Broken Light: Reading Group Guide

If you’re planning to study BROKEN LIGHT as part of a reading group, here are a few resources that might be helpful:

The changes in Bernie’s neurology and behaviour start with the onset of menopause. Here’s an article  on the many mental and physical changes that may occur during this time.

Joanne Harris describes this book as a kind of homage to Stephen King’s CARRIE. Here’s a summary of the story.

Bernie shows strong signs of being an emotional empath. Here’s a quick summary of what that means.

One explanation for Bernie’s involuntary sensations is mirror synaesthesia. Here’s something about that.

Bernie’s visualization of the mind as a “house” is similar to the method of loci, or “memory palace” technique. Find out more about it here.

Doughnuts feature prominently in a key scene in the novel. If you feel like making your own, here’s an easy recipe…

And there’s more background on the book here.

Questions for discussion:

  1. To what extent do you consider BROKEN LIGHT a story of the paranormal, or is it insead the story of a woman’s mental breakdown?
  2. Bernie speaks of feeling invisible as a middle-aged woman. What do you think she means by this?
  3. Bernie’s insights into the thoughts of others often coincide with her hot flashes. Why do you think that is?
  4. Bernie thinks of the minds and personalities of other people as “houses”, with hidden rooms and public spaces. What would your house be like? What would be on display in your “front room”?
  5. Bernie’s relationship with Martin is far from ideal. Why do you think she stayed with him after finding out about his infidelity?
  6. What do you think is the significance of the Great Carovnik’s magic show, and how has the memory of it affected Bernie throughout her life?
  7. To what extent is this book an exploration of female rage? Why do you think women like Bernie feel angry?
  8. Why do you think Katie chose to distance herself from Bernie when they were at school together?
  9. Would you consider this to be a feminist story? Why?
  10. How does Bernie’s relationship with her mother affect her other relationships?
  11. Bernie thinks of Katie as being the daughter her mother should really have had. Is this true?
  12. What is the importance of the Adam Price incident, and how does it affect the three children concerned?
  13. Bernie’s lack of connection with her son Dante is a source of misery to her. Why do you think it happened?
  14. Iris becomes a big part of Bernie’s life. Why do you think she means so much to Bernie?
  15. In what way has Iris’ attitude to life been “flipped” with Woody’s? What does this mean in terms of their roles in the story?
  16. As Bernie discovers her powers, she also discovers her potential. How do you feel about her journey of self-discovery?
  17. In what way is the class reunion meaningful to Bernie? What does she expect from it? (Have you ever been to a class reunion, and if so, what was it like?)
  18. Bernie is very aware of the abuse some women receive at the hands of men, and yet her own power could be seen as a kind of mental violation. How do you think she feels about this? Is she aware of the irony?
  19. Why do you think Bernie felt Iris was becoming a threat? How did you feel about her solution to “the Iris problem”?
  20. How satisfying did you find the ending? What do you think really happened to Bernie?