May Book a Month: Fear in the Sunlight

FearinSunlightAs part of our 2014 Book a Month program, each month we’re offering discussion questions about the featured work—for book clubs as well as thoughtful individuals. You may use the questions to reflect back on each book once you’ve finished it or to guide you as you read. Either way, we hope these features will enrich your reading experience. (We’ll do our best to avoid plot spoilers, but you should proceed with caution!)

In real life, Josephine Tey, star of our May selection, Fear in the Sunlight, was something of a mystery. Born Elizabeth MacKintosh, she penned plays and novels under the pseudonyms Gordon Daviot and Josephine Tey. Though her work was heralded during her lifetime, little is known about the Scotswoman who, according to novelist Nicola Upson, “was fascinated by identity and who played so successfully with her own.” That fluid relationship with identity is key to this psychological thriller—the fourth in Upson’s mystery series starring Tey—in which Josephine and friends travel to a luxurious Welsh resort for a birthday celebration, only to find themselves rubbing shoulders with filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock…and a diabolical killer.

1. The novel’s title is a reference to a scene in the book in which Mr. Hitchcock says: “Fear of the dark is natural, we all have it, but fear in the sunlight…where it is so unexpected—that is interesting.” Do you agree with that theory? Why or why not?

2. The novel begins in 1954, well after the murders at Portmeirion and after Josephine’s death from cancer. How does knowing what Archie knew then, in the “future,” affect your perception and enjoyment of the story set in 1936? Was that an effective plot device?

3. In the novel as well as in real life, Alfred Hitchcock was known as a devoted student of human behavior. He was also an inveterate practical joker, whose pranks often veered into the realm of cruel. Based on the events of the book, do you appreciate the lengths to which Hitchcock went to research human behavior for the sake of his art?

4. While this book is a work of fiction, several of the characters are based on real people: a writer, a filmmaker, and the filmmaker’s wife/creative partner. Whether gleaned through biographical fiction like this or from more upfront sources, how does your knowledge of an artist’s private life affect your appreciation for the art they create? Is it difficult to separate the artist from their art? Do you find it easier to suspend reality with certain mediums than others (for example, novels vs. film)? Why?

5. The concept of hidden or transformed identities is an underlying theme in Fear in the Sunlight. Most obviously Josephine Tey was a pseudonym, but several of the other characters in the book also changed their names in an attempt to create new identities and even to hide from their pasts. While most people in our everyday lives don’t go to such extremes (we hope!), what are the ways in which someone you know has tweaked or rewritten their past? Is doing so a good idea or a bad one?

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