Readers' Guide: The Night Villa by Carol Goodman

The Night Villa

by: Carol Goodman

Category: FICTION
Guide Created By: Ginny
Discussion Leader(s): Ginny & Andrea (Alf)
Read our archived discussion of this book

Guide Description

Book cover for The Night Villa A mystery set at an archaeological dig, full of puzzles and intriguing red herrings, The Night Villa is full of mythological references, history, and suspense, and will keep you on the edge of your seat till the surprising end.

Author Participation and Q&A

The author, Carol Goodman, graciously agreed to particpate in the discussion of this book. She began with the following greeting:

I'm so delighted to see so many people signed on to talk about The Night Villa! I had such a wonderful time at the meeting in New York. I wanted to thank you all for reading my book and for all your generous comments.

I'm looking forward to the discussion and I'm happy to answer any questions. (Except ones about the passive periphrastic in Latin! Sophie Chase is a much better classicist than I am.)


And later...
"Wow!!! I'm stunned and delighted by everyone's enthusiasm. This is great! And who knew I had a following in Australia? Not me! I always knew there was something about Australia that I liked.

I see Latin is in the news elsewhere today--in the NY Times op-ed piece on taking Latin off college diplomas. I remember I had to ask a professor what "Novi Eboraci" meant on my college diploma (New York), but I've never forgotten it since and it helped me recently recognize York on a map of Roman Britain.

I'm looking forward to the discussion. Thanks again, all of you, for reading!"

Still later...
I love how closely you're all reading NIGHT VILLA. It's a little daunting! I'm afraid if I comment too much on questions now, I'll give away plot points for later. Let me know if you want me to, though!

I love, too, the visuals you have posted at the beginning! Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill is adorable! I can't imagine having better readers!
----Carol Goodman

View on another page the questions of the participants and Carol Goodman's responses.

Reader Guide Discussion Questions

Papyrus rolls
Roman books as papyrus rolls on shelves with the sillybos on the end. A lost Roman funerary relief from Neumagen, Germany. Thanks to Dr. Sider for locating this for us.

Week 1: Chapters 1-9

1. Sisyphus! rock Sillybos! Persephone! Demeter! Hades! Dionysus! Parthenope! Sirens! Minerva Tyrrhena! Cybele! Harpy! And many more! The first 112 pages are a rich riot of classical allusion. What reference in the first 112 pages would you like to know more about? Choose one which interested you and bring an explanation of it here so we can all learn.

2. "Many are the narthex bearers but few the Bacchoi." (page 76 ) What does this mean? Why is it repeated?

3. What effect does the First Person Narration of the protagonist Sophie and her point of view have on the reader? Do you think this narrator so far is reliable? Why or why not?

4. Both Sophie and Agnes seem to feel guilty about things or overly responsible for events. Why?

5. Do you understand the tetraktys? Tetrktys triangle symbol What do 3, 4 and 5 have to do with the triangle of 10 dots (page 29)? Does anyone know anything about Pythagoras or Pythagorean theory? What does the word tetraktys itself mean?

6. What are the some of the main conflicts in this first section?

7. Do you have any personal knowledge or do you know of anybody who has been involved with a modern cult? What do you think the appeal of the modern cult is?

8. Why did Sophie not want to go to Capri? Why did she go? Given her rough start, what would you say the prospects are for a successful time?

9. How many contrasts are there in this section and how are they variously presented? What is their effect? Were there any instances of imagery you particularly liked?

10. We have a lot going on here in this carefully crafted first section: how many parallels so far can you identify? (let's keep a list)

11. What foreshadowing did you notice in these first 112 pages? Was the shooting a surprise to you? Do you think the phone call was from Ely? What if she had picked it up on the 2nd ring?

12. What one thing did you most like about the first 112 pages?

13. What are some of the emerging themes of this first section?

-------------death (and the possibility of rebirth?)-- the shootings (Deems)
-------------being buried alive (Deems)
-------------suffocation--Sophie's lungs, the nuns cells (Deems)
-------------a descent into the underworld (Deems)
-------------drowning (ginny)
-------------Sophie and her mother (drowned?) (Deems)
-------------Demeter and Persephone (mother and daughter)(Deems)
-------------Sophie and Agnes (Deems)
-------------Iusta and her mother Vitalis (Deems)
-------------male treatment of women (bellamarie)
-------------past and present and how it effects the future (bellamarie)

14. Have you learned something you did not know previously in the first 112 pages? If so what?

15. What IS important or seems important so far to Sophie?

16. What is the main "Take Home" thing you got from the first 112 pages (Mippy)

17. What is M'Lou doing in the plot? What is her function? What about her appearance in hallucination with her son?

18. " Yes. I've decided, yes." (page 87). Why did Sophie decide to go on the dig?

19. Do you think that "Sophie sees herself as a modern day feminist?" Would it be fair to say she is? (bellamarie)

20. What steps do the people who have holes, or an emptiness, take to try to fill the void? (Marcie) What is the BIGGEST void you see that Sophie has in her life?

21.What is M'Lou doing in the plot? What is her function? What about her appearance in hallucination with her son?

22. Do you think Ely represents Universal Person seeking religion? Or what is he seeking? (Norma). What are they all seeking if anything?

Week 2: Chapters 10-16
The Game's Afoot!

