Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Portobello 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.
Walking to the Portobello Market shops in London’s Notting Hill one morning, wealthy gallery owner Eugene Wren discovers an envelope full of cash lying in the street. Rather than keep the money for himself or turn it over to the police, Wren attempts to find the owner by posting a notice around Portobello Road. This ill-conceived act sparks a chain of events that soon links Wren, a man plagued with a shameful addiction, to several other Londoners—people afflicted with their own obsessions and despairs. When these volatile characters creep into Wren’s life—and the life of his trusting fiancée—the consequences will forever change them all.
QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Discuss the significance of setting in the novel. How is the Portobello Road/Notting Hill area pivotal to the story?
2. How does the novel’s structure—frequent movement between different characters and points of view—help to enhance the plot? Did you feel that the different points of view were well-balanced? Did the structure effectively hold your interest? Did you find the novel suspenseful?
3. Which characters were most intriguing to you? Did you find any more or less believable than the others?
4. Rendell writes of Eugene, “He was secretive. Why? Who can tell why we are the way we are? Psychiatrists can. Innumerable books have been written tracing our…peculiarities back to events in our childhoods. Eugene had read a good many of them without being any the wiser.” Discuss the theme of secrecy in the novel. How do the various characters’ secrets shape their lives and relationships? How are their secrets destructive? When are their secrets helpful to themselves and others?
5. How do Lance’s hunger and poverty shape him and drive his actions? Although Lance is an unemployed thief and previously assaulted his girlfriend, he evolves by the end of the novel and finds honest work. What does Lance learn about himself and others? Did you sympathize with him? Did your feelings about him change by the end?
6. Why is Eugene so ashamed of his Chocorange addiction when it is seemingly so much less destructive than other addictions like drugs and alcohol? When Ella confronts him she tells him, “You mustn’t be embarrassed about it, and above all you mustn’t think of it as an addiction. It isn’t.” What does his behavior surrounding the addiction say about him?
7. Discuss the relationship between Eugene and Ella. How are they good for each other?
8. Uncle Gib is a former thief turned religious zealot, yet his newfound Christianity does not seem to extend to his treatment of Lance. Is Uncle Gib a hypocrite? Does Uncle Gib have any redeeming qualities?
9. In what ways does Rendell foreshadow the fire at Uncle Gib’s house? How does the fire bring together all the stories of all the novel’s intertwined characters?
10. Feeling remorseful, Fize thinks that “killing someone you didn’t hate or want revenge on, someone you didn’t know existed, seemed worse than anything.” Do you agree with him? How did Fize, at first a seemingly minor character, become more important over the course of the novel?
11. What do you think has happened to Joel by the end of the novel? Do you think he truly believes he is Mithras? Is he simply mentally ill or could there be other explanations for his behavior? Why does Ella become so invested in Joel’s well-being?
12. Did you find the book more plot-driven or character-driven? Do you think readers who don’t typically read mysteries and thrillers would enjoy it?
13. Are you familiar with Rendell’s other books, including those written under the pseudonym Barbara Vine and her Inspector Wexford mysteries? If so, how did this book compare?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Host a proper English tea. Visit www.joyofbaking.com/EnglishTeaParty.html or www.crazyfortea.com/recipesforenglishteasandwiches.html to get started, and ask everyone to bring a favorite tea, baked good or tea sandwich.
2. Learn more about Portobello Road and Notting Hill at www.portobellomarket.org, www.portobelloroad.co.uk, or nottinghill.com.
3. Many of Ruth Rendell’s books have been adapted for film and television. Find ideas for DVD rentals at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0719334.