August's book of the month
NOTHING CAN HURT YOU, Nicola Maye Goldberg
On a cold day in 1997, student Sara Morgan was brutally murdered in the woods surrounding her liberal arts college. Her boyfriend, Blake Campbell, confessed, only to be acquitted following a plea of temporary insanity. In the wake of this senseless act of violence, the case comes to haunt a strange and surprising network of people, from the young woman who discovers Sara’s body to the junior reporter who senses its connection to convicted local serial killer John Logan.
As the years pass, others search for meaning or, in some cases, retribution. Sara’s half-sister, stifled by her family’s bereft silence about Blake, poses as a babysitter and seeks out her own form of justice. Meanwhile a teenager Sara used to babysit starts writing to serial killer Logan in prison, sharing her everyday experiences in a diary-like series of letters.
BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS
1. ‘Even if they didn’t know her well, their proximity to something so cruel would change their world.’ The novel is narrated by twelve characters, all of whom are in some way connected to the victim. Why do you think the author chose this type of narration? What does it do that a typical single narrator couldn’t?
2. What does the novel have to say about how society tends to treat young women who are victims of violence? How do the characters’ memories of Sara contrast with the way her story was portrayed in the media?
3. ‘She forgave Blake, but it was irrelevant. She didn’t forgive him because he deserved it, but because she loved him, and she probably only loved him because he was handsome and kind to her and also because they were stuck in this muggy self-righteous hellhole together. However much joy he brought her, it could not possibly equal the sorrow he brought to others.’ How does the novel approach the question of forgiveness? Do you think Katherine’s decision to forgive Blake is justified?
4. Discuss the role of humour in the novel. Which parts made you laugh? What makes humour a useful tool for processing such a difficult topic?
5. Why do you think the author chose to focus not on the victim, but on the people left behind? Can you think of any other novels, films or TV shows that give these people a voice?
6. ‘What I felt when I saw that frozen face was not fear or disgust. It was relief. It lasted only a moment, but it was so profound that it bordered on joy.’
Discuss the author’s treatment of complex emotional reactions. Why do you think Marianne felt something close to joy when she discovered the body?
7. What makes Jessica curious to begin her correspondence with the prisoner? What do you imagine he says to her in his responses? How does it make you feel to realise that the letters are a source of companionship for her?
8. ‘He could have sworn it was her. The woman sitting next to him on the plane looked so much like Sara ... The illusion lasted only a second, but it rattled him.’ In what ways are the characters haunted by Sara? Why is the author keen to show us fleeting moments like this one?
9. When we meet Blake later on in the novel, he is living happily with his wife and child. How does this make you feel? How do you think Blake feels? Did you expect a greater sense of resolution at the end of the novel?
10. Several reviewers have praised Nothing Can Hurt You for playing with and subverting the tropes of the ‘dead girl’ genre. Do you agree that this is what the novel does? In what way?
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides
The Wych Elm – Tana French
Dare Me – Megan Abbott
Death in Her Hands – Otessa Moshfegh
Tennis Lessons – Susannah Dickey
The Bass Rock – Evie Wyld
Sisters – Daisy Johnson
True Story – Kate Reed Petty
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