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  • Written by Monica McInerney
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  • Written by Monica McInerney
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A Novel

Written by Monica McInerneyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Monica McInerney

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List Price: $9.99

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On Sale: June 27, 2006
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-345-49337-8
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

“An endearing and humane story about a family and its sticky web of secrets and misunderstandings . . . one of those rare books you could recommend to anyone and know that they’ll love it.”
–The Australian Women’s Weekly

Harriet Turner knows all about journeys. She’s arranged hundreds of them for her family’s travel agency. Now Harriet is joining her adopted sister, Lara, to lead a group through the Cornish countryside. But when Lara fails to appear at the airport as planned, Harriet finds herself in uncharted territory and suddenly alone with a busload of eccentric seniors. As the tour wends its way through the picturesque landscape, Harriet must uncover her sister’s whereabouts and confront long-held family secrets involving Lara’s arrival twenty-five years ago . . . not to mention keeping track of more baggage–real and emotional–than she ever expected.

“With every book, Monica McInerney becomes more skilled at juggling plot complexities and giving depth to her characters. . . . Perfect [for] weekend reading.”
–Marie Claire (Australia)

“A book to treasure that is clever, amusing and heart-warmingly touching.”
–Woman’s Day (Australia)

Excerpt

Chapter One

It was all coming back to her, Harriet Turner realized. The key to being a successful tour guide was to think of herself as a duck. A mother duck, to be precise. A thirty-two-year-old mother duck in charge of twelve elderly, excited ducklings.

She glanced back over her shoulder, doing a quick head count of her tour group. Good, all twelve were still in sight, obviously tired but upright at least. They’d followed her obediently as she led the way off the plane, through passport control, and here into the baggage collection area of Bristol Airport. Ten gray-haired women, two balding men, none of them under sixty-five years of age, all in comfortable clothes and sensible shoes. Each sported a large turner travel: tours tailored just for you nametag on one shoulder and a homemade i’m on the willoughby tour! badge on the other. Some looked bedraggled from the long journey, but more than half were still smiling. The excitement of arriving in England had obviously lifted their spirits. Harriet was glad to see it.

Her protective feelings toward them had grown with each step of the journey. She’d arrived at Melbourne Airport two hours early so she could greet each of them personally. On the plane she’d regularly checked whether they were too warm or too cool and if they needed anything to eat or drink. During their overnight stopover in Malaysia, she’d kept a close eye when they crossed roads, walked across bridges, or ate anything that might have bones in it. All the simple rules of being in charge of a group had come flooding back. Of course she could do this, she told herself for the hundredth time since her brother’s surprise phone call. The tour would be a success. She’d do everything she could to make it a success.

They were among the first passengers from their flight to arrive at the baggage carousel. Harriet found a prime position, near the start of the conveyor belt and close to the exit. She was taken aback when the group clustered in a circle around her, looking up with big smiles and expectant expressions. It took her a moment to realize what they were waiting for. The customary Turner Travel welcome speech. James, her eldest brother, had begun the tradition, marking the start of each group tour with a little poem or funny speech beside the baggage carousel. He was usually so organized he had copies printed to hand out to the group members as souvenirs. Harriet’s mind went blank. She had been brought in to this tour on such short notice she’d hardly had time to learn the itinerary, let alone write a funny ditty.

She looked around at them again. Twelve faces looked back. Pushing embarrassment to one side, she smoothed down her official Turner Travel uniform, gave a big smile, and threw open her arms.

“Welcome to England!” she cried.

It wasn’t enough. They needed much more than that. She could see it in their eager expressions. She tried to ignore the curious looks from the other passengers coming into the baggage area and racked her brain. A rhyming game she used to play as a child with James and her other brother Austin sprang to mind. She’d have to give that a try. She threw out her arms again, hoping she looked confident and theatrical rather than weird and scarecrow-ish, and said the first lines she could think of:

Here we all are on the Willoughby tour

Through Devon and Cornwall, across several moors

I hope you’ll all have a wonderful time

And quickly forget this very bad rhyme!

She cringed inside even as they rewarded her with a burst of laughter and applause. “She’s definitely James’s sister,” she heard one of them whisper. She was saved from attempting an even worse second verse by the sound of the conveyor belt starting up with a metallic groan. Everyone sprang to attention, their eyes fixed on the emerging luggage.

