The Serpent in the Garden

The Serpent in the Garden

A Novel

  • reading group guide
She opened the shagreen box. Couched in gray silk was an emerald necklace, one he had not seen for twenty years. The stones were just as he recalled them: a dozen or more, baguette cut and set in gold links, with a single ruby at the center. Flashes of verdigris, orpiment, and Prussian blue sparkled in the candlelight. The form of this necklace was as disturbing as ever. It had nearly cost him his life.
It is the summer of 1765. The renowned and exquisitely dressed portrait painter Joshua Pope accepts a commission to paint the wedding portrait of Herbert Bentnick and his fiancée, Sabine Mercer, to whom Bentnick has become engaged less than a year after the death of his first wife. Joshua has barely begun the portrait when a man's body is found in the conservatory. A few days later, Sabine's emerald necklace disappears, and Bentnick accuses Joshua of theft. The painter is suddenly fighting not only for his reputation but for his life. With a sure understanding of period detail and character, Janet Gleeson creates a richly nuanced tale of greed and revenge that plays out in the refined landscapes and dark streets of eighteenth-century London.
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743260053 | 
  • February 2005
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Joshua Pope was not expecting a visitor to call. It was an October evening in the year 1786, and as was his habit when circumstances permitted, he intended to pass the evening at his easel. He had donned his morocco slippers and Indian nightgown, and taken a light supper -- a slab of cold pie and a bottle of claret -- to his parlor in Saint Peter's Court.

Outside, an autumn tempest was roaring. A keen east wind howled through Saint Martin's Lane and the surrounding alleys and streets. Rain flailed roofs with such insistence it drowned the cries of streetwalkers, scavengers, and watchmen in this vicinity of London. The... see more

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for Janet Gleeson's
THE SERPENT IN THE GARDEN

1. What genre is The Serpent in the Garden? To what does the title refer?
2. Who is narrating? How does this narrative style keep the mystery going?
3. In what place and time does the action occur? Starting on the first page, consider how Gleeson reveals the book's society and time frame. What are the social classes of the main characters? Share some examples of how the author establishes these with her language, tone, and cadence.
4. Describe each of the book's central characters and briefly discuss them. What are they like? What do their names -- Pope, Bentnick, Sabine, Cobb, Miss Lambton, Granger, Crackman, Hoare, Mercier -- reveal about them? What other writers use names as definers? Why do they do so?
5. Think about the locales and homes described in The Serpent in the Garden. What do these houses tell us about their occupants? For example, what do an indoor arboretum and a pinery tell us about their owners? How about Joshua's rented rooms?
6. What is revealed about Joshua Pope in the opening chapter? Why does the author emphasize his attire? Discuss Miss Quick's later remark to Joshua, "I wonder if our preoccupation with dress is not just a means to deflect attention from deeper worries....Costume permits masquerade -- you have only to visit the playhouse to see the truth of it." Who might be masquerading in this story? In general, do you agree see more

About the Author

Janet Gleeson

Janet Gleeson is the author of the bestseller The Arcanum, as well as Millionaire, The Grenadillo Box, and The Serpent in the Garden. She lives with her family in Dorset.

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