe her relationship with Sarah? Was she a protective mentor toward a younger woman in the industry, or did she exploit Sarah and expose her to other dangers? What about Sarah’s relationships with Holly and Courtney? Do you think women can do more to support each other in the workplace? And is it their responsibility to support each other, or should the professional world be designed to be more gender-equal?

5. Sylvia’s career suffers because of her dedication as a mother, and Holly undergoes rigorous scrutiny over her appearance. What are some other examples in the book of how women are disadvantaged and held to a different standard from men? How does the book depict female ambition in a male-dominated workplace?

6. Complicit portrays an “old boys’ network” where men retain most of the power in the film industry. They socialize with each other after hours and give each other opportunities, while treating female colleagues in a very different way. Did you find this realistic? Have you encountered scenarios like this in your own working life? And how does one speak up about sexual harassment and other gendered injustices in the workplace?

7. We also see a workplace where young talent is exploited, underpaid, often unrecognized, and exposed to other dangers like sexual abuse. Could you relate to this at all? Do you think this is particularly pronounced in industries like film, which are heavily glamorized?

8. Did you enjoy the film industry setting and the many references to films? Did you learn anything surprising or eye-opening about how films are made? The book makes use of “familiar” settings we associate with Hollywood, like the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globes. How did it make you feel about the glamor and spectacle of movies vs. the reality of making them?

9. How does the book portray fame and celebrity? We get to know Holly Randolph before she becomes famous, and yet Sarah refers to that fame as a “burden.” What are other examples where the book uses motifs of surfaces, illusion, and artifice in depicting the entertainment industry?

10. Why do you think the author inserted the transcripts from other interviews Thom Gallagher was conducting in his investigation? What does this say about the different perspectives that people can have regarding instances of sexual harassment and assault?

11. In exploring the media world, the book considers the question of who is allowed to tell the story. What did you think of the Thom Gallagher character? How did his gender and class privilege help him in uncovering a story and in enabling his own professional success? How does this notion of privilege and success play out in other characters in the story?

12. Complicit interrogates the concept of the American dream: that in America, anyone can work hard to achieve individual success in their career. Does the book agree with this idea? At one point, the book claims: “Envy is built into the immigrant experience. It is what drives the American dream, after all.” How did envy affect Sarah’s own ambition—and her attitude towards other women like Holly and Courtney?

13. How does race play a part in Sarah’s professional life? Do you think she was perceived and treated differently because she was Chinese American? Do you think her own parents’ cultural attitudes toward career affected her own choices and behavior at work? Could you relate at all to this aspect of Sarah’s experience?

14. Sarah is embarrassed by her family’s Chinese restaurant in Flushing, and yet it is also undeniably her roots, and a place where she developed many of her own skills. What does this seem to be saying about immigrant communities in the US? And when she stumbles upon the Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles, what is the importance of this scene?

15. Sarah claims that in the film industry, money ultimately decides everything. Do you think this is true in other contexts? Do you think that every character in the book was swayed by money? And what does the book say about the ethical and artistic choices we can make in a world dominated by money?

16. Storytelling and silence are important themes in Complicit. The book opens with a bitter, cynical thirty-nine-year-old Sarah, who has kept silent about what happened to her when she was young and eager. Over the course of the novel, what do you think the process of sharing her story does for Sarah? And what does the end seem to be saying about the collective value of sharing so many individual stories?

About The Author

Photograph by Grace Gelder

Winnie M Li is an American author and activist living in the UK with her partner and young son. A Harvard graduate, Winnie worked as a film producer in London before her career was disrupted by a violent rape. Inspired by that experience, her first novel Dark Chapter was nominated for an Edgar Award and translated into ten languages. She is the founder of Clear Lines, the UK’s first-ever festival addressing sexual assault through the arts and discussion. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (August 16, 2022)
  • Length: 416 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982190828

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

"As soon as I read the first few pages of COMPLICIT I knew it was going to be a compulsive read - Winnie M Li’s powerful and beautiful writing immediately immersed me and kept me furiously turning the pages. Through her assured storytelling Winnie draws you into the protagonist’s world on every level - from the superficial to the emotional - to paint a devastating and timely portrait of the abuse of power within a highly charged and often frightening workplace. I loved it."

– Sarah Pearse, New York Times bestselling author of THE SANATORIUM

"In this page turning story of one woman’s struggle, Li thrusts the reader into the film industry’s dark and deep-seated culture of rampant sexism and unbridled male ego…and the terrible cost of staying silent. An utterly compelling read."

– Liv Constantine, internationally bestselling author of THE LAST MRS. PARRISH

“Winnie’s skill as a writer is to forge out of a familiar film story one that is beautifully unique. It haunted me when I was away from it. An emotionally complex story, it ripples with foreboding and tension. Utterly compulsive reading.”

