Readers' Guide: Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler

Noah's Compass

by: Anne Tyler

Guide Created By: JoanP
Discussion Leader(s): JoanP & Pedln
Read our discussion of this book

Book DescriptionBook cover for Noah's Compass Anne Tyler's "gently humorous" eighteenth novel deals with retirement planning and memory loss.

Background about the Book

Tyler's protagonist, Liam Pennywell, tells his young grandson that Noah wasn't going anywhere in the Ark. "He was just trying to stay afloat. He was just bobbing up and down, so he didn't need a compass, or a rudder, or a sextant."

Liam Pennywell is troubled by his inability to remember anything about the first night that he moved into his new, spare condominium, after being laid off from a job he never liked. All he knows when he wakes up the next day in the hospital is that his head is sore and bandaged. For Liam, the most distressing part of his memory loss was that it felt like he was losing control. We all know a Liam, the novel suggests. In fact, there may be a little of Liam in each of us. Just trying to stay afloat.

Relevant Links

Bruce Frankel's book: What Should I Do With the Rest of My Life?

Anne Tyler's Baltimore

Questions for Consideration

Chapters 1-3

1. Is it a bad thing that that Liam Pennywell got laid off from teaching fifth graders at St. Dyfrig's? Do you think he had been a good teacher?

2. What do you think of Anne Tyler's descriptive writing style in this first chapter? How do you picture Liam's friend, Bundy, as a "blue-black giraffe"?

3. What did you like about Liam's new apartment? Would you have rented it?

4. Can you tell whether Liam is looking forward to the next stage in his life, his retirement? Or does he consider this stage the end of the line? How do you look upon your retirement years?

5. Why do you think Liam is so concerned about not remembering anything about the break-in? He's been told several times that this is very normal, and he doesn't seem to have any other memory problems. Have you ever suffered a loss of memory following an injury like this?

6. Latin scholars, did you spot the latin phrase in Chapter 2? What was its meaning?

7. How do the women in his life, his three daughters, his ex-wife and his sister differ in their actions and attitudes towards Liam?

8. What is your opinion of Liam? Does it change, as you learn more about him? (Is it unusual for a 60 year old man not to have a computer, a cell phone or even a television?)

9. Why did Dr. Morrow make time in his busy schedule to see Liam right away? What is the neurologist's prognosis? Just what does Liam expect of someone he calls a "rememberer?"

10. Do you think it is unusual or abnormal for Liam to want to remember the attack? What clues has he learned at this point?

Chapters 4-6

1. What motivates Liam to overcome his aversion to computers and search for information about Israel Cope? Did he find what he was searching for?

2. What new information does Liam learn from neighbors and the police about the night of his attack? Do you think he saw his assailant?

3. Liam's sister Julia has the ability to remember many details that are news to him. Is this what he thinks a "rememberer" can do for him? What do we know of Liam's memory before the attack?

4. Do you get a sense of place, of Baltimore, in Tyler's description of the buildings and the people on Bunker Street? Did you note/underline any examples of her writing in describing them?

5. Are Barbara's observations valid for believing that Liam is depressed? Does he really like his solitude, being alone?

6. How does Anne Tyler descibe the rememberer? Do you see signs that Liam is physically attracted to her, or is his interest solely in her perceived powers as a rememberer? Does Eunice seem to have a crush on Liam as his daughter believes?

7. He thinks there is something familiar about her. Do you? Could they write one another's resume?

8. Do you think young people are often unaware of their own strengths and need objective help choosing a career path? Do you think similar guidance might help with retirement planning?

9. Are there signs that Liam is beginning to remember the attack? Are his dreams telling him something?

10. Can't Liam see that Eunice has no special skills that can help Israel Cope's memory? Do you see her helping Cope or Liam?

Chapters 7,8,9

1. Do you think Liam was as awkward with his fifth graders as he is with his own four year old grandson? Do you suppose he was as detached from his daughters as they were growing up?

2. Do you know anyone like Liam - not quite a recluse, but who likes to watch conversations without being expected to join in?

3. Eunice sees herself as a bud that hasn't opened yet, but worries that she might never open. How did Liam feel when he was her age?

4. Liam says he has no interests. What is it that Eunice finds interesting about him?

5. Do you find it true that only children exhibit excessive concern for parents' good opinion? Does this explain why Eunice makes none of her own decisions?

6. How can Liam convince Eunice's parents that he is " a better man than he looks" on paper? Does he really believe this?-

7. How did Liam take the stunning revelation he learned from Eunice's mother in the market? Had Anne Tyler provided any indication that Eunice might not be quite as transparent as she appeared to be?

8. Do you think it is possible that Liam can come to accept Eunice's explanation and forgive her deceit, her "unfortunate oversite"? Does her husband remind you of Liam, the kind of husband he must have been?

9. What does Liam come to realize about Eunice - and himself? How important is this self-realization?

10. Were you as baffled as Damian was that Liam is no longer interested in seeing his attacker and remembering the night he was attacked?