Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Love of Her Life includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Harriet Evans. 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.
Meet Kate Miller, a young twenty-something professional who whiles away her days as an assistant at a literary agency in New York City. Kate has grown content with her quiet, almost solitary lifestyle when she learns that her father has fallen ill and she must return home to London—and the memories of her past, which she had tried to leave behind her.
Kate had been on top of the world in London: employed in her dream job, engaged to a wonderful man, and surrounded by friends. Then, one day, it all came crashing down. In response, Kate did the only thing she knew how to do, and ran away.
Returning to London makes Kate realize that she must confront the ghosts of her past. She starts on a journey that tests her resolve, opens old wounds, rekindles old friendships, and, most important, brings her face-to-face with the love of her life.
Questions for Discussion
1. When preparing to return to London, Kate remarks, “It will be hard. . . . I had to go back sometime . . . Just wish it wasn’t for this, that’s all” (p. 12). If not for her father’s illness, do you think Kate would have gone back? Would she ever have returned to her old self in New York, or did she need to go back to London to rediscover herself? Do you agree with her that she is “too good at running away” (p. 21)?
2. Discuss Kate’s “new self ” vs. her “old self ” (p. 14). Which Kate do you like better? Which one do you think Kate likes better? Would “old” Kate have shrugged off Andrew the way “new” Kate had at the beginning of the novel?
3. The scene where Kate reenters her old apartment is full of tumultuous emotion. What does Kate see that rips her feelings of comfort away and reminds her “why she was here” (p. 31)? Why do you think what she saw had that effect?
4. How does the author’s use of foreshadowing intensify the moment when the reader finds out what really happened in Kate’s past? How do the flashbacks add to this element? How would the book have been different if it started right after Kate graduated from college?
5. Kate and Mac’s first encounter results in nothing more than a onenight stand, or so it seems. Why do you think Kate remarked that that night she had a “strange sense of certainty, one that she never got back again” (p. 108)? Does she ever get that certainty back? Why doesn’t she make the effort to contact Mac once he leaves?
6. Sue Jordan, Kate’s old boss, criticizes Kate for her current career choice. What is Kate’s response? Why do you think she initially resisted Sue’s offer to write the column? What does Sue mean when she says, “we’re all the same, you know, it’s just different versions of being the same” (p. 180)? Do you agree?
7. As the events of the novel unfold, it appears that Kate is becoming deeply entrenched in the city she tried to forget. How do her struggles with staying or leaving affect her interactions with Mac, Zoe, Francesca, and her family? Do you agree that “if the last few weeks had taught her anything, it was that she . . . had to start being brave and get out there” (p. 354)?
8. When Charly and Kate finally see each other after so many years, were you surprised to learn about Charly’s boyfriend’s ongoing infidelities? Why do all the good memories of their friendship come flooding back? Discuss how their conversation at the pub leads to Kate saying “. . . you [and your boyfriend] deserve each other, Charly, and I can’t feel sorry for you” (p. 368).
9. Kate goes through a tremendous transformation throughout the novel. What makes Kate become comfortable with the person she is? Or does she never reach that milestone?
10. Before Kate returns to New York, Lisa remarks “. . . you were living the life you thought you ought to be living . . . I’m sure you wouldn’t ask for any of what’s happened. But it’s been good for you” (p. 385). Do you agree with Lisa? Which experience do you think helped shape Kate the most? When is she at her weakest? Her strongest?
11. Did the ending of The Love of Her Life surprise you? Is this where Kate is meant to be? Is this the man whom she is meant to be with? Do you think she might run again, or is she here to stay? And why?
A Conversation with Harriet Evans
Q. What comment do you hear most often from your readers? How do you respond?
A. I guess it would be that they liked the characters, and my response is “Thanks very much!”
Q. What do you want your readers to take away from The Love of Her Life? And is there a “love of her life” out there for every woman?
A. The Love of Her Life is my favorite of my books, because I wanted to write a book about someone who wasn’t the blond, blue-eyed, homecoming-queen type, who was a bit of a geek but who grew up, had some pretty awful things happen to her, and found out something really important, which is a love of her own life. Be proud of being the geek and it’ll work out okay. I totally think there’s a “love of her life” out there for everyone. I don’t know that you always end up with them, and sometimes you don’t recognize them as that for a while, but they’re definitely there.
