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BOOK CLUB January – O Caledonia

In this atmospheric gothic tale, author Elspeth Barker skillfully captures the harsh climate of Scotland. Drawing comparisons to the works of the Brontës, Edgar Allan Poe, and Edward Gorey, the story immerses readers in a world of isolation and loneliness. The young heroine, Janet, faces a foreboding life but finds solace in literature, nature, and her Aunt Lila. With flashes of respite, Janet’s unwavering spirit shines through, making her an unforgettable protagonist. As people, birds, and beasts move through the background, Barker’s rich and witty storytelling evokes a sense of atmosphere and mordant humor. The family’s motto, “Moriens sed Invictus” (Dying but Unconquered), serves as a fitting epitaph for the wild and courageous Janet.

Thursday January 18th 2024
2:30 – 3:30 pm

Discussion Questions

  1. The book opens with a quotation from Sir Walter Scott: “O Caledonia, stern and wild / Meet nurse for a poetic child”. How do these lines apply to Janet’s life?
  2. The novel’s very first page reveals Janet’s fate. Why do you think the author chose to begin the novel this way?
  3. O Caledonia is sometimes described as being in the same Gothic tradition as We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Do you see similarities between the characters in each book?
  4. After quarrelling with her mother, Janet “…knew she was behaving horribly, she knew that she was indeed horrible, a despicable compound of arrogance, covetousness and self-centered rage…She felt guilt for blighting Vera’s pleasure and excitement; she felt shame. Her shame and guilt only made her angrier.” How would you describe Janet’s relationship with her parents and siblings?
  5. How are animals important in Janet’s life?

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