5 reviews

The Obituary Writer: A Novel
by Ann Hood

Published: 2013-03-04
Hardcover : 304 pages
15 members reading this now
41 clubs reading this now
12 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 5 of 5 members

A sophisticated and suspenseful novel about the poignant lives of two women living in different eras.

On the day John F. Kennedy is inaugurated, Claire, an uncompromising young wife and mother obsessed with the glamour of Jackie O, struggles over the decision of whether to stay in a ...
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A sophisticated and suspenseful novel about the poignant lives of two women living in different eras.

On the day John F. Kennedy is inaugurated, Claire, an uncompromising young wife and mother obsessed with the glamour of Jackie O, struggles over the decision of whether to stay in a loveless marriage or follow the man she loves and whose baby she may be carrying. Decades earlier, in 1919, Vivien Lowe, an obituary writer, is searching for her lover who disappeared in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. By telling the stories of the dead, Vivien not only helps others cope with their grief but also begins to understand the devastation of her own terrible loss. The surprising connection between Claire and Vivien will change the life of one of them in unexpected and extraordinary ways. Part literary mystery and part love story, The Obituary Writer examines expectations of marriage and love, the roles of wives and mothers, and the emotions of grief, regret, and hope.

Editorial Review

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First of all, the ones in sorrow should be urged if pos- sible to sit in a sunny room and where there is an open fire. If they feel unequal to going to the table, a very little food should be taken to them on a tray. A cup of tea or coffee or bouillon, a little thin toast, a poached egg, milk if they like it hot, or milk toast. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. The Obituary Writer takes place in two different eras. Describe some of the period details in the novel that help bring these two different eras to life. How has the world changed between 1919 and 1961, and how has it stayed the same? In what ways are Claire and Vivian defined by the eras in which they live?

2. Claire fixates on the inauguration of John F. Kennedy and, in particular, on the glamour of Jackie Kennedy. Why do you think Claire is so interested in Jackie? What does the myth of the Kennedys represent to Claire?

3. What is it about the disappearance of Dougie Daniels that causes Claire to reexamine her own life?

4. What do Claire and Vivian have in common as characters? Who is stronger, and who is weaker? What kind of strength does each possess?

5. Vivian loses a lover. Lotte loses a child. Peter loses his mother. Describe the different ways in which the characters in the novel experience loss.

6. Love takes both women by surprise. What does Claire’s love affair with Miles have in common with Vivian’s affair with David? How do they differ?

7. The “Claire” chapters of the novel all begin with epigraphs from Emily Post. What role do manners, etiquette, and the expectations of society have to play in the novel?

8. What does Vivian have to teach Claire, in the end? What has Vivian’s life taught her, and what wisdom does she impart?

9. Vivian says of grief, “It never really goes away, it just changes shape.” How has Vivian’s grief changed shape over the course of her life?

10. In the end, Claire asks Vivian the same question that Vivian has asked so many strangers: “Tell me about your loved one.” Do both women help each other to move on in the end?

11. In listening to mourners and telling the stories of their loved ones, Vivian finds a way of processing her own terrible loss. In your own life, do you find that sharing stories helps people process emotion and come to terms with grief? Does hearing the stories of others help?

Suggested by Members

We found questions at the end of one of our books that were really good!
by msahm (see profile) 01/19/16

With the contrasts and comparison between Claire and Vivien's eras, would you be able to compare the era we now live in and and the changes for the future generation?
by Patcochran1 (see profile) 07/12/13

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

About the Author

Ann Hood is the best-selling author of The Red Thread, Comfort, and The Knitting Circle, among other works. She has been the recipient of a Best American Spiritual Writing Award, the Paul Bowles Prize for Short Fiction, and two Pushcart Prizes. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Debbie N. (see profile) 12/27/18

  "The Obituary Writer"by Dot D. (see profile) 03/03/17

An interesting read of two women experiencing love affairs 40 years apart. Their lives intersect at the end of the book as life ends for the elder of the two and a new life begins for the other.

by Judith E C. (see profile) 10/06/16

  "The Obituary Writer"by melissa S. (see profile) 01/19/16

This book kept my attention and some of the characters I really liked and others I did not. For some reason this book created a lot more discussion than other books!

by Sheera L. (see profile) 01/26/15

  "The Obituary Writer"by Barbara M. (see profile) 06/30/14

Interesting book discussing the parallel lives of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Experiencing grief in different eras, they understand one another at the end of the book. Entertaining, but the ending... (read more)

by Virginia L. (see profile) 06/02/14

by Teresa S. (see profile) 06/01/14

by Patti K. (see profile) 04/19/14

  "The Obituary Writer"by Nancy B. (see profile) 01/27/14

This may have been a quick read but the story sticks to your ribs like bread. Two lives intertwined that may up a beautiful story. The story of 1916 and the Obituary Writer was so beautiful. Her talent... (read more)

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