– Sarah Winman, author of STILL LIFE

"A masterful example of the slow burn thriller, highlighting the still all-too-true fact that often the real terror for women is simply existing in a man's world. Also an ode to the power and beauty of story-telling. I loved it."

– Araminta Hall, author of IMPERFECT WOMEN

"A deep dive into the sleazy underbelly of the film industry prior to #MeToo, COMPLICIT is a brave look at the innocents, the predators, their enablers and those who turned a blind eye to sexual harassment, abuse and rape. Winnie M Li weaves a story that is compelling, courageous and brutal in the best possible way."

– Liz Nugent, #1 internationally bestselling author of LITTLE CRUELTIES

"Like John Grisham did with the legal profession in THE FIRM, Winnie M Li's COMPLICIT provides an insider's look at the film industry that is full of suspense." 

– Peter Swanson, New York Times bestselling author of NINE LIVES

"A sharply written and absorbing dive into a dark and glamorous world. As timely as it is entertaining, this spectacular novel hooked me from the first page. Winnie M Li is a remarkable talent."

– Cristina Alger, New York Times bestselling author of GIRLS LIKE US

“A shattering and morally complex portrait of power, ambition, guilt, and the toxic culture that enables entitled men to do as they please, Winnie M Li’s COMPLICIT invites us into the blinding glare of the Hollywood spotlights—and the shadows that lie beyond. I couldn’t look away.”

– Robin Wasserman, PEN/Faulkner finalist and critically acclaimed author of MOTHER DAUGHTER WIDOW WIFE

"A propulsive page-turner, Winnie M Li’s COMPLICIT is a glittering story of ambition, regret, corruption and ultimately hope. Sarah Lai is an unforgettable protagonist."

– Vanessa Hua, author of FORBIDDEN CITY

"A fearless and brilliant novel about power, ambition and abuse in the film industry and what it means to be a survivor."

– Anna Mazzola, Edgar Award-winning author of THE STORY KEEPER

"Bold, brilliant, dazzling and devastating. Winnie M Li writes with pure heart and effortless style, and in COMPLICIT handles the sharpest of stories with such compassion and skill."

– Chris Whitaker, New York Times bestselling author of WE BEGIN AT THE END

"A skilful, engrossing and timely thriller -- as well as a deeply unsettling glimpse into the dark heart of Hollywood."

– T.M. Logan, #1 internationally bestselling author of TRUST ME

"COMPLICIT is a must read for anyone who’s sat in a movie theater, watched an entertainment show, or followed their favorite celebrity on social media. It’s a harrowing explanation of how powerful men are able to get away with so much for so long – as seen through the eyes of an unforgettable heroine whose dreams to make movies becomes a nightmare. You’ll never look at the film industry the same again."

– Kellye Garrett, Agatha, Anthony, and Lefty Award-winning author of LIKE A SISTER

"With slick, addictive writing and characters that feel so real and relatable, COMPLICIT is both engrossing and completely enraging! I couldn't put it down!"

– Allie Reynolds, author of SHIVER

"Winnie M Li gives us an insider view of the intoxicating and corrupt world of the movie industry that often places women in a no-win situation. Her lead character, Sarah Lai, faces both sexism and racism in following her ambition to become a producer. How much of her integrity is she willing to sacrifice? Moving through New York City, the Cannes Film Festival and Hollywood, COMPLICIT is a page turner for our times."

– Naomi Hirahara, Edgar Award-winning author of CLARK AND DIVISION

"COMPLICIT is simply brilliant. Beautiful writing, a compelling story, an intriguing structure—I was captivated from the first paragraph to the last. Li pulls back the veil on the glamorous film industry to show its less-than-savory side, yes, but it's the empathetic lead Sarah Lei who makes the novel truly special. Her journey from eager film student to capable producer to wise and remorseful screenwriting teacher blowing the whistle on a former colleague will touch the hearts of anyone who's made choices that they later regret. Like the fallout from the #MeToo movement, this story will resonate for years to come."

– J.T. Ellison, New York Times bestselling author of HER DARK LIES

"Ingeniously constructed, traversing searing aspects of race, class, gender, COMPLICIT gallops to a surprise finish, toggling back and forth from present to past and back again without losing any of its propulsive momentum. A page-turning read that also makes you think."

– Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of THE EVENING HERO

"COMPLICIT by Winnie M Li is one of the best novels about the dark side of Hollywood that I have read. Winnie understands the inner workings of the movie business, but more importantly, she understands the moral complexity and emotional tolls of working in a business that doesn't just tolerate, but actively rewards bad behavior. It's about how your dreams are used against you, and how power seduces, and how quickly moral grayness fades to black."

– Jordan Harper, Edgar Award-winning author of SHE RIDES SHOTGUN

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images