Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Perfect Happiness includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Santa Montefiore. 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.
Bestselling children’s book author Angelica Lariviere lives in an upper class neighborhood in London with her loving husband and two wonderful children. At first glance, Angelica seems to lead an idyllic lifestyle; but Angelica’s routine is becoming mundane, and she realizes that she and her husband Olivier do not have the same passion they shared when they were courting. To top it all off, Angelica cannot seem to find the inspiration to begin writing her newest children’s book.
Enter Jack. What starts off as harmless flirtation at a party starts to make Angelica feel sexy and alive all over again. Despite the warnings of her friend Candace, Angelica begins a correspondence with Jack – after all, they’re only friends. Angelica certainly would not risk everything she has for a little thrill and rests easy knowing Jack lives thousands of miles away in Cape Town.
When her book tour takes her to Cape Town, however, an affair with Jack begins in earnest. Angelica soon convinces herself that Jack is the man for her and will do everything in her power to be with him. Tragedy strikes on their last night together and Jack makes a shocking confession to Angelica. Now everything she thought she knew about love and passion, safety and experience, right and wrong, are entirely upended once again.
Olivier and Angelica’s discussion about flirting reaches a one-sided conclusion: it is okay for a married man to flirt, but not a married woman. Do you agree with this? Could this discussion be viewed as the catalyst for Angelica’s continued flirtation with Jack?
Angelica repeatedly tells herself that her e-mail relationship with Jack is dangerous. Yet she manages to “convince herself that it was as much a game for him as it was for her” (p. 63). Why do you think she ignores the warnings both in her own mind, and from her friends?
One of the key themes in The Perfect Happiness is the search for perfect happiness. Talk about the many notions of perfect happiness that are discussed in the book. Does Angelica ever find perfect happiness? What about Olivier or Jack? Do you think it is obtainable at all?
Contrast the Angelica that Olivier knows with the Angelica that Jack knows. Do you agree with Angelica’s notion that if “both” Angelica’s were to meet, “neither would recognize the other” (p. 169)? Do the “two” Angelica’s ever come together?
Discuss Angelica’s group of friends: Candace, Scarlet, Leitzia and Kate. What perspective does each of them bring to the table? Who is Angelica closest to and why? Have any of them found “perfect happiness”?
Each chapter from The Perfect Happiness begins with a quote from the book In Search of the Perfect Happiness. Who wrote the book and what is its significance? How does it bridge Angelica’s gap between Olivier and Jack?
Anna admits that she knows about Jack’s other relationships but they do not bother her. What is her reasoning? Do you believe that such an open relationship could exist? How does Anna say that Angelica was different from any of the other women Jack had been with?
How would Angelica’s life have been different if she remained in contact with Jack after their experience in Africa? Do you think she would have worked so hard to fix her life and relationships at home?
What do you think the final message of The Perfect Happiness is? Do couples need to go through what Angelica and Olivier did in order to find their happiness? Do people need to stray from what they know to realize that what they had was perfect?
Olivier comments “no one’s normal…people present as normal, but really everyone hides some sort of weirdness behind closed doors” (p. 193). What sort of “weirdness” does each character in The Perfect Happiness hide? Are Angelica’s parents the only “normal” ones?
Candace and Angie advise Angelica not to tell Olivier about the affair. Do you think Angelica should have? How do you think he would have reacted? How was your view of Angelica impacted by these decisions?
Enhance Your Book Club
Jack’s vineyard produces some of the world’s most exquisite wines. Here’s your chance to strut your stuff: research your favorite wine and discuss it with your book club. Bring some to share!
Angelica is an acclaimed children’s book author – think you can be the next Angelica Lariviere? Write a chapter of your “new” children’s novel and share with your book club!
Ever taken a trip down to Cape Town? If so, bring in some photos and share with your book club!
A Conversation with Santa Montefiore
What was the inspiration behind The Perfect Happiness? Was there a particular scene you envisioned first?
I’m 40 years old myself, with two small children and a very happy married life. An attractive man flirted with me at a dinner and then found me on email, through my author website – that part is taken from life. It was really a ‘what if’ from there. I wanted to explore two things: is it possible to have a flirtation without it developing into a full blown affair? And two, we belong to a generation that feels happiness is our birthright, at whatever cost. We want something, we buy it on credit, we break something, we don’t mend it as our mother’s did, but chuck it away and buy a new one. Do we treat love in the same way? – and destroy any obstacle in our path, even if that obstacle is our own husband, children or friends? Do we selfishly believe we can and should have everything we want? The first scene I thought of was the robbery and Jack’s confession, so I always knew where I was going, although I wasn’t sure how it would end – and true to character Kate took over the subplot, which was never my intention!
