FAMILY SKELETON by CARMEL BIRD
ABOUT THE NOVEL
Told from the perspective of the observant and sometimes cynical skeleton in the closet, this novel of manners takes the reader into the emotional depths of the lives of a family of funeral directors in a wealthy Melbourne suburb. The patriarch is a charming and amusing philanderer, his wife is a virtuous philanthropist, his mistress is treated as a member of the family. But the sins of the past are about to surface, with catastrophic results. Dark and hilarious, dramatic and moving, Family Skeleton has been compared to the novels of Fay Weldon, Penelope Fitzgerald, Muriel Spark and Anne Tyler.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carmel Bird has always been in love with the music of language, the rhythms of speech, the possibilities of fiction. She has written thirty books, including nine other novels and six collections of short fiction.
‘An intensely un-put-down-able novel with a rare pitch perfect ending. What a rich, delicious, suspenseful, witty, sinister, joyous confabulation, wow!’
‘Carmel Bird is a literary artist to her fingertips. She writes prose that has the precision of poetry, and that uncanny quality poetry has of making the inner life speak.’
‘One of Australia’s more prolific and renowned authors, Bird clearly hasn’t lost her enthusiasm and sense of wonder as she enters again the imaginative world of fiction.’
1. The Skeleton in the Closet speaks directly to the reader, commenting on the behaviour of the characters, and also telling the reader where to look, what not to bother about. What effect does this narrative device have on the telling of the story?
2. Margaret’s life story is mostly revealed in her journal. Does having this intimate view of her give you a sympathy for her that you might not otherwise have had?
3. Lillian is different from the other characters in many ways, and she is the central location of goodness in a messy, wicked world. In what ways is she different?
4. The Second World War fractured the twentieth century. How did it affect Margaret? How did its ripples reach out into the lives of the O’Days of Toorak?
5. You could say that Doria is ‘the stranger who rides into town’. What effect did she have on the lives of the other characters?
6. Margaret thinks the past should remain past, even mysterious. Most of the other characters seem to want to explore and expose the past. Who do you think is right?
7. The subject matter of the novel is dramatic and serious, yet much of the style of the writing is comic. How do you think these two elements work together? Does the comedy make the drama more memorable?
8. The chapters are headed by a short quotation from Edmund. What effect do these sayings have on your reading of the novel?
9. The novel ends in such a way that the reader is invited to complete the picture. Do you find this satisfactory, or would you prefer to be told what actually happened?
10. What do you think it is that the Skeleton wants the reader to notice in the advertisement for the house sale on page six? When you get to the end of the novel, why not go back and re-read the ad.
11. Next door to Bellevue is the Freud House where an eccentric psychoanalyst lives. What is the function of the Freud House in the overall meaning of the narrative?
12. There are glancing references to matters such as the indigenous history of Australia, IVF, gays, the presence of the Chinese in contemporary Australia, incest, unmarried mothers, religious prejudice. How do such elements have a place in the tapestry of Margaret’s life?
13. What is the role of children in this novel?
14. The secret was bound to come out when Ophelia died. But without the presence of Doria, would Margaret have been able to bury that secret forever?
15. What is the role of fate in this novel?
16. The Skeleton says to take no notice of such things as the butterflies in the story. He says they are meaningless. What do you think?