Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Girl Next Door includes discussion questions and a Q&A with author Elizabeth Noble. 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
1. Violet and Eve become close friends over the course of the book. In fact, Violet is one of Eve’s only friends in New York. What do you think Violet and Eve are looking for in each other? How does their friendship develop into more of a mother-daughter relationship? What do they share in common besides their British roots?
2. Until motivated, independent Emily comes along, Jackson is aimless and not particularly concerned that his life is going nowhere. Can Emily be credited for the changes that he makes? Who else in this book is saved by someone they love, or motivated to be someone better?
3. When we first meet her, Charlotte is at a point in her life when she fantasizes about what she wants, but never acts upon it. How does her fantasy of her relationship with the doorman force her back into reality? Does she ultimately grow up?
4. Eve’s solution to her loneliness (and to Ed’s new workaholic schedule) is to have a baby. How does she think having a baby will change her relationship with her husband and make her happier? Are her expectations met? Discuss whether you think Eve made this life-changing decision for the right reasons.
5. The Kramers’ and the Schulmans’ marriages begin to fall apart around the same time. How does each couple deal with their marital problems differently, both in public and in private? Why do you think the Kramers pulled through, even though they appeared to be worse off?
6. In spite of living in such close quarters, the residents of the building are very private, interacting only in the elevators and the halls and taking great pains to mask their problems. David Schulman’s secrets tear his marriage apart, and the Kramers’ secrets nearly do the same. Emily hides from Jackson after the blackout misunderstanding. How do these secrets, although often meant to be protective, end up hurting the characters?
7. At the end of the book, Eve and Ed fly back to London. What will time at home give them that New York can’t? Do you think they will still be living in New York in five years? Where will the other characters be in five years? Still in New York, or not?
8. Elizabeth Noble chooses a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote for the book’s epigraph: “Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail…” Now that you’ve finished reading the book, discuss the relevance of this quotation for the main characters. Who is forging a new trail and why is it so important to do so in life?
9. What significance do you think the title The Girl Next Door holds? Who do you think the title refers to? What did you think the title meant when you first picked up the book and how did reading the book change the title’s meaning for you?
10. New York is a powerful place for many people. How does each character connect with the city? How are they drawn into it? Do you have a relationship with New York? Even if you’ve never been there, do you feel you know it through books and movies?
A Conversation with Elizabeth Noble
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Do you come from a family with artistic ambitions?
I desperately wanted to be a lawyer when I was young. A British barrister. I always wrote, though – short stories and poetry. I typed my first novella on a children’s typewriter I got for Christmas, during the summer holidays when I was about 12. I’d have made a lousy lawyer, I suspect, and by the time I went to University in 1987 I’d changed my mind, and studied English Literature. As an adult, though, The Reading Group, my first novel, was absolutely the first thing I’d written. I’m the only writer in the family – my brother is a teacher, and my sister is a midwife – dad was a banker, and mum a nurse. I’m lucky in that it’s a family where everyone’s dreams and ambitions are supported and celebrated equally.
Like Eve, you also moved to New York City from England—tell us about your experience being new to the city. What advice would you give Eve? How similar are Eve’s experiences to your own?
When I first came to New York, I fell in love with the sights, sounds and speed of the city. Then the honeymoon ended, and I became exhausted by trying to keep up with everything. I found it hard to make friends, and felt awkward and lonely, just like Eve. I’d never presume to give her advice. What worked for me was remembering who I was, caring less about pleasing everyone else, and getting on with having a fantastic adventure in this incredible city…eventually, things slot into place. I’ll always be English, and I’ll go home eventually, but while I’m here, I’m going to make the most of it!
How much of an influence does your own life have in your writing? Were any of the characters inspired by your friends or neighbors? Which character in The Girl Next Door do you relate to the most, or find yourself most similar to?
I imagine it is pretty obvious that Eve is the character in The Girl Next Door I most relate to. Many of Eve’s feelings of loneliness and alienation, and just generally feeling all wrong in her new home, came directly from my own process of adjusting. But I’m a little bit Charlotte, too, in some respects, and I’d love to be a venerable, wise older lady like Violet.
Your earlier book, Things I Want My Daughters to Know, uses letters to provide structure. How did the idea of an apartment building help you to structure this novel?
Having an apartment building at the core of The Girl Next Door is helpful in that it provides a reason for all these disparate characters to meet and interact, just like real life does. This is the first time I’ve had a place almost be a character in a novel. Structure is vital in a novel – it’s a little like having a recipe to follow in a kitchen, and, for me, it helps keep me focused and my story tight.
This is your fifth book. How have you developed as a writer since you first started out? Do you feel that your work has changed significantly, or developed in a different direction than you may have originally intended?
I hope so! I think I have more confidence in my own voice and faith in my abilities (although there are always dreadful patches of self doubt and loathing during the writing process!). One change I have tried hard to instigate is my early tendency to resolve too neatly, and a slight compulsion to happy endings. Life is messier than that, and I have tried to make my conclusions a little less tidy to reflect that.
Which of your books gave you the greatest trouble to write? And which gave the greatest pleasure or pride?
The Reading Group was the hardest – you’ve no confidence, no real idea of what you’re doing, because it’s the first one. I had sold it to my UK publisher on the strength of 50 pages, and the next 550 came hard. Alphabet Weekends was undoubtedly the most fun to write – the pleasure in constructing a love story when you essentially knew the outcome very early on, but just wanting to revel in the journey, was immense. I am inordinately proud of Things I Want My Daughters to Know, possibly because it is the most personal to me. I am probably always most obsessed, though, with whichever novel I am currently writing.
How do you work? Do you put ideas down immediately or do you walk around with them for a while, letting them incubate? Who reads your writing first? Do you have any superstitions about writing?
My editor is always the first person to read a new book, and I’m notoriously unwilling to share anything at all until I’m finished. I write in a frustratingly disjointed way, and tinker all the way through, adding bits to the middle long after I’m happy with the ending, so I only really want someone to read the end result. This requires trust by the spadeful from anyone who edits me. I’m not remotely superstitious about it, and as a working mother with two young daughters, I can’t afford to have too many rituals or pretensions either...!
Who are your literary influences and what are you reading right now?
By my bed right now, I have Penny Vincenzi’s new novel, The Best of Times. Penny is a friend – we met on a book tour about five years ago – and I love her stories; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, because everyone is raving about it; Candace Bushnell’s One Fifth Avenue, because I wanted to see how she wrote New York, and Michael Connolly’s The Scarecrow, because he’s so darn good! I read mostly fiction, but across the whole spectrum, and I usually have two or three books on the go at the same time. I’m not sure about literary influences, but I adore Anita Shreve and Armistead Maupin.
Are you working on anything new? Will any of the characters from The Girl Next Door make an appearance in an upcoming novel?
I am working on two new novels (a first for me – it is interesting to switch from one to the other..!) The first is a love story set back in the UK. The second is a sequel to The Girl Next Door in which several characters are reprised, most particularly Rachael and Charlotte…