INCLUDES AN EXCERPT OF RENDELL’S FINAL NOVEL, DARK CORNERS
Is it dangerous to know too much about your neighbors?
When Stuart Font throws a housewarming party, he invites all the residents of his new building—among them, three flippant young girls, a lonely spinster, a man with a passion for classical history, and a woman determined to drink herself to death. He definitely does not want his girlfriend, Claudia, in attendance, as he would also have to invite her lawyer husband. But careful planning can only get a person so far. As it turns out, this party will be one everyone remembers.
Meanwhile, living in a town house opposite Stuart’s building, in reclusive isolation, is a young, beautiful Asian woman known as Tigerlily. As though from some strange urban fairy tale, she emerges infrequently to exert a terrible spell.
In Tigerlily’s Orchids, Ruth Rendell has written a darkly humorous and psychologically thrilling novel about the eccentric inhabitants of a London terrace—about the secrets they keep, and what they will do to hide them.
This reading group guide forTigerlily's Orchids 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.
When Stuart Font decides to throw a housewarming party in his new flat, he invites all the people in his building—three flippant young girls; a lonely spinster; a man with a passion for classical history; and a woman determined to drink herself to death. After some deliberation, he even includes the unpleasant caretaker and his wife. He considered inviting a few other friends, but he definitely does not want his girlfriend, Claudia, in attendance as he would also have to invite her lawyer husband. As it turns out, the party will be one everyone remembers.
Living in a townhouse opposite Stuart’s building, in reclusive isolation, is a young, beautiful Asian woman, known as Tigerlily. As though from some strange urban fairytale, she emerges infrequently, to exert a terrible spell. And Stuart’s parents, always worried about their handsome, hopelessly naive and under-motivated son, have even more cause for concern.
Darkly humorous, piercingly insightful about human behavior, Ruth Rendell, whom People magazine calls “one of the most remarkable novelists of her generation,” has created an extraordinarily compelling story of our lives and crimes.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
Name your favorite and least favorite resident of Lichfield House and explain why. Was anyone, in your opinion, blamelessly angelic? Irredeemably evil?
Discuss the role of money and finance in the novel. Were events such as the closing of Wicked Wine crucial to plot development and character psychology? Or were they simply atmospheric details that helped root the story in present day England?
What was Duncan Yeardon’s fatal flaw?
It’s difficult to imagine a more perfect setting for the confrontation between Freddy and Stuart than Stuart’s party. As the story builds to its crescendo, it’s violently interrupted and knocked off-course by Freddy’s actions. Compare and contrast the two confrontations between Freddy and Stuart at Lichfield House. To what extent do Stuart’s feelings for Claudia change between the two fights? How do the individual residents of Lichfield House perceive Stuart differently after the second violent episode?
What symbolic significance do you think St. Ebba’s Cemetery plays in this novel? In what ways are Walter and Stuart connected to the ominous plot of land?
Do you feel any sympathy for Walter Scurlock? Or are his actions so morally reprehensible that there is no room for subjective judgment?
Do you think Stuart’s affinity for Tigerlily is anything more than a fleeting infatuation?
At the end of Chapter 11, in an enigmatic scene, Xue asks Stuart: “Are you good man?” Stuart responds, “Yeah—well, I hope so.” (pg. 117) Do you think Stuart Font is a good man?
One of the underlying questions in the book is what responsibility neighbors should have to look out for one another. To what extent are characters like Marius and Rose culpable for the tragic events of the book by their inaction, if at all? Should they have done more to try and help Stuart and Olwen?
In addition to crimes like murder and pedophilia, how does Rendell use the novel to invoke other contemporary social issues, such as immigration, alcoholism, and financial turmoil? Does Rendell seem to take sides on these issues through their portrayal in the novel, or does she simply present them as matter-of-fact components of modern life?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
Create an alternate ending to Tigerlily’s Orchids. If you can, break up into a few small groups and independently pick up the story from the moment that Stuart is found dead. The rules are that you can’t introduce a new character into your version, and the murderer must be different than in the book. How many different suspects emerge as new killers? Do you prefer any of the new endings to the way Tigerlily’s Orchids actually concludes?
It’s nearly impossible to raise the topic of voyeurism without including Alfred Hitchcock’s cinematic masterpiece Rear Window in the discussion. Turn your Book Club into a Movie Club for a night. In what ways are the voyeurs of the two stories, Duncan Yeardon in Tigerlily’s Orchids, and L.B. Jeffries in Rear Window, similar? In what specific ways do their imaginations get them in trouble? How do these seemingly passive characters transition into actively driving the plot of the story?
Ruth Rendell (1930–2015) won three Edgar Awards, the highest accolade from Mystery Writers of America, as well as four Gold Daggers and a Diamond Dagger for outstanding contribution to the genre from England’s prestigious Crime Writers’ Association. Her remarkable career spanned a half century, with more than sixty books published. A member of the House of Lords, she was one of the great literary figures of our time.