As the first bags trundled past, Harriet felt a tug at her sleeve. She looked down. It was Miss Talbot. At seventy-three, she was the oldest member of the tour party. At four foot eleven, she was also the tiniest.

Her soft, wrinkled face was all smiles. “That was a lovely poem, Harriet. You hit the nail right on the head.”

“Oh, thank you, Miss Talbot,” Harriet said, smiling back. She had known Miss Talbot for as long as she could remember and was very fond of her. The little white-haired woman not only ran the Country Women’s Association craft shop in Harriet’s hometown of Merryn Bay but also knitted most of the contents. She specialized in yellow matinee jackets and small knitted penguins with crocheted orange beaks. She was also well known in the town for buying her clothes from children’s-wear shops. Harriet glanced again at Miss Talbot’s traveling outfit of pink tracksuit and matching shoes, trying not to look too obviously at the Groovy Chick logo embroidered on the front. “How are you feeling? Not too tired, I hope?”

“Oh no, Harriet. I snoozed like a bug in a rug the whole flight. And those little meals on trays were just delicious, thank you so much.”

“You’re very welcome, I’m glad you liked them.” No matter how many times she’d tried to explain, Miss Talbot remained convinced that Harriet was responsible for every single thing that happened on the trip, meals included.

Miss Talbot gave another happy sigh. “I just can’t believe we’re here at last. All these years of seeing Willoughby on TV, and tomorrow we’re actually going to meet him. I know I’m old enough to be his grandmother, but it really is so exciting. He’s such a dreamboat.”

Harriet grinned at the old-fashioned term, fighting an urge to pick up Miss Talbot and give her a cuddle. She wasn’t actually sure whether Willoughby was a dreamboat or not. She could never admit it to Miss Talbot—or any of the others in the group—but she had only a dim recollection of the Willoughby TV series on which their entire trip of a lifetime was based. All she knew was that it featured a dark-haired detective disguised as a postman solving crimes in beautiful seaside villages in Cornwall.

Her brother James, lying in his hospital bed, had tried to assure her it wouldn’t matter.

“You’ll never know the series as well as the tour group, anyway. You know where the word fan comes from, don’t you? Short for fanatics. And that’s what the Willoughby fan club members are.” He’d lowered his voice. “More Willoughby weirdos than fans, some of them, if you ask me.”

A bright blue suitcase decorated with a gaudy yellow ribbon came trundling past. “That’s mine, that’s mine,” one of the tour group called. Harriet leaned across and retrieved it. In the pretravel information pack, each member of the group had been advised to attach a distinctive ribbon as well as the Turner Travel label to their suitcases so they would be easy to spot on the carousel. They had certainly taken up the challenge, Harriet saw, as more of their bags appeared. They were decorated with everything from tartan bows to shiny red ribbons and chiffon scarves. It looked like they’d been on holiday in a haberdashery.

Another suitcase came toward them, decorated with the Turner Travel label and a bright pink pompom. It belonged to Mrs. Dorothy Lamerton, official president of the Willoughby fan club. English born, wealthy, polished, a widow, she thought of herself as the social Queen Bee of Merryn Bay. Harriet thought of her as the High Queen of the Willoughby weirdos. She had a matching pompom around her wrist. Harriet leaned forward and lifted her suitcase off the carousel, too.

Mrs. Lamerton gave an imperious wave. “Thank you, Harriet. Those conveyor belts go by far too quickly, if you ask me.”

A simple thing like collecting their clients’ luggage off the carousel was just part of the Turner Travel personalized service, but Harriet still got a little glow inside at the thanks. Harriet’s late parents, Neil and Penny Turner, had prided themselves on delivering personal touches. They had started the business thirty years previously in the small coastal town of Merryn Bay, two hours from Melbourne, after emigrating from England as part of the “ten-pound pom” assisted-passage scheme. The business had started slowly but grown successfully, with its emphasis on tailored tours and, latterly, themed tours like this one for the Willoughby fan club members. Harriet didn’t have to try hard to be able to picture the handwritten list of Turner Travel official rules her father had pinned to the wall of the staff room:

•Always be punctual.

•Help our clients in any way you can.

•Check passports and tickets twice.

•Confirm everything and then confirm it again.

•Be sure to memorize everyone’s name.
Monica McInerney|Author Q&A

About Monica McInerney

Monica McInerney - Family Baggage

Photo © Michael Boyny

Monica McInerney is the author of the international bestseller The Alphabet Sisters. She lives in Ireland.

