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After the tragic death of her older brother, Lauren Beck decides to move from her family home in Tasmania to Evergreen Falls in the Blue Mountains—a place her brother cherished as the site of his last happy memory. In her new life, Lauren begins a relationship with the architect in charge of the refurbishment of the Evergreen Spa Hotel, and together the two discover evidence of a secret love affair from 1926 in the old hotel. In Lauren’s quest to piece together the narrative of the star-crossed lovers from long ago, she also uncovers family secrets of her own and begins to understand that love, while not always easy, will always triumph in the end. Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. When Lauren discovers that Tomas has inadvertently left behind his key for the west wing of the hotel—the wing of the hotel no one has been in for decades—she decides to let herself in, and in so doing, uncovers Sam’s letters to Violet. What do you think prompts Lauren to do something so bold, so uncharacteristic? Does this show of bravery hint at the Lauren we come to know by the end of the novel?
2. In many ways, Violet Armstrong is the foil character for Lauren Beck. Discuss the differences between the two women. Ultimately, does one character become more like the other? Which character changes the most as the novel unfolds?
3. Many of the characters in the novel are bound by a sense of duty. As Flora explains on page 51, “since the moment [Sam] had come into the world, Flora had been compelled to look after him—both by her parents, who had little time for children, and by her own heart, which loved him immeasurably and fearfully.” Discuss this obligation to others, and consider what it is that motivates each character. Is it love, as Flora says? Consider Flora, Lauren, Clive, and Tomas in your response.
4. When Flora admits to Tony that, had she not been born into her family and position, she would have liked to have been a doctor, Tony laughs and tells Flora she is “being ridiculous” (p. 116). Are Flora and Sam as much trapped in their class position as Violet and Clive? Do you think that any of the characters are happy with their lot in life? Why or why not?
5. Why do you think it was so important to Violet to carve Sam’s initials into the rock by Lovers Cave? What significance does the permanence of his name in stone have for her? Does it become an epitaph of sorts after Sam’s overdose?
6. Discuss the location of the story—both in 1926 and 2014. How does the setting of the Evergreen Spa Hotel influence decisions the characters make? What is it about this location that helps people fall in love and confront tragedy?
7. The character of Miss Zander is based on a real woman who managed a hotel where Kimberley Freeman’s grandmother worked in the 1920s. How does her characterization match or differ from your understanding of social attitudes during that time? How does she compare with the other women in the novel? Consider the moment she counsels Violet to live her own life: “Really, I get quite tired of the way girls get carried along on the wills of others so easily” (p. 262).
8. “Even with the ballroom divided in half and the fire roaring in the grate, the cold seemed close, gathering in the corners of the room and up in the high ceiling” (p. 269). Does the onset of the winter storm parallel the downward spiral of any characters in the story? Is there anyone in the novel who has not
been altered after the storm passes through?
9. Do you think Flora made the right decision about covering up Sam’s death? Do you think she would have been able to financially support Violet and the baby had she not gone along with Tony’s plan? Would you have made a similar decision in her place?
10. Revisit the moment Flora discovers Sam’s cold body (p. 316). Do you think deep down Flora is relieved that Sam is “free from the torment of his withdrawal at last” (p. 316)?
11. “Family secrets had such power” (p. 330), Lauren says, and she realizes that she doesn’t want to live in denial any longer. Do you think that the weight of family secrets oppresses the characters in the novel? Are the ones who survive the ones who are able to overcome the weight of these secrets?
12. The opening scene in the Prologue gets repeated once Sam’s body has been discovered on page 343. Rereading this scene a second time, what has changed? Do you find Tony’s and Sweetie’s responses to Flora and her deceased brother more callous on a second read? Why do you think the author chose to repeat this scene for us? Does it send a message about the characters?
13. Is the theme of the novel one of the horrors of love, or the triumph of love despite tragedy? Enhance Your Book Club
1. The love between Sam and Violet is forbidden simply because they come from very different worlds. In 1926, it would have been difficult for Sam to have convinced his family that his love for Violet superseded social norms, although such unions were not altogether unheard of. Host a movie night with your book club and watch the popular PBS show Downton Abbey.
Are the two worlds—the servants’ and the Granthams’—so drastically different? As a group, discuss how the employees and the guests at the Evergreen Spa Hotel live lives similar to the characters in Downton Abbey
. Does the love affair between Sam and Violet have a counterpart in the show?
2. Lauren’s discovery of the love letters from 1926 set in motion the unfolding of Sam and Violet’s narrative and the love story between Lauren’s brother, Adam, and Anton. The letters in some ways also released Lauren from the bonds of her mother and allowed her the freedom to fall in love with Tomas. Look through old photographs and items that you have from your parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents. What story do these items tell? Have a “show-and-tell” night with your book club. Share the family items and discuss how they tell a story about the people you came from.
3. Sam’s death was so tragic in part because it could have been avoided. Opiates still have a strong hold in the world today. Learn more about the effects of these drugs by watching the documentary Raw Opium
(2010) with your book club. Afterward, discuss why you think Sam was so taken by this drug. What void did it fill in his life? Do you think he would ever have been able to have a clean, meaningful life with Violet? Why or why not?
4. Author Kimberley Freeman has written other novels that move through time and place like Evergreen Falls
. Read her previous book, Ember Island
, with your book club. What do the two books tell you about Kimberley Freeman’s prose style? Do the characters in Ember Island
resemble the characters in Evergreen Falls? A Conversation with Kimberley Freeman As with your last novel, Ember Island, you chose to set Evergreen Falls at two very different moments in history: 1926 and 2014. How do the two narratives speak to each other in Evergreen Falls? Do you think the present informs the past as much as the past informs the present?
