This reading group guide for In a Good Place includes discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A. 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. Questions for Discussion
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1. “I shake my head, enjoying the fact that, with Mimi, everything is a drama and a crisis” (page 18). Is Rose’s perception of Mimi accurate? If so, why does she like that about her? Could the same statement apply to Rose as well?
2. How do you perceive Mimi’s “Ten Rules of Country Living” on pages 39 to 41? Is she truly happy living at Home Farm, or would she rather be in London?
3. For most of the novel, we see Ralph and Pierre as described by Mimi and Rose instead of hearing them actually speak. Why do you think Rachel Johnson wrote them this way?
4. Were you surprised by the revelation that Rose has had several extramarital affairs? Why did she decide to share this information with Mimi?
5. “I was ready for this windmill thing to be about new green versus old blue. But it doesn’t appear to be so black and white after all” (page 122). What does Mimi mean by this statement? What are your thoughts about the town dynamic?
6. How would you describe the role of motherhood in the novel? Based on the way Mimi describes them, how do country mothers compare to those in London?
7. When Rose discovers that her daughter, Ceci, knows about her affair with Jesse Marlon, why doesn’t she care? Does Pierre know as well? And if so, why doesn’t he confront his wife?
8. “Like all keen fishermen, Ralph’s main, if not only, aim in life—not just on the riverbank—was the achievement, and then the extension, of a period of peace and quiet” (page 234). Considering Ralph’s demeanor, why did he consent to father Clare’s baby? Do you believe him when he says they didn’t have an affair? Does Mimi?
9. What role does tradition play in the novel? Who in Honeyborne is tradition important to and in which ways?
10. “Indeed, I almost feel able to attend Sophy’s next workshop on biodynamic composting. But not quite. Not yet. You can take the girl away from Notting Hill . . .” (page 205). By the end of the book, to what degree has Mimi acclimated to country living?
11. After Pierre becomes a success in the art world, Rose says, “I realize, now, that I love Pierre very deeply” (page 258). Is she saying this only because Pierre is finally contributing financially? Do they truly love each other?
12. By the end of the novel, which characters do you believe are “in a good place”? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Can’t get enough of Rachel Johnson’s witty and entertaining characters? Want to know about Mimi’s life back in London? Then check out Johnson’s first novel, Notting Hell
2. After reading In a Good Place,
are you now an expert on all things British? A very helpful (and humorous) glossary is included, so why not quiz one another about “M&S,” “Waitrose,” and other brand names and personalities you might not have known about before reading the novel.
3. The eco-village Spodden’s Hatch plays an important role in the novel. To better understand this kind of community, do research on similar places and share photos with the group.
4. To read all about Rachel Johnson, find out what it’s like to go on a book tour, or even send her a note, visit her official website: http://www.racheljohnson.co.uk/
A Conversation with Rachel JohnsonYou live in England, and the novel is set there. What challenges existed in making In a Good Place accessible to readers worldwide?
To be brutal, I didn’t set out to try to make it “accessible.” I just tried as best I could to render accurately the experience and pre-credit-crunchy concerns of a certain, high-toned middle-class milieu: people who had largely left town for the green fields and slower pace of the rural idyll, only to find that the canvas for competition had merely . . . got bigger. Think tweedy types hunting, shooting, and fishing colliding with Alice Waters on food and local produce and Martha Stewart on pickles and preserves and you have about the size of it. So, yes, the setting is very English and yet, as with Notting Hell,
all societies have their elites, and this applies to the ritzy areas of the countryside too. (In the UK, the well-heeled counties, like Dorset, Devon, Wiltshire, Hampshire, and so on are called the Shires, and the book was published under the title Shire Hell.
Just in case you thought, looking at Amazon, that I’ve managed three books in three years. Wish I had, but no.) I think everyone can recognize the one-upmanship and the competition that go on wherever you are, especially among groups where the women don’t have to hold down office jobs and instead get in a total snit about who won the longest carrot contest or took first prize for summer chutney in the August fête. Why did you decide to have two narrators, Mimi and Rose, share their perspectives in alternating chapters? Was it difficult to maintain a consistent flow with two such different women narrating?
I have a really short attention span, and this helped me along to vary the pace and the outlook. I used the same device in Notting Hell,
and I hope it worked here. You have to be very careful using the first person and varying the narration, obviously, because you really don’t want the reader thinking at any point, “Whose the hell head I am in here?” It should be obvious. Should be, I stress . . . Do you relate the most to Mimi, Rose, or another character? Did some of your own friends or acquaintances inspire anyone in the novel?
