In The Beginning – a reading guide

Book "In The Beginning" with a brown teapot and a green background placed in front of winterly greens and brown. The winterly elements symbolising the hard times of Rose, the protagonist

How to pick up life after your husband suddenly leaves you? That is what this novel is about.

In the beginning there is a family. It is a very ordinary family, just like yours or mine – Ben, Rose and their three children. One morning Rose is boiling eggs in the kitchen when, without warning, Ben leaves her. Rose is all of the sudden left to face life alone.

In this novel we read the story of Ben and Rose’s marriage and how Rose struggles to re-invent her life after he has left her. We read how the marriage was “In The Beginning”. We follow Rose for one year after the break-up. In this year she manages to create her own new beginning.

The author uses simple prose and has a good eye for both sharp and subtle observations. Catherine Dunne delivers these sharp and subtle observations with lots of humour. When you have finished this novel you will not only admire Rose, but also know (again) that it pays off to reflect what you want and to live your life accordingly.

In this reading guide you will find a summary, some background information about the author and lots of discussion ideas to make most out of your book club discussion of “In The Beginning”. Enjoy your read and the discussion.

Summary of In The Beginning

One morning, out of the blue, Ben tells Rose he is leaving her. Devastated and numb by this news, Rose decides to stick to her routines as best as she can to survive the day. And so we read how she gets through the first week. She gets help from her friend Jane and, unexpectedly, from her teenage son. In one week she evolves from an obedient housewife (whose days are filled with keeping the house clean and organised, with taking care of the children and with cooking the most exquisite meals for her husband and serving them on time too) into a woman who takes the initiative in unknown territories.

In between those 7 days, we can read in flashbacks how Ben and Rose came together and how their relationship took shape. This makes us understand why the marriage was as it was when Ben thought it was enough.

The novel has got 4 parts. The first part is a daily account of Rose’s life, not just the day, but even the time is mentioned. In the course of the novel the time lapses are further apart, which is in line with Rose’s growth into the new situation. In total the 4 parts deal with the first year. We mainly read the story through Rose’s eyes, though there are a few chapters written from Ben’s point of view.

The novel can be easily bought as an e-read version, but is hard to find as a “traditional” book. I think that is a shame, since the novel may be nearly 25 years old but the topic is unfortunately still very actual. Many relationships fall apart and often women struggle with the emotional and financial consequences of a break-up, especially when there are children involved.

About Catherine Dunne

Catherine Dunne was born in Dublin in 1954. She had been a teacher for many years, before she became a full-time writer in 1995. “In The Beginning” is her first novel. She has written 9 more since then. On her website you can find more information about her 10 books. She lives in Dublin.

Discussion questions

Here you find: 

  • Icebreaker Ideas to kick off your book club event
  • Questions you can prepare while reading to explore part of the novel in depth
  • Questions you can discuss at your book club meeting without any preparation beforehand

Icebreaker Ideas

  • Serve tea with treats like the one Rose might have baked or drink wine (not necessarily wine that has been bought as an investment).
  • Let each of your book club participants bring their own teapot with them (I have only seen covers with teapots).
  • Dress all in green, the Irish national colour and the colour of the novel’s cover.
  • Share recipes for pies, bread roles and the like.

Questions before reading & roles

  1. Explain the title and cover.
  2. Explore Rose’s character and looks
  3. Explore Ben’s character and looks.
  4. Let someone find and share some quotes from the novel.
  5. The title sounds like the start of the Bible. Let someone explore other biblical elements (in the language) used in the novel.
  6. Let someone explore the way the author uses time in this novel.
  7. Food and drinks are often mentioned in this novel (think about the tea, the wine, the cooking & baking). Let someone look into the way food and drinks are used in this novel. What is their importance in Rose’s life and/or their role in the novel?

Discussion after reading

  1. What do you consider the main problem / the conflict in this novel and why?
  2. What/when is the climax in this novel, the high point of the action, when the conflict or problem is resolved or causes a character’s downfall and explain why you think so.
  3. What/when is the resolution in this novel, the moment/way the conflict or problem is solved and normalcy or a new order is restored. Explain why you think so.
  4. How does the author use time in this novel? What do you think of the way she did so?
  5. What is your opinion of Ben?
  6. Food and drinks are often mentioned in this novel (think about the tea, the wine, the cooking & baking). What is their importance in Rose’s life and/or their role in the novel?
  7. It is often said that when couples split up, the woman gets all the blame. Do you agree? How does the author handle the blaming game in this novel? Who is to blame here?
  8. Could Rose have seen Ben’s leaving coming? Why or why not?
  9. How does Rose handle the situation she suddenly finds herself in? What would you fear most when your partner would leave you?
  10. What does the baking symbolise in the novel?
  11. Friendship is an important element in the novel. Find examples. How important are female friendships in your life?
  12. What is the role of Masha in the novel?
  13. Have a look at the title and cover and share your thoughts. 
  14. How did you feel about the ending
  15. What are your biggest take-aways from this novel?
  16. How can you relate this novel to other novels you have read?

Literary Love,

Lieske

Questions and Icebreaker Ideas by Book Club Post. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks so much!

Further Reading

  • When you like books about letting go in order to grow (like Rose clearly does in this novel), you will love the list of 10 autumn books on Book Club Post. They all deal with that theme, so I am sure you will find another novel that you will love from that list!

2 Comments on “In The Beginning – a reading guide

  1. Dear Lieske, Thank you for showing me how to get the most out of this book “In the Beginning”, I better start reading to find my answers to the questions you found.
    With Love to read your blogpost,
    Alexa

    • Dear Alexa. So happy to read that you could use the tips in this blogpost.

      I liked In The Beginning a lot: the story, the strength of Rose, the 6 days in which she created order in the chaos of her life (and resting on day 7) – shows how powerful Rose is – and the humour the author has used to get the message across that you should know what you want in life and live your life accordingly (even if it is only when you are already 40+, since one is never too old to learn). Enjoy your read!

      Literary Love,
      Lieske

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