I’ve been lucky enough to have several book clubs read The Girl from Oto, and I have also had the pleasure at speaking at a few of their gatherings. Recently I was asked to create a list of discussion questions for the book. It’s been fun to develop the questions, mainly because I got to revisit the story and my beloved characters. I transported myself into artist Mira de Oto’s world of Renaissance-era Europe and the wild Pyrenees mountains, and then I delved into the curious brain of art scholar Zari Durrell at that magical moment when she chanced upon traces of Mira and developed an obsession.
I must admit, I’m still obsessed with Mira and Zari. That’s why I’m writing a sequel, Mira’s Way, which is heading to an editor at the end of the summer and will be published in 2018. (A third book will complete the series.) I’ve realized while writing these books that the trick lies in the dual narrative: I’m actually writing two novels for each book. Quibblers might describe the Mira narrative as a novel and the Zari narrative as a novella. That’s fine.
This double-whammy makes the process trickier than a single-narrative book, mainly because it calls into action the underutilized left side of my brain. There’s a lot of analysis. I’m constantly comparing the two stories and raising the bar for each one. Then I have to weave them together in a way that builds tension and pacing for both—a way that unfolds mystery, thrills, and romance without giving away too much too soon and spoiling anything for the reader. I’m much faster this time around, but still so slow compared to some of my indie author peers who churn out multiple books a year. Here’s a mantra that you’re free to borrow if you’re in the same boat as me: I am slow and that’s OK.
And here, without further ado, are the book club discussion questions for The Girl from Oto.
17 Discussion Questions for Readers
- The Girl from Oto is a historical mystery with a contemporary twist. Did you find yourself more compelled by the historical narrative, the contemporary narrative, or both? Why?
- Why do you think the author chose to incorporate a modern narrative into this story? What was she trying to do? Do you think she succeeded?
- After the dual narrative was introduced, did you assume things about where the author was taking the story? Were your guesses correct—or were you surprised?
- What are the themes that the author explored in this book? Which are most powerful or resonant to you? Why?
- Do you have a favorite character? Who is it, and why does that character have such an impact on you?
- The Girl from Oto has been described as feminist, and as women’s fiction. Do you agree? Disagree? Why?
- Another question on the topic of gender: do you think men get a fair shake in this story? Are there well-rounded male characters? Intriguing ones? Who are they?
- Some readers have described the Pyrenees mountains as a character in the story, because the landscape has such a powerful presence. Do you agree? What are some of the details of the natural world that made an impact on you?
- The independent mountain communities of the Pyrenees gave common people rights and responsibilities that were unheard of in most of Europe during the late 1400s/early 1500s. How did those conditions influence Mira and the people who supported her?
- There are several antagonists in the book. Were the villains ever sympathetic, or were they consistently evil? Did you find any of them particularly compelling or particularly vile? Which ones?
- Would you have chosen a different ending for any of the antagonists? If so, who, and how would you have written their ending?
- In what ways are Mira and Zari similar or different? Did they both go through transformations over the course of the book? In what ways did they change?
- Did you learn anything new about history or art in the reading of this book? What were your discoveries?
- Are there any female artists you particularly admire? Who are they, and what do you find compelling about their work?
- What did you think of the ending? What one word best describes your emotional response to it?
- Were there things you didn’t like about the book? What do you feel could have been improved upon?
- What do you hope will happen in the sequel, Mira’s Way?