Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Last Night at Chateau Marmont by Lauren Weisberger 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.
The very first time Brooke spotted the scruffy, soulful Julian Altar perform “Hallelujah” at a crowded bar in Manhattan’s East Village, she knew those full-body chills she was feeling meant two things: this guy was destined to be a star, and she desperately wanted to see him again. Five years later, Brooke and Julian are happily married, and Brooke is working two jobs as a nutritionist to support her husband as he plugs away on his first album and dreams of hitting it big. But when an appearance on the Tonight Show propels Julian to overnight stardom, Brooke soon discovers that fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. With her husband increasingly absent, the tabloids speculating endlessly about their relationship, and her self esteem in shambles (she’s no supermodel, after all), Brooke must decide if she and Julian can reclaim the happy, honest relationship they once had – or if her days with the music scene’s new “It Boy” are numbered.
Questions for Discussion
1. At the very beginning of the novel, Nola expresses her concern over Brooke and Julian’s future: “It’s just so hard, as your friend, to watch you kill yourself working to support him for so many years now. Especially when the odds are so low that anything will come of it” (p. 8). Do you think that Nola, as Brooke’s best friend, should be more encouraging? How would you feel about the situation if you were Nola?
2. While Brooke’s parents lack the wealth and the social status of Julian’s, they are decidedly more loving and supportive. How do you think Brooke and Julian’s respective upbringings have shaped their personalities and aspirations? Does Julian have more to prove?
3. Brooke forms a strong bond with Kaylie as she works to help her overcome her body image issues. How does Kaylie’s quest to fit in at Huntley compare with Brooke’s experience as the wife of a rock star? What kind of pressures does Brooke encounter to lose weight, and how does she react to them?
4. While it’s Julian’s musical credibility and his striking live performances that initially catapult him to fame, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a bonafide sex symbol. Discuss Julian’s evolution from scruffy crooner to superstar. How do his friends and family perceive him differently? Do you think he has sold out, or is the change just a part of the business?
5.As Brooke becomes more and more unhappy with her new lifestyle, she seems to be increasingly unable to articulate her feelings to Julian, even lying about being pregnant to get his attention. Why do you think she has such trouble communicating with her husband? What do you think she should do differently?
6.Brooke's attempt at commiserating with Amber and the other exes of famous men ends in disaster. Discuss the portrayal of Amber, Diana, and Kenya. What do you think about their views on Julian and Brooke's marriage? Are they jaded and bitter, or simply realistic?
7. The Chateau Marmont, co-conspirator in numerous real-life rock star indiscretions, is the site of Brooke and Julian’s first thrilling night as celebrities and, months later, Julian’s brush with infidelity. Why do you think the author bookends her novel with these two very different encounters at the same hotel? What does the Chateau represent for the Alters, and how does this change as the novel progresses?
8. While Brooke is adamant about keeping both of her jobs despite her new financial situation, in the end she admits that she should have been less stubborn about maintaining her "civilian" lifestyle. Do you think she shares the blame in the problems they encountered? Should she have compromised earlier, and quit one of her jobs?
9. Near the end of the novel, Julian tells Brooke how unprepared he was for stardom: “In my craziest, wildest fantasies or nightmares it never looked anything like this” (313). Were the Altars naïve to think that their lives wouldn’t change so drastically? Moving forward, do you think that they’ll be able to regain some semblance of a normal life?
10.Weisberger uses many real-world references in this book, such as celebrity characters, television shows, restaurants, and events. What effect did this have on your reading experience?
11. This book takes a hard look at the price of fame in our celebrity-obsessed culture. As Carter Price describes it to Brooke, "It feels like the entire world has been invited into your home and every one of them has something to say about it" (p.273). Has it changed the way you think about the way celebrities are portrayed in the media, and how it impacts their personal lives?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Have everyone in your book club bring in a copy of their favorite tabloid. Pick out the most outrageous story you can find. What do you think is true, and what is made up?
2. Cast your own movie version of Last Night at Chateau Marmont! Which actors would you have play Brooke, Julian, Nola, Leo, Samara, etc.?
3. As Brooke’s father puts it, the Chateau Marmont is “the place to be for badly behaved musicians” (p.78). Do some research and bring your favorite Chateau-related story to your next book club meeting.
4. Find out more about Lauren Weisberger by visiting her website, www.LaurenWeisberger.com, which includes a list of her other titles as well as biographical information.
A Conversation with Lauren Weisberger
What inspired you to write Last Night at Chateau Marmont? What kind of research did you do for the book?
We all know that celebrities tend to marry each other—Brangelina, TomKat, Ben and Jen—and these marriages are bizarrely compelling in their own way, but I always find myself so much more interested in “civilian” wives of world-famous actors, athletes, and musicians. What must it feel like for these women to know that, although they’re often invisible, their husbands are recognized, and lusted after, by millions? The perks are huge, but so are the drawbacks, and I wanted to explore that from their perspective. As for the story of overnight fame, I was inspired by an experience I had years ago. I was a recent college grad, living with a roommate in New York, and I went on a date to hear a local singer-songwriter at a divey bar on the Upper West Side. Well, I never saw the date again, but I did keep going back to hear the music, and a couple of years later, Gavin DeGraw’s music was sailing to the top of the Billboard charts. I still smile every time I hear one of his songs. (And Gavin, if you’re reading this, rest assured that I’ve got the stalking under control these days—that, and your manager refuses to give me your home address.)