Sculpture of Rape of Persephone

The Rape of Persephone
Bernini 1621-24
Rome (Villa Borghese)

1. What an exciting section! So many clues, so many mysteries!! What do you want to talk about first?

2. Who do you think was in the blue and white sailboat?

3. What cult do you think Iusta belongs to?

4. What is the meaning of the three squares, first at the table and then in the mail? Who do you think is sending them?

5. What do you think is Maria's real interest in the project?

6. How many themes of rebirth and resurrection are there in this section?

7. Can you shed some light on any of the following?
----Agrai Mysteries
----Oxyrhynchus Project
----The Sibyl of Cumae
----Isis/ Apuleius
----Wilhelmina Jashemski

8. This would make a great movie. Who would you cast in the parts? Who do you see as Simon, John Lyros, Elgin and Sophie particularly?

9. How would you characterize the atmosphere on Capri?

10. What do you think John Lyros is actually after?

11. What did you like best in this section?

12. "We're all hungry for ritual, to experience something beyond the banality of everyday life, to stand outside of ourselves..." (Simon on page 150). When you think about it, who in this book is NOT in this condition? Why?

13. "Of course, " George says of the poppy on page 159, "just where Phineas finds it. Somehow was playing a little joke on you." Who is the jokester here? Who is sending a poppy just where Phineas found it? Somebody who knows the story and the house. Who gains the most from replicating the Phineas story? WHAT is there TO replicate and why?

14. If you all had to bet on WHO at this point is the most sinister, who would get your vote?
--------Lyros: ginny
--------Agnes: bellamarie
--------Agnes: JudeS

Week 3: Chapters 17-24
It's All in the Cards

Photograph of the Temple of Poseidon

The Temple of Poseidon
Sounion, Greece
Where "Phineas" got the scrolls

What a chapter! Revelations, surprises, but even more secrets, what did you make of it?
1 Talk about unreliable narrators, what do you think of Phineas? Is he reliable? Is Ely? Do you believe Ely?

2. Who is the yet unnamed operative still at the site?

3. The cards and their meanings are revealed!! What are two possible flaws in Ely's plan to use them?

4. " I see Agnes, looking not only very much alive but the picture of health. Her cheeks are pink and her eyes glowing as if she'd just finished a morning jog." (page 232). What's going on with Agnes and why?

5. Are you clear on how the two parallel plots intertwine here? We've only got a small section left. What has Phineas's part in the rites got to do with the hunt for the Golden Verses?

6. What do you think Simon was arguling about with Lyros? What do you think he was struggling to say to Sophie?

7. What do you think Maria was doing on the computer? (page 206) Do you buy her emergency family trip?

8. Betrayal as a theme has just raised its head. How is it paralleled exactly in the two plots?

9. How much do you think Maria saw when she came to look for Sophie? Why couldn't Ely have taken her to land somewhere instead of the swim?

10. " careful not to hurt Agnes or Agnes's woman professor." (page 279). What need has Lyros of Agnes's woman professor?

11. What do you think is the most important part of this section and why?

12. What does Sophie's dream about Odette mean? What is meant by the wrong pan and the wrong day? (Babi)

13. What's with the diabetic complication that caused Simon, our artist, to die? (Andrea)

14. " But why would she make up such a story in order to go report to the Church. She is there as a Church representative, and reporting to them would be natural and appropriate. No,...she must have been doing something else."-- Babi. What do you think she was actually doing?

15. Is this book plot driven or character driven? (Deems) Why?

16. What IS the plot, to you, and what climax would you expect at the end?

17. "Ely sent those cards to Sophie, and if he had not sent the date signifying the day she told him of her affair which caused him to join the cult I would not be suspecting him wanting to harm her. But I asked myself, why did he include that date? I don't think he has gotten over her being unfaithful." How do you see Ely?

18. Do Phineas and Iustia have their counterpart in our little group? (JudeS)

Week 4: Chapters 18-end

Frescoe of the mystery rites

The climax of the mystery rites: the kneeling initiate uncovers a fertility symbol while the winged figure prepares to strike her.
Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii

What a finish! What a movie this would make! Were you right? Did you get any of them right at all?
1. What was the biggest surprise for you in this ending full of surprises?

2. What is the climax?

3. Was there a parallel plot? If so who was Iusta?

4. Why did they move to the Hotel Convento?

5. Who sent the note Nemesis?

6. SO much to talk about! Tell us what you think!

7. Who left the scroll in the courtyard, originally? Remember that one? Why?

8. Odette has surfaced again. What part does she play in this book? Who does she represent?

9.Any book with a Magic 8 Ball in it is magic itself. Still got a lingering question? Click here and ask the a question!

10. What did you like best about this book? (Joan R)

11. I would love to talk about what we each saw as red herrings. What had YOU individually chasing a clue you finally gave up on, or realized in the end it was nothing more than either a what it represented, or indeed was a red herring? (Bellamarie)

12. Who is your favorite character? (Bellamarie)

13. Who is the Queen of the Underworld-- Iusta? (Andrea)

Interesting Links

Carol Goodman Homepage

Interview with Carol Goodman /SeniorLearn Book Gathering in New York City in 2008

The Philodemus Project -- Herculaneum Papyri

Fordham Roman Mystery Religions (submitted by Suzie)

Definition of Cult

Characters and Places in The Night Villa: Real or Fictional ?

Links to Classical References in the NIGHT VILLA- researched by participants in the discussion