I’ve said it before, and I don’t mind admitting it again. My heroine, the curly-headed, scone-loving Mimi, is very much after my own heart (that’s why her name sounds the same as me-me
). As for the other characters, UK newspapers have had some fun trying to link my cast to real people. Some minor characters are based on folks I know, but not in any serious way. Not so serious as they would sue, anyway. When you start to write you realize how important it is that characters are strong and recognizable and themselves. Real people are too subtle. It’s like you have to put pancake makeup on someone, otherwise she fades out under the bleaching glare of studio lights. They need to have real presence and stand out on the page. Before becoming an acclaimed author, you were already a well-known journalist. What prompted you to write novels? Do you find one form of writing more enjoyable than the other?
Tough one. I love writing journalism because it’s all over in two hours and comes straight off the top of the head. Writing novels is soooooo much harder. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Even harder than delivering my first baby whose head size was in the ninety-ninth percentile and who was in posterior position (since you asked, a thirty-six-hour-labor followed by forceps followed by surgery). And another thing—unlike childbirth, it never gets any easier. You just know how hard it’s going to be for the next two years of your life with ever more certainty each time. Like several of your characters, you’re a mother with a busy work schedule. How do you balance your time? What advice can you offer other working mothers?
There’s only one thing I can say here. Don’t worry about never having time to write. Just write what you can in the time you do have and give yourself a big clap on the back, followed by a double latte and a blueberry muffin. You’ve done well. P.S. I am writing this now amid the litter of takeout Thai food in pajamas while my daughter is Facebooking instead of completing her history project and the dog is licking out the containers. Today I wrote a thousand words of my new novel in the London Library, interviewed a source over a sandwich in Piccadilly at lunch, saw my disabled mother for tea, and then walked the dog and ordered the dinner and the week’s groceries. It’s 8:31 p.m., and I still have to write my column for the Evening Standard
. And P.P.S. I’ve had two glasses of pinot grigio. I needed it. I really needed it. Mimi has conflicted feelings about leaving London for life in the countryside. You yourself divide your time between Notting Hill, London, and Exmoor, Somerset. Where do you prefer to live?
My favorite question! I think about this all the time. I fantasize that I would be happy living in the depths of a river valley minus central heating and hundreds of miles from the nearest vodkatini, but the truth is, I am spoiled, and I love and need and relish both. Both town and country. I love the London life (see Thai takeout in vignette, above) but I am most happy sitting by the fire in my Wellington boots, listening to my collection of Miles Davis LPs, with a big book in one hand and the other patting my dog, Coco. London is very stressful. But after six weeks in Exmoor, I pine for the pollution and noise and, above all, the easy availability of the strong skinny latte. So many of your female characters are competitive with one another. Do they have true friendships?
Miaow! Course they do. English people are famous for never speaking out but only saying what they really feel about you behind your back. Americans believe the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I like exploring those, er, differences in national snippiness. Several of your characters have had extramarital affairs. Why did you make that decision?
Because it’s true to life and stuff has to happen in fiction. It doesn’t reflect any amorality or casual approach to the sanctity of the wedding vows on my part, in case you were wondering. Based on the feedback you’ve received, do American audiences react differently to this topic than British ones?
American audiences tend to be a little bit more Puritan judgmental. Hope that doesn’t offend anyone . . . Have you ever spent time in an eco-village like Spodden’s Hatch?
Yes. I spent a day or so in a place exactly like Spodden’s Hatch. Called Tinker’s Bubble in Somerset. In the second and third parts of the book, there are several time shifts. Why did you employ this storytelling device?
Because I was trying to be clever and mix it up a little, I suppose. Showing off? Besides your editor, whom do you first allow to read your work?
Only my editors at Touchstone Fireside and Penguin! I send the work to my agent, Peter Straus in London, and Melanie Jackson in New York, too, and value every word of their advice. My husband wants to be a reader, but I always tell him, Not until it’s in hard (or soft) cover, babe. Have you ever belonged to a book club? If so, did you enjoy the experience?
No!Can readers expect to hear more from Mimi and Rose in the future?
Not immediately . . . I’m deep in another project. But I don’t ever rule it out. I’d love to see how they’re getting on. And Clare . . . and Si . . . and Ralph, too.