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The Limits of Enchantment

The Limits of Enchantment

A Novel

  • reading group guide
Everything Fern Cullen knows she's learned from her Mammy -- and none of it's conventional. Taught midwifery at an early age, Fern grows up as Mammy's trusted assistant in a small English village and learns through experience that secrets are precious, men can't be trusted, hippies are filthy and people should generally mind their own business.
But when one of Mammy's patients allegedly dies from a potion prescribed to induce abortion, the town's people rally against her outdated methods, and Mammy ends up hospitalized, due to a bad fall and a broken heart. Now the county is threatening eviction if Fern can't come up with the overdue rent, and a bunch of hippies and a woman with hoop earrings with a mysterious connection to Mammy seem to be the only people with any answers. As Fern struggles to save her home and Mammy's good name, everything around her begins to transform, and she soon uncovers a legacy spotted with magic.
The Limits of Enchantment is at once a story of two women: one with a deep past and one who finds her history in the other. It is a tale of midwifery, alchemy, magic, truth and identity, from an author with the extraordinary ability to blend literature and fantasy with surprising dexterity.
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  • Atria Books | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743463447 | 
  • February 2005
List Price $22.00
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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for The Limits of Enchantment
1. How do the broad cultural changes of the 60's (the backdrop of this story) inform your reading of Fern's life and the changes that she undergoes? Compare the life that Mammy led with the life led by people of the next generation, like Judith. What attitudes do they share, and what cultural mores have changed? In what way does Fern bridge this generation gap? Does she change over the course of the novel?
2. Although best known as midwives, Mammy and Fern offer a wide range of services including wart removal, baking wedding cakes, and herbal remedies. What brings the villagers to seek help from them, even though there are professionals that specialize in all these services? Why do women with access to free, state licensed midwives still call on them?
3. Describing MMM and Biddy, Fern says, "They shouldn't even have been put in the same lifetime together" (135). Why can't these two women see eye to eye on midwifery? The modern technology and terminology and MMM's authoritarian attitude irritate Fern, too, but she doesn't leave the course like Biddy does. Why not? Is it just because she wants to be licensed? Or does she appreciate the course for other reasons?
4. When Greta comes to Fern for an abortion, she says, "It was a woman's right to choose" (209). Fern agrees with her on this. Does this novel take a firm position on this issue, or is the question left open? Did this story change your op see more

About the Author

Graham Joyce
Photo Credit:

Graham Joyce

Graham Joyce's books include The Facts of Life, which won the 2003 World Fantasy Award, Smoking Poppy, Indigo (a New York Times Notable Book of 2000) and The Tooth Fairy. He is a four-time recipient of the British Fantasy Award and winner of the French Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire. He lives in Leicester, England, with his wife and two children.

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