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The Great Fire



Awards: International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award - Nominee, Fiction; Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize - Nominee, Fiction; National Book Awards - Winner, Fiction; Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction - Nominee, Fiction

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About The Author

Shirley HazzardShirley Hazzard

Shirley Hazzard is the author, most recently, of Greene on Capri, a memoir of Graham Greene, and several works of fiction, including The Evening of the Holiday, The Bay of Noon, and The Transit of Venus, winner of the 1981 National Book Critics Circle Award. She lives in... More

photo: Copyright Nancy Crampton

Awards

International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award - Nominee, Fiction
Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize - Nominee, Fiction
National Book Awards - Winner, Fiction
Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction - Nominee, Fiction

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Reading Group Gold

1. If The Great Fire is a historical novel—“historical”

in setting as well as in its preoccupation with

weight of political and personal history—how

does the novel feel particularly contemporary?

What themes present in the book exist today,

in our world?

2. The novel is, as well, a veiled critique on

Imperialism, on the Western world’s presence in

foreign lands. In what way does each character

reflect a different reaction to the East? What

sorts of roles do they (Aldred, Peter, Oliver, the

Driscolls, Calder, Talbot) play in its changing

politics?

3. In what ways is love expressed in the novel? Do

these characters put themselves at risk for such

expression, and furthermore, what must they

stand up against to love others?

4. The idea of destiny–fate–comes up again and

again in this world. The word “destiny” itself is

mentioned more than four times throughout the

novel. If both love and war are then meant to

be, if these people’s damages lead them to new

places, what do these characters’ individual

lives say about humanity as a whole? Does the

novel leave you with hope or worry?

5. More specifically, what is the fate of women in

The Great Fire? Think of the discussion on

Western weddings in Hong Kong, on page 159.

Of Aldred and Peter’s impressions and experiences

with women. Of Helen’s plight.

6. Discuss the paragraph on page 111, beginning

with “These were their days…”

7. What role do the mailed letters play in the

book? Are they “the sad silly evidence of

things,” as Aldred says to Helen, or are they

more? How does Hazzard use the epistolary

form to fuel the narrative?

8. Why, towards the novel’s close, does Aldred

remember the stacking of his home’s firewood

(page 223) with such immaculate detail?

9. Infirmity is everywhere throughout The Great

Fire—from Benedict Driscoll’s degeneration to

Aldred’s wounds to Peter’s fate to Dick Laister’s

father’s amputation. What deeper, quieter

infirmities exist in the book? What are your

impressions about the characters’ reaction to

their wounds?

10. What do you believe Benedict said when he

yelled at the Japanese servant who would

subsequently kill himself?

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