Author Q&A

A Reader’s Guide

A Conversation with Monica McInerney

After exhausting herself on a whirlwind book tour of Australia and New Zealand, Monica McInerney thought she had already answered every question about herself and her books that she possibly could. But she graciously agreed to talk with her editor, Allison Dickens, and answer them again, plus a few new ones, for the Reader’s Circle.

Q: Since book clubs gather because of their love of books and reading, I feel compelled to ask: Are you a big reader? When did you first fall in love with books? Does reading influence your writing?

A: I’m a voracious reader. Two or three books a week, usually, getting up to one a day when I’m on holiday. My mum is a big reader, and that planted the seed. I’m one of seven children, and a cousin remembers calling at our house one afternoon to see kids running riot in the back garden, and Mum coming to the door with a baby on one hip, a toddler hanging on to her skirt, and a book in her free hand. A very strong memory for me is getting a book from my school library that had the quirk of a recipe written into the story. I remember making the cake, it tasting delicious, and my being amazed that something I had read in a book had become this wonderful thing. As children growing up in the country, we also had the big treat of books arriving once a month from the city library, chosen for us by an anonymous librarian. They’d arrive by train and my dad, the railway stationmaster, would call us over to collect them as though we were regular customers. I can still recall those nights–the feel and weight of the parcels, slowly unwrapping the brown paper and cardboard, that thrill of anticipation, not knowing what books might lie inside. It really did turn books into magical objects for me. When I was about twelve, Mum started working in the local library in the Clare Valley, and that was like a dream come true–not only could we go in and out and borrow as many books as we liked (she was a firm but flexible librarian), but we even had the key to it so could get in on the weekends if we had run out of books. Reading definitely influences my writing, inspiring me as well as showing me how other writers play with ideas and what is possible with a story. When I first started writing full-time I worried it would bring an end to my reading days, that I would always be too conscious of style or technique to be able to immerse myself. Luckily, that hasn’t happened. Stories grip me just as strongly now.

Q: Who are some of the authors that have inspired you throughout the years? Do you go back and read the same books again and again, or do you move on to new books once you’ve completed one?

A: Enid Blyton for the sense of wonder. Edith Nesbit for humor and family stories. John Wyndham for taking me across into adult books, and into other worlds. John le Carré for his strong and sure grasp of so many themes, political and personal, wrapped in wonderful fast-moving plots. Laurie Graham, for her sharp humor and quirky subject matter. Maeve Binchy for her warmth and understanding. Adriana Trigiani for her rich detail and insights into Italian Americans. I love discovering writers and seeing they have written lots of other books. I immerse myself in their world. I only recently discovered Rosamunde Pilcher, for example, buying one of her books [The Shell Seekers] when I was in Cornwall researching Family Baggage. I loved it and have now read everything she has written. I am always on the lookout for new books to read but also reread old favorites when I need a “comfort” read–Little Women and The Railway Children, as well as Garrison Keillor’s Leaving Home, are top of that list.

Q: One of the questions that came up with your previous novel, The Alphabet Sisters, was your relationship with your sisters and whether any of them were portrayed in the book. [For the answer, see the wonderful conversation between Monica and her sisters in the Reader’s Circle guide in The Alphabet Sisters.] How much of your real life is in Family Baggage? Do you consciously try to incorporate your own experiences into your novels? Do they ever creep in unannounced?

A: Family Baggage was actually sparked by three separate ideas. After writing about sibling rivalry in my last novel, The Alphabet Sisters, I started thinking about what impact on a family the arrival of a foster sister would have–a new family member arriving not as a baby sister or brother, but as a child, with its own strong personality and background. I also wanted to explore family dynamics from another angle–the pressures and expectations of a family business, in this case a travel agency. I love writing about travel, too, and I wanted to have fun with the idea of a theme tour. I initially thought about having the tour group following in the footsteps of Jane Austen, or Enid Blyton, then hit upon the idea of inventing a TV detective series. I needed to do plenty of research into each of those ideas, but I suspect much of the day-to-day interaction between Austin, James, Harriet, and Lara springs from my real-life experiences with my three brothers and three sisters–modified, of course! Of all my books, Family Baggage draws least on my own experiences, I think. One of the great things about being from a big family is it is an intense course in human relationships. You learn everything in a big family–in fact, in any family: how to love, how to argue, how to support, sympathize, be jealous, forgive, and understand. All of those emotions go into my books. I try hard not to make characters too much like my family members or friends, but I often borrow a phrase or a personality quirk, or even someone’s occupation, and build a fictional person from that starting point.