Angelica struggles in The Perfect Happiness to get inspiration for her new book. She believes that “there was nothing more disconcerting than a blank piece of paper with nothing to write on it” (p. 55). What do you do when you get stuck with writer’s block? Does your writing routine mimic that of Angelica’s?
No, fortunately I never get writer’s block. My trouble is finding time to get to my desk with all the domestic chores I have to do!
Shopping, brands and couture are a big part of the ladies’ lifestyle in The Perfect Happiness. Do you consider yourself a “fashionista” like Kate, Candace and the others?
No, but my girlfriends are very fashion conscious. I love clothes and shopping, but I’m not very good at it. If I identify with any of the girls on that front, it would be Angelica.
You created quite the cadre of characters between Angelica, Kate, Candace, Leitzia and Scarlet. Are any of these women based upon people you know? Who do you think you are the most like and why?
I drew inspiration from my group of girlfriends. We meet weekly for lunch at each other’s houses or restaurants, and daily at the school gates. Although I invented their characters, the lifestyle is very much taken from my life. There is a little of me in all of them, barring Kate, who is like no one I know (but would rather like to know as she’s funny!) I’m sure I subconsciously draw on people I know, I’d never do it consciously – basing characters on real people could get me into terrible trouble!!
Your descriptions of London, Johannesburg, Cape Town and the vineyards are exceptionally vivid. Do you frequent these locales? What kind of research, if any, did you have to do for this book?
I always write about what I know. So, yes, I live in Kensington, have been on book tour to Johannesburg and Cape Town, and visited a beautiful vineyard there. I draw inspiration from real places – this novel is the most realistic of all my books, because I usually invent my towns and villages. All the restaurants, streets and shops in London are real. Warwick Estate where Jack and Angelica go for drinks, is a real place anyone can visit.
Was there ever a draft where Angelica and Jack wound up together? Or was she always meant to go back to Olivier?
Jack and Angelica were never going to end up together. I knew from the start that he was going to die, and that Angelica would return and repair her marriage. I wanted the affair to be the catalyst that drives her to find happiness with Olivier.
Angelica highlights the hardships of maintaining both a happy personal life and a successful professional life. What advice would you offer to women who struggle to balance the two?
I think it’s incredibly hard to juggle being a wife, mother and working woman. There is no secret to making it work. You spread yourself very thinly and feel exhausted at the end of the day after everyone has wanted a piece of you. I meditate, try not to put too much in my diary so I get my sleep, and spend quality time with my husband and children on weekends. I’m lucky, I’m self employed and can run my own timetable, if I get stressed out I can go for a walk in the park! My husband and children come first, no matter what, so I revolve my life around them – but my writing is always there for me. It’s a hobby that I’m lucky enough to have as a job.
Angelica’s marriage is (arguably) saved by the events that transpire in The Perfect Happiness. What do you want readers to take away from the book?
Firstly, I would like my readers to enjoy it. It’s a love story, with a little mystery thrown in. I enjoyed writing it and took great pleasure from the characters I invented. I’d like readers to laugh and cry a little but end up with a warm feeling that carries them through their day. If they want to derive anything further on a spiritual level, then they can read extracts from In Search of the Perfect Happiness at the top of each chapter and try to work them into their lives. I know all the theory, but it’s difficult to live it, but I certainly try.
Your books have consistently been on the top of British and European bestseller lists and now you are starting to take the U.S. by storm. How do you make your books appealing to so many different audiences?
Firstly, the U.S. covers are beautiful, so that’s a great start when trying to attract readers. Secondly, love is universal. We all want it, no matter whom we are or what we do. We all want to be loved and to love in return. But we all suffer loss, setbacks, disappointment and hurt – as do my characters. I explore love in every form in my novels because love is the most important thing in my life, and, I believe, why we’re all here on earth. The simple answer is that love appeals to everyone.
What’s next for you? Will we be hearing from Angelica again?
The Perfect Happiness has already come out in the UK and I have had many requests to write a sequel – I rather enjoy the idea of picking another character, say Candice, and focusing on her life – or Kate….watch this space.
Right now, I’m writing my next novel, based in Tuscany, Italy in the late 1960s and Devon, England in the present day. Another big love story with a whopping twist! I’ve just changed publishers in England and am now writing for Simon & Schuster UK, so I’m under the big Simon & Schuster umbrella, which is wonderful – I want my first novel for them to be bigger and better than all of the other ones, so I’d better get back to it…………