I am endlessly fascinated by the idea that the past and the present are not quite so neatly separated as we might think, and that idea comes out time and again in my work. We are all influenced by what has gone before and pass those influences on down the line to our own children. And yes, I do believe that what we choose to think and do in the present can influence how our past is shaped as we talk about it in the future. Evergreen Falls
was inspired by reading the memoir my grandmother wrote before she died twenty years ago. I had never read it before, but it had fifty very detailed pages about her time as a waitress in posh hotels in Sydney in the 1920s. I learned so much about my grandmother and gained an enormous respect for her and the difficulties she faced. It made me so proud to be her granddaughter, and it also helped me understand my own mother better. The Examiner wrote that “the complexities of character and female relationships make [Ember Island] very rich and emotional.” Were any of the complex characters in Evergreen Falls inspired by people in your life?
I love what Anthony Trollope said: of course he drew characters from life, but you’d “never recognize a pig in a sausage.” Like most writers, I am a committed people watcher. I am interested by all kinds of people and their relationships, and I watch them and turn it over in my mind in a kind of detached way that I sometimes worry borders on sociopathic! But as I have said above, I drew a lot from my grandmother’s memoir, and some of the characters are directly lifted from it, especially the guests at the hotel. The opera singer, the beauty queen, the brother and sister from the wealthy family. Violet is nothing like Grandma, though, or at least I hope not! One doesn’t like to think about the grandparents having an opium-fueled sexy affair! Tell us about the research that went into the making of this novel. Was it a lot or a little? Describe the project of this novel from conception to completion.
I wanted to set a book in the Blue Mountains, in a place where there was snow, because I had the idea of the hotel snowed in and bad stuff happening: kind of like The Shining
but without the supernatural. As soon as I mentioned it to people, they started offering me research advice. The first piece of advice was from my agent here in Australia, Selwa Anthony, who suggested I look up the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains, as it was an old hotel that was being renovated. I drove up the mountains and climbed over the hurricane fence and wandered around the beautiful old crumbling hotel for an hour. The view from the back fence out over the Megalong Valley was incredible, and I knew it hadn’t changed for hundreds of years, that many other people had taken in that view before me and many more would in the future. It was incredibly inspiring.
Then when I mentioned the story to my mother, she told me firmly that I needed to read Grandma’s memoir, and determinedly unpacked an old box and found a thick wad of typewritten pages. Grandma had worked as a waitress at the Wentworth—Sydney’s finest hotel—in the 1920s. The memoir was full of the kind of information I simply wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else: the dresses, the dance parties, the attitudes. All of it in such rich language and detail. Every dress Grandma describes in the memoir—hers and the guests’—made it into the manuscript. I had a research assistant to help me with other bits and pieces, but Grandma’s memoir was a gift, and I wrote the book very quickly.
I always plot the novels out in advance, which saves a lot of time and allows me to plan for the key turning points. When I wrote the prologue, I already knew it would appear in the novel about two-thirds of the way through, so in a way I was writing toward that terrible scene from the start. It gives the plot such momentum if you know exactly where you’re going. But as I do in all my books, I try to give the characters lots of problems to solve. It makes them grow and become more interesting. Do you agree that a theme of the novel is the burden—and freedom—of love? If not, what would you name as a major theme of the novel?
Yes, it is definitely about the burden and freedom of love. How love makes us responsible for each other in a way, which is perfect because we do all need each other. But that love with the right person means they take responsibility for you in some ways, too, letting you be free to become all that you can be. Is Evergreen Falls a commentary on social class and position?
Everything I write is! I grew up very poor. My dad was on welfare: he was a drinker, and we never had anything. Even in these days where we aren’t supposed to have a class system, I see social inequality everywhere. I suppose I’ll never grow out of it. Who is your favorite character in Evergreen Falls and why?
I love Flora because she tries so hard to do the right thing. She’s the person who is often overlooked because she’s not beautiful nor charming, but she is the person whose heart is true and whose mind is strong. I would like to be more like Flora. I have a horrible feeling I’m more like Violet: a bit flighty and vain. Do you think any of the characters live happily ever after? Specifically, do Flora and Violet overcome their grief over Sam’s death? Is that even possible?
I do think it’s possible. I mentioned my father’s alcoholism earlier, and he died from it while he was still only in his forties. I adored him, and he was gone by the time I was twenty. But I overcame it and have gone on to live a wonderful life despite his negative influences. Substance abuse really is an awful thing, and there’s a sense that when you love somebody who is addicted to something, you always know you will lose them eventually, so you keep a little bit of steel in your heart. It’s like Neil Young said, “Every junkie is like a setting sun.”
In my mind, Violet and Clive had a good life, and Flora and her doctor were blissfully happy. There is much overlap in the fear over Adam and his illness and the fear that Sam will never stop smoking opium. Does this type of craft decision imply something bigger about human nature, about our fears of letting people be who they need to be?
I think it’s more about how that responsibility to those we love, which I cited earlier, doesn’t guarantee us anything. We can’t keep people safe just by loving them. In a way, to love somebody is to always fear losing them. This story dramatizes that a little more keenly than most of us have to feel it. Can you tell us anything about your next project?
I am writing a novel (nearly finished) set in the 1950s. It starts in a girls boarding school when a new girl arrives who is wild and fierce and brilliant, and she turns lives upside down. She and her two friends do something terrible, which they have to spend the rest of their lives atoning for. I LOVE it. What advice do you have for aspiring young writers?
Read a lot, then write a lot, then read and write some more. Writing is like mining: nobody breaks the surface and finds gold. There’s a lot of dross that has to be gotten out of the way first.