The Boy With Blue Trousers
Here are some discussion questions, should you decide to read The Boy With Blue Trousers for your bookclub.
- What mood and expectations did the prologue set up for the story to follow?
- In the first chapter on page 11, Second Brother tells Little Cat, ‘You have to stop behaving like a boy. You have to stop fighting and become a woman.’ Later, in the following chapter Little Cat says that ‘Sometimes fighting is the only way to be free.’ How do the first two chapters hint at the possible themes to be explored in the novel?
- When we meet Young Wu he appears to be a young man conflicted by the pull of duty versus desire. How does this inner conflict develop throughout the course of the novel?
- At the end of chapter three, Violet says, ‘That’s the thing about a snake in the grass, Alice. It’s usually too late once you see it coming.’ Do you think that Violet is a snake in the grass? What has made her the way she is?
- Filial piety was an integral part of Chinese culture at this time, but this might manifest in different ways. How would you contrast Young Wu’s relationship with his father to Little Cat and her brothers’ relationships with their parents?
- On page 147 Little Cat wonders about her twin ‘what might have been if they had both been boys. Or girls.’ What do you think might have been?
- Why does Little Cat touch her forehead to the bloodstained earth after she and Second Brother come across the execution ground in Kwangchow?
- The setting of the story moves from imperial China to colonial Australia. What are the biggest differences between these two settings? And how do they impact upon the characters?
- The story is based upon an historical event. How do you imagine the Chinese arrivals viewed the Europeans they came into contact with in this strange new land, and vice versa?
- Which character did you like most in the novel and why?
- Which character did you like least and why?
- The story is told from three points of view, Little Cat, Violet Hartley and Young Wu. Did these characters change throughout the novel? And if so, how?
- What event or character surprised you the most in the story?
- How did you feel about the ending? Did you predict it?
- How different is the description of the setting in the prologue to the final chapter? Why do you think the author has chosen to make such a contrast?
- ‘But Strong Arm did not believe in fate. And she did not want to wait.’ (Page 410) What part does fate play in the novel?
The Concubine’s Child
Here are a few discussion questions that might come in handy if you decide to read The Concubine’s Child for your bookclub. Skip as many as you like!
- The prologue is narrated by an unnamed woman. Who did you think she was, and how did your feelings towards her change as the book progressed? What expectations did the prologue raise?
- How important is the setting to the story? Could it have taken place somewhere else? What did you particularly like about the setting?
- Yu Lan believes that she and Ming cannot choose their own destinies because ‘they were sixteen and their lives did not belong to them’. Can any of the characters in the historical strand of the novel choose their own destinies? What about the contemporary story?
- When she is sold as Chan’s concubine, Yu Lan’s mother advises her, ‘You must be fluid like water because water defeats the strongest stone in time.’ Does Yu Lan agree with her? Would Ho Jie or Madam Chan agree with her? How does this attitude differ to the Western idea of taking charge of your destiny?
- Gods, spirits, ancestors and ghosts are a recurring presence in the novel. What part do they play in the characters’ lives and fates? Compare the contemporary characters attitudes towards the spirit world with those of the 1930s characters. Do their beliefs change at all?
- Yu Lan believes that the Chans have enslaved her. Do you ever sympathise with them?
- In what ways does the opening chapter of the contemporary story foreshadow the events that follow? What hints are there in the first two chapters of the contemporary story that things might not go so well for Nick?
- Nick says, ‘I’m the last Chan in the family.’ How are descendants and filial piety important to the various characters in the novel?
- Revenge plays a central role in the novel. What examples of revenge are there, both large and petty? What does revenge cost the characters?
- What do you think Sarah is most afraid of?
- Ho Jie says that, ‘Men brought only trouble. And if trouble was coming, better if it came bearing gold.’ How pragmatic are the characters in the The Concubine’s Child?
- Ho Jie also says of her sisters at the silk factory in Shonde that, ‘… they had shared many tricks.’ What other tricks might they have shared?
- How would you describe Ho Jie’s relationship with Yu Lan? How does it change through the novel?
- Why does Yu Lan decide that only she can free herself? How does she set about doing so? What is her power? What is her weakness?
- Polygamy was quite common in Malaysia and China in the first half of the 20th century and Ho Jie speaks of the old Chinese saying that ‘two tigers cannot share one mountain’. How does Yu Lan’s presence affect the household? Do you think this was inevitable?
- What did you think was the saddest part of the story? Why?
- How do the stories and characters, past and present, parallel each other? How do they differ? Why do you think the author chose to use mirror stories?
- When she returns to Kuala Lumpur Sarah says, ‘Secrets, truths, lies, ghosts, they were all the same really. All things you didn’t want to confront.’ What do you think she means by this?
- How did you feel about the ending of the story? Was it unexpected? Did it feel complete to you? How is the prologue reflected in the epilogue?
- Do you think The Concubine’s Child is a ghost story?