This is the first of your novels to focus on a married couple. Was writing from the perspective of a married woman a different experience for you?
It’s probably no coincidence that the first book I wrote as a married woman is about a marriage—and that really is, first and foremost, what this book is about. Like so many young, happily married couples, Brooke and Julian have a plan for how they envision their lives: he hopes to pursue his music career, and she’s working toward opening her own business one day. But then something happens to throw everything off course, and despite being the very thing they’d both desperately wished for, they need to adjust to a shocking new reality. It was important to me that their relationship feel real and recognizable, despite the intensely glamorous backdrop of Julian’s success.
Once Brooke and Julian’s initial giddiness about his sudden fame wears off, the spoils of success—the money, clothes, attention, and VIP access—make their home life more and more difficult. How did you manage to keep their plight sympathetic, despite all their good fortune?
My hope is that any woman who has struggled to find a balance between her own career, her husband’s ambitions, and her marriage—so essentially, every woman—will relate to this story. Brooke wanted Julian’s success as much as he did, and initially they’re both thrilled with their newfound fame. Who wouldn’t love the star-studded parties, the ultra-luxe hotel suites, the first-class cabins, the endless champagne . . . not to mention the makeovers, the free clothes, the gorgeous borrowed diamonds? But Brooke realizes more quickly than Julian that these goodies come at a steep price: their time together vanishes right along with their privacy, and neither one can open a magazine nor turn on a television without being greeted by rumors, gossip, or unflattering pictures of themselves. Almost overnight they are besieged by paparazzi, sold out to the tabloids, and left to figure out how to see each other despite Brooke’s hours and Julian’s tour schedule. It may seem super sexy and exciting from the outside looking in, but I think as soon as Brooke is confronted with the flipside of fame, she comes to understand that it’s not all as it seems.
In terms of their love lives, Brooke and Nola couldn’t be more different, yet Nola helps Brooke pull through the worst of her struggles with Julian. Was it important for you to give Nola a different perspective on love than Brooke?
Definitely. Brooke’s path to love was pretty traditional. She may have met Julian in an unconventional way, but after that, they dated for two years, got engaged, and married a year later. After five years of marriage, they’d settled into a loving, comfortable relationship that was fairly predictable until Julian’s overnight success. Nola chose a different route, one that was often at odds with her friend’s timeline. Although she presumably could’ve married and settled down many years earlier, Nola can’t make up her mind. One day she yearns for a committed relationship; the next day she’s bored to tears with the idea and wants to jump from guy to guy. I think everyone has a friend like that. Or is like that herself. It’s always one or the other.
Despite the ups and downs of their relationship, the Alters get their happy ending in this book. What do you envision for their future? Do you think they’ll make it work?
I do! The next couple of years for them aren’t going to be easy, but if they can make it through this, they’ll get through anything. There’s no doubt the love is there, they just needed to figure out how to communicate. Lots of talking plus mutual respect plus a fab townhouse on a tree-lined street in Brooklyn equals guaranteed happiness forever.
Brooke and Julian’s friends and family all follow the gossip about them in the media, some with more pleasure than others. Are tabloids a guilty pleasure of yours? Has your attitude toward our celebrity-obsessed culture changed at all since you wrote this book?
Are tabloids a guilty pleasure of mine? Has Jessica Simpson had terrible taste in men post-Nick? Does Halle Berry’s daughter Nahla have the two most gorgeous parents in existence? Does Matthew McConaughey go bare-chested at least eighteen out of every twenty-four hours? Umm, yeah, I think it’d be fair to say that I enjoy the occasional skim through a favorite picture mag or two. Brooke enjoyed it too—until she first flipped open an issue and saw her husband with his arms wrapped around a world-famous pop starlet. Writing those parts definitely made me think how it might feel to be on the other side of those pictures. Life is hard enough without some production assistant circling before-and-after photos of your facial features and announcing all the plastic surgery they think you’ve had. But I have to say, so long as there are celebrities doing, saying, and wearing ridiculous things, there are going to be people who want to watch. And I’ll be first in line.
Why did you decide to mix real-life celebrities with fictional ones, such as Carter Price and Layla Lawson?
Hah! Am I allowed to say “the Simon and Schuster legal team” here? Clearly the real-life stars engage in enough absurd behavior to fill the pages of many, many novels, but it turns out they’re not always thrilled when you write about it in painstaking detail. So although I thought it would be more fun to use all real names, the attorneys didn’t always agree.
Since we’re on the subject . . . if you could marry any rock star, who would it be?
No way. After writing this book, there is no way I’d ever want to be married to a rock star.
What is your writing process like? Has it changed at all since your first novel?
My writing process is more like a work in progress. It hasn’t changed that much since my first novel, although I am slightly less terrified of the process now, but it’s far from perfect. It usually goes something like this: figure out how long I have until final, drop-dead deadline, calculate how many words I would need to write every single day between now and then to make that deadline, pledge to start that very afternoon, and then procrastinate for six more weeks. It goes downhill from there. Once I’m actually seated at a computer, there’s always a white noise machine in the background, noise cancellation headphones clamped over both ears, a liter of coffee or Diet Coke or both, and an addiction to the Internet so intense I can easily lose three hours to a single Google search of Nicole Richie’s son’s name. It’s not pretty, but eventually I get scared enough to start putting some words down on paper, and once I get to that point, I really do enjoy it.