Q: If someone was going to create a “Family Baggage tour,” where would it go? Are there real locations in the novel?

A: It would start in several beautiful seaside towns on the east coast of Australia called Lorne, Queenscliff, and Apollo Bay, as Merryn Bay is a fictional composite of them. Off to Melbourne Airport for a flight to Bristol in southwest England and then a slow drive along the stunning coastal areas of Devon and Cornwall, past high cliffs, wild moors, historic towns, tiny harbor villages, and tucked-away beaches. My husband and I took two research trips to Cornwall to get a sense of the landscape, choosing villages that I liked the look of and wanted to use as locations. I then spent a lot of time staring at a map of Devon and Cornwall pinned above my desk, working out the itinerary for the Willoughby tour. I also spent a weekend in Cork, Ireland, walking the exact route that Austin and Nina take in the novel, seeing the city through their eyes, hearing what they would hear and going to the police station, the newspaper office, and the library. I acted the whole thing out. It’s one of my favorite parts of novel writing, exploring a real place that I plan to use as a location, while the fictional story unfolds in my head.

Q: One of the most moving elements of Harriet’s story for me was the fact that she was not present for the death of either of her parents. Obviously this affected her profoundly. I know you lost your father a few years ago. Was his passing in your mind while you were writing Family Baggage?

A: Very much so. My father died of cancer in 2000, after being diagnosed in April 1999, so we had some preparation for his death. Each of us had special, beautiful times with him in his last year. I can’t say if it helped lessen the grief in any way, though I think it did. His dying was so monumental for our family that it’s hard to imagine it feeling any worse than it did. Of the seven of his children, five of us were with him, with my mum and our parish priest, and two of my brothers were on their way, one brother from another state, the other from a town an hour away. I wanted them to be there so badly, but there just wasn’t time. We’ve talked about it since, and they both say that they are at peace with it, that it didn’t make Dad’s death any less or more hard for them. But I know I would have been desperately sad. I needed to be there at the moment he died, to be with him until the end. Harriet’s experience in the book came directly from those thoughts.

Q: Your father was a stationmaster for the railway in Australia. How do you think growing up with the railroad–the people coming and going, the opportunity for travel–has affected you and your writing?

A: It gave me a sense of freedom and adventure. Railway stations are very romantic places, with people passing through, parcels arriving, the sounds and smells of the trains, the look of the tracks. It was our playground–we held balancing competitions on the rails, used the railway yard for our family Olympics, spent many afternoons after school helping Dad sort parcels, sharpening all of his pencils with the lovely old sharpener that was fixed to the side of the wooden counter and made a great whirring sound as you wound the handle. Dad used to get a free train trip a year to anywhere in Australia and would take a couple of his children with him. I remember so clearly taking a trip to Sydney with my older brother Paul–he was about 12, I was 10. It was such an adventure, not just going to Sydney, but being away with our dad. He knew everybody in the railways, it seemed–as soon as we got onto the train there were welcomes and hair ruffles and special treatment–bags of chips and glasses of fizzy orange. In the evenings he’d sit in the lounge car talking to the conductors and other passengers, swapping yarns. I remember being really proud of him, sitting there swinging my legs and eating my chips and listening.

Q: The humor in your writing really shines through and lends such balance and depth to the sadness that the characters often have to struggle through. Where do you think you get your sense of humor? Is it inherited from your family, or have you developed it over the years? Do you have to work to inject humor into your writing, or do you feel it comes naturally?

A: I think everything I do springs from my family. We laugh a lot together. We argue a lot, too, but mostly it is a good time, lots of sitting around, quick dialogue, trying to outdo each other. There are different senses of humor among us. One of my sisters, for example, thinks there is nothing funnier in the world than slapstick Candid Camera—style humor, but she is also a very dry wit. Humor gets us through everything–it gives a sense of perspective, helps us not take anything too seriously. We cried a great deal after Dad died, but we also seemed to laugh a lot, needing to find lightness and brightness in whatever we could. Everything was so acutely sensitive. Those light and dark layers run together through life and make their way naturally into my stories, too. I don’t consciously think, Now it’s time to write a funny bit. The humor seems to weave into the dialogue or the plot of its own accord–it’s something I love to have there. I’m definitely always on the lookout for humor in my own life, too.