Q. You worked in publishing as an editor. Did you ever work in a place as boring as Perry and Co.? What is the worst job you have ever had? Have you ever had a boss like Sue Jordan?
A. Never as boring as Perry and Co., but my first job was at a very old-fashioned magazine in London, and it was completely awful. It was like Dynasty set in an old people’s home—full of very embittered women who’d been there for years and couldn’t understand why they weren’t working at Vogue. Lots of articles about interesting road signs and amusing things cats do, but such a toxic atmosphere. I lasted five months and it nearly finished me off. Luckily, most of my bosses since then have been fantastic, and my last boss was a fantastic woman. I learned loads from her.
Q. You currently reside in London, where you grew up. Did New York ever present itself as a potential home? Or, do you prefer someplace else?
A. I love New York so much! I would absolutely love to live there, and part of The Love of Her Life is totally about me imagining what that would be like! Oh my goodness, it’s my favorite place. I’ve always lived in London, but who knows. . . .
Q. Where did the inspiration for Kate Miller come from? Without getting too personal, are any of the characters in The Love of Her Life based on anyone you know?
A. Kate is the most like me of my heroines—or me when I was younger, although I always see myself as a super-mysterious romantic figure, and the reality is so not true. I think there are bits of people I know in all my characters though, and what’s interesting is how I can have written someone and then, only a few months’ afterward, I realize that subconsciously they’re based on X, or they say something the way Y would in my own real life. It’s like you put lots of information into your brain and you don’t know what’s going to come out.
Q. Can you talk a little about why you decided to get into writing fiction? What is your writing process like? How do you create such strong tension and drama in your work? Your characters’ emotions are so authentic; how do you manage that?
A. I’ve always known I was going to write one day. I worked in publishing and was reading lots of women’s fiction there. Some of it was fantastic, some of it was terrible, and we’d all sit around and say, “I could do better than that!” One day, I realized I was going to have to do something about it. So I did!
I don’t really have a writing process. One day I’ll suddenly think of a “thing” that’s the motif of the book, but then often it won’t end up being in the book at all. For The Love of Her Life it was Berkeley Square in London and the song “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” I realized I wanted to write a big, romantic novel set in London, because New York always has romantic comedies set there, whether it’s Sex and the City or Annie Hall or any number of books, and London doesn’t. So I’ll swirl around thinking about that for a while and then start writing, and then I’ll delete most of what I’ve written, and then write some more. And so it goes. . . . It’s my editor saying, “This isn’t tense or dramatic enough!” and me rewriting it!
Q. You make mention that you are a fan of old films. Which one is your favorite, and why?
A. I have loads. My ideal job if the writing goes up the Swanee would be a film doctor, one of those people who prescribes films depending on your mood. But just to pick a few:
a) Brief Encounter is just the most romantic, sad, lovely, fantastic film. The more I watch it, the more I love it.
b) Roman Holiday—Rome AND Gregory Peck; what’s not to love?
c) Some Like It Hot—the best songs. Curtis and Lemmon, hilarious and sweet.
e) Singin’ in the Rain—possibly my favorite film of all time. I defy you not to love it. Songs! Dancing! Totally subversive! So brilliant.
Q. Tell us about your latest cocktail invention: “The Harrie”—how did you discover it (and how good does it actually taste)?
A. I am telling you, if you make “The Harrie” and your party doesn’t go with a bang, I will be astonished. The combination of gin (heavy hitter) and bubbles (bit of sparkle) is the perfect one. I actually first had it when I was meeting publishers with a view to having my first book, Going Home, published, and one of them, who is a very brilliant woman, made this cocktail, because there’s sloe gin in the book.
I since owe her many happy evenings. . . .
Q. What is next for you?
A. Writing the next book, which is set in Rome (hurrah! for Gregory Peck again), and booking a holiday somewhere sunny. And right now, packing for my weekend by the seaside.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Harriet Evans recommends a cocktail she calls “The Harrie”: mix one part sloe gin to three parts champagne. Make some for your book club and give it a try.
2. Connections have been made between Evans’s writing style and director Richard Curtis’s style. Rent Curtis’s Love Actually and see if you like it.
3. Ever had an Andrew, Mac, or Sean in your life? Care to tell the story? Spend a night with your book club talking about old flames!