July Book a Month: The Evening of the Holiday

As part of Bas Bleu’s 2017 Book a Month program, each month we’re offering discussion questions, author interviews, or other bonus material about our Bluestocking BAM selection to enrich your reading experience—for book clubs as well as thoughtful individuals. (We’ll do our best to avoid plot spoilers, but you should proceed with caution!)

First published in 1966, our July Book a Month selection, The Evening of the Holiday, is Shirley Hazzard’s debut novel. Short yet elegant, it follows the love affair between Sophie, an English-Italian woman visiting Tuscany, and Tancredi, an older Italian man separated from his wife and family. Renowned for her evocative language and stunning sense of place, Hazzard offers a sophisticated and incisive portrait of an ill-fated summer love affair. 

1. The Evening of the Holiday has many small yet poignant scenes—brief moments that capture the struggle and emotion between Tancredi and Sophie, such as when he takes hold of her wrist at the fountain in the beginning of story, or when they sit in the car in the driveway of the crumbling villa. Which of these vignettes were particularly moving for you?

2. Hazzard convincingly relays the inner thoughts of both Tancredi and Sophie, allowing the reader to compare their individual experiences of the shared relationship. How would you characterize each character’s impressions of the other? Do you think Tancredi or Sophie is more realistic about the nature of their relationship?

3. How did your impressions of Tancredi and Sophie change over the course of the novel? Did either of them surprise you?

4. So many conversations in the novel are heavy with subtext—the characters rarely say what they’re really thinking.  Do you think things would have been different if Tancredi and Sophie had spoken openly about their feelings and desires? Would they have begun a relationship at all? How much do you think this was a function of social constraints, and how much was due to their personalities?

5. The setting plays a huge role in the novel, from the romantic Tuscan landscape surrounding the couple to the celebratory atmosphere of the festival. How important is the bucolic setting to the plot of the novel? Beyond just the physical setting, the social expectations of the time period inform the decisions of the characters (divorce was not legal in Italy at the time, for instance). How do you think the same affair would play out in a different time period? How might the characters behave differently if the story was written today?

6. Do you think Sophie made the right choice, in the end? How do you think her holiday has changed her? What do you imagine is next for the young woman?

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