Q: Your novels all seem to revolve around a large family and the various misunderstandings and secrets that every family endures. Why do you choose to write about families (as opposed to another topic like, oh, say, spaceships)? Why do you think readers are drawn to family stories?

A: Spaceships! Love that–there’s an idea for the next book. Families intrigue me. Actually, people intrigue me, but the extra layer with family stories is there is a sense of loyalty or expectation between the people involved, which can make or break friendships and relationships. Again, it’s that sense that all life is under a family roof. Nearly everyone knows how it feels to be jealous of a sibling, angry with a parent, to feel close but also alone. We can all identify with the issues of family, I think.

Q: Every family has secrets. Do you think there are some secrets that should be kept? Would you care to take this opportunity to reveal any secrets in your own family? (We’ll understand if you say no!)

A: They would kill me! They are already suspicious that I moved to the other side of the world from them. Actually, my sisters keep threatening to write their own “true” version of our family life. They say I am much too nice about everyone. I think some secrets should be kept, if they are hurtful or if they would cause enormous pain to people by being revealed. But I also think most secrets have a way of revealing themselves. So if I am patient, I am sure all my own family secrets will tumble out in their own good time.

Q: In the novel, we see the story from various viewpoints as different characters take over recounting the action. Was it a conscious decision on your part to use many points of view? Was it freeing for you to be able to show the story from many sides, or more difficult?

A: As I was writing Family Baggage, I had a mental image of a lighthouse at the center of the family, its light slowly revolving, illuminating one character after another, while the others were kept in the dark. Again, I think it made it more realistic, as that is how things are in family life. It’s rare that everyone sits down together and discovers a secret or a truth about one another. These things are often slowly revealed: people making decisions to tell the others or not to tell, judging the best time or the best reason. Writing from lots of viewpoints gave me great freedom and scope. It helped me get to know each character and added many layers to the whole story.

Q: Your books are popular around the world, something many authors are not able to achieve. Do readers in different countries respond in particular to different parts of the books, or are they drawn to the same themes everywhere you go?

A: I’m very glad that my favorite themes of family, loyalty, and love resonate with people everywhere, even if we are living in different countries or speaking different languages. I think that most of us have a real curiosity about how other people live–emotionally and physically. I love that readers outside of Australia have really responded to my stories and to my “small-town” settings. It means a lot to me that readers in America, Germany, Italy, and other countries are reading about my hometown in the Clare Valley, picturing the vineyards or the Riesling Trail in The Alphabet Sisters, or imagining themselves on the Willoughby tour, exploring Devon and Cornwall with Harriet in Family Baggage.

Q: Are you surprised by what readers respond to in your novels?

A: Sometimes, yes. Now and again I’ve had letters from readers to say that they thought a particular scene was absolutely hilarious, and then I have read it over and been very puzzled, realizing that it wasn’t in fact meant to be at all funny. I heard from many people that they cried at the end of The Alphabet Sisters. That surprised me but also touched me very much. I cried a great deal while I was writing it, and I know that I was working through a lot of my own grief as I wrote it, but I was quite taken aback by its impact on lots of other people. I also loved how people responded to Lola in The Alphabet Sisters. Many people wrote to say they wished they had a grandmother just like her. I’d written exactly the sort of grandmother I’d loved to have had, so it was great to feel we all hanker for the same thing–someone wise and funny and irreverent in our lives, who also loves us unconditionally. I’ve had people be cross with me at plot twists: “How could you let that happen?” My Irish mother-in-law, Nancy, is always great with her comments: “Oh Monica, the things you put that poor girl through!”

Q: Do you write only fiction? Why are you drawn to writing novels in particular? I hear you may have dabbled in poetry at one point. Will we be seeing a book of poetry from you in the future?

