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This reading group guide for When the Night Comes
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. Introduction
Isla is a lonely girl who moves to Hobart with her mother and brother to try to better their lives. Their efforts are not really working until they meet Bo, a crewman on an Antarctic supply ship, the Nella Dan
, who shares stories about his adventures with them—his travels, bird watching, his home in Denmark, and life on board the ship. Isla is struggling to learn what truly matters and who to trust, and this modern Viking is searching to understand his past and find a place in this world for himself. Though their time together is short, it’s enough to change the course of both their lives. And what they give each other might mean they can both eventually find their way home.
Praised for writing that is “vivid and distinct” (Library Journal
, starred review) and “exquisite in its simplicity and eloquence” (Kirkus Reviews
), Favel Parrett delivers a stunningly beautiful novel about the bond forged between two unlikely and unforgettable strangers. Topics & Questions For Discussion
1. Explain the significance of the title of the book. Did your interpretation of the title change as you read? In what ways and why?
2. Despite the title of this work, there is a prevalence of light throughout the text, with numerous descriptions of the sunrise, a mention of Bo’s island always in full light, and even pastries that, to Isla, taste “like sunshine.” What does the sunlight represent to Bo and Isla?
3. Isla’s mother is very mysterious and withdrawn. Her actions aren’t always explained. Why do you think she is this way? What kinds of experiences has she gone through to make her this way? How does Isla’s mother’s temperament affect her relationship with Isla?
4. Parrett begins her novel with a short poem. How did the poem affect your reading of When the Night Comes
? How do the lines relate to each of the characters within the novel?
5. When Bo describes the water and how it rages against the ship, he goes into details about its ebbs and flows as if he is describing different moods. How else is the ocean personified in the way Bo and Isla perceive it?
6. The color red is very prominent throughout When the Night Comes
. When Isla first sees the Nella Dan
, she sees “nothing but red. A bright red wall of steel.” Red appears again when Bo remembers his father’s beard and the red rose Isla tosses into the water for the ship. What is the importance of the color red? What do you think it signifies?
7. Why is Bo drawn to the hill made of stones? What does it symbolize to him? What does he gain upon reaching it?
8. What role does religion play in Isla’s childhood? Does being in a Quaker school affect her upbringing and outlook on the world? In what ways?
9. Not much is said or explored about Bo’s and Isla’s mother’s relationship. Neither Bo nor Isla divulge much about how this relationship both begins and ends. Why do you think Parrett decided to leave such details out of this work?
10. Parrett evokes fairy-tale imagery in this novel through the red apple that Bo relishes; his favorite cake, described by Isla as being like “a fairy tale,”; and the ship being frozen and encased in ice, much like Snow White. What other sorts of fantastical imagery does Parrett use?
11. Ships are often feminized and referred to as female. The Nella Dan
is also treated like a human and described as such by the people who are familiar with her. What is it about Nella
that has such an emotional impact on those who work on the ship? What kinds of human characteristics do those who are fond of her give her?
12. Childhood memories tend to be very vivid, though not always touched with fondness. Isla’s fond memories of Bo stay with her for the rest of her life, whereas she does not reflect much on her mother or father. What is it about Bo and his influence on her in this particular time in her life that makes such an impression on her?
13. Isla describes her home as cold and stony, whereas Bo is warm and comfortable on the ship. Her home is earthbound whereas his home is on the sea. What do you think constitutes a proper home? Why do both characters feel more comfortable on the ship and see it as more as a home than one on land?
14. Bo and Isla are constantly trying to figure out where their place is in the world. Do you think they ever find what they are looking for? Explain your answer. Enhance Your Book Club
1. When Parrett’s debut novel, Past the Shallows
, was published, she won critical acclaim for her writing that “sings with an emotional power that marks her as a writer to watch” (Library Journal
, starred view). Oprah.com praised the novel, calling it “Compulsively readable . . . the simple, unaffected tone of Parrett’s writing makes this a poignant read—but it’s the story of how these two emotionally distant brothers help each other that makes the novel so moving.” Read Past the Shallows
with your book club and compare the two novels. Has Parrett’s writing style changed since the release of her debut novel? If so, in what ways?
2. Read the official history of the Nella Dan
here: http://www.antarctica.gov.au/about-antarctica/history/transportation/shipping/nella-dan-1962-1987. Why do you think the world reacted so strongly to the decision to scuttle the Nella Dan
? Discuss Isla’s relationship to the boat. What does it symbolize for her?
3. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald
, Parrett says that When the Night Comes
is about “kindness.” Read the interview here: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/favel-parrett-and-the-saga-of-nella-dan-20140818-1059y4.html. Then discuss Parrett’s statement with your book club. What examples of kindness do the characters show each other? Discuss Bo’s relationship with Isla in particular. How does his kindness help her? What are the ultimate results?
4. To learn more about Favel Parrett, read more about her works, and find out if she’ll be in a city near you, visit her official website at http://www.favelparrett.com.au/.