A: I’ve been writing memoir pieces about my childhood recently, recalling our early days as real-life railway children, and have also written several travel articles for magazines, about life in Dublin and Australia. I enjoy switching between different styles of writing. I love the scope of novels, the whole canvas it gives me, inventing or researching locations, putting words into people’s mouths, sending people on physical and emotional journeys and then resolving it all in a hopeful or happy way. There’s a completeness to novels. I’ve also written children’s stories for my nieces and nephews, adventure stories about magical cubby-houses and toys, always starring them in lead roles. My time as a poet has been sporadic and mostly disastrous–as a child I wrote a Christmas poem, rhyming “pheasant” with “present” and won a book voucher that I managed to make last for almost a year. I stayed reasonably quiet on the poetry front for a couple of decades after that until 1990, when I met a lovely Irishman at a party. We got to talking about books and writing and he mentioned that he was a lover of poetry, Irish poets such as Seamus Heaney and W. B. Yeats in particular. I remarked eagerly that I had written a poem myself, and then launched into something I had (truthfully) written some weeks earlier: “My sister married a rector / She became a rector’s wife / And frankly if you ask me / The rector wrecked her life.” He was disgusted! “That isn’t poetry, it’s doggerel.” Fortunately, we got over that hump–we celebrate our fourteenth wedding anniversary next year.


Q: In one of your interviews [Preview, June 19, 2005] you revealed that you had actually written scripts for the fictional Willoughby TV series. How much background material do you generally create for your novels? Do you research locations and topics before you begin to write? Will we see Willoughby on the small screen anytime soon?

A: I write a huge amount of background material. That’s how I get to know my characters, by writing lots of scenes with them: at their workplace, in their private life, in conversation with friends and family. It won’t necessarily end up in the final story but it helps me get to know them. I needed to do the same thing with the Willoughby tour idea–before I could choose the highlights that the group of fans would want to visit, I had to write the whole series. I do a lot of research and a lot of double-checking of facts. In Family Baggage I mention ( just in passing) the wind farms in Cornwall and the road network in the west of England, and for some weeks I became an expert on both. I don’t know how successful a Willoughby TV series would be. Mind you, if they got the right actor to play Patrick Shawcross it might do very well indeed.

Q: And finally, a fun question: If you were going to take a tour based on a television show–like the Willoughby tour Harriet is leading in Family Baggage–which show would you choose, and where would the tour go?

A: Gilligan’s Island. No hesitation at all. I grew up watching it and it was my idea of the most exotic life. I loved the grass huts they lived in, the glamour of Thurston Howell III and his wife, the way they managed to have running showers and mod cons on a remote island, and especially the way they always seemed to be eating coconut cream pie. I’d like to spend a fortnight on a beautiful tropical island living just like the Gilligan’s Island characters.

Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. In the Reader’s Circle interview, Monica McInerney cites several authors as inspiration for her writing (John le Carré, Edith Nesbit, John Wyndham, Maeve Binchy, and Adriana Trigiani, among others). Do you see the influence of these writers in McInerney’s writing? What novels would you compare to Family Baggage, and why do you feel they are similar?

2. Reading has had a strong influence on Monica McInerney, as she discusses in the Reader’s Circle interview. How important has reading been to you? Did you read a great deal as a child, or have you come to reading later in life? What role does it play in your life today?

3. Do you think Penny was right to keep the truth about Lara’s parents a secret?

4. Was it fair for Penny to ask Gloria to keep the family secret? What would you have done in Gloria’s place?

5. Do you believe there are secrets that should be kept, or is truth always the best method?

6. In Family Baggage, Monica McInerney uses several different voices and viewpoints, from different family members, to tell the story. How did having different viewpoints help or hinder your connection to the characters and story? Do you prefer a particular point of view in novels (first person, third person, omniscient, etc.)?

7. Which voice in Family Baggage was the most powerful for you? Did you enjoy hearing from one character more than another?

8. Near the end of the novel (p. 456), Harriet and Lara each confess that they had always wished they were more like the other. Do you think this is a common sentiment for sisters?

9. How do the relationships between brother and sister (Austin and Harriet, for example), brother and brother ( James and Austin), and sister and sister (Harriet and Lara) differ in Family Baggage? Are sisters more forgiving of their brothers than their sisters in general, do you think? If you have both a brother and a sister, how does your relationship with each differ?

10. Were you surprised by Melissa’s plan at the end of the novel? Why do you think Gloria and the Turner family expected the worst from Melissa?

11. Some of the funnier moments in the novel occur with the tour group members. If you have been on a tour with a group, share some of the funny or insightful behavior that you witnessed within the group.

12. If you were going to embark on a television show—themed tour, which television show would you choose, and where would the tour take you? (For Monica McInerney’s choice, see the Reader’s Circle interview. Or check out page 177 for a clue.)


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