The Reading Group: A Novel

The Reading Group: A Novel

by Elizabeth Noble


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The Reading Group follows the trials and tribulations of a group of women who meet regularly to read and discuss books.Over the course of a year, each of these women become intertwined, both in the books they read and within each other's lives.

Inspired by a shared desire for conversation, a good book and a glass of wine-Clare, Harriet, Nicole, Polly, and Susan undergo startling revelations and transformations despite their differences in background, age and respective dilemmas.

What starts as a reading group gradually evolves into a forum where the women may express their views through the books they read and grow to become increasingly more open as the bonds of friendship cement.

In The Reading Group, Noble reveals the many complicated paths in life we all face as well as the power and importance of friendship.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060760441
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/04/2005
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 255,803
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.05(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Noble is the author of the internationally bestselling novels The Reading Group, The Friendship Test, and Alphabet Weekends. She lives with her husband and their two daughters in New York City.


Wonersh, Guildford, Surrey, England

Date of Birth:

December 22, 1968

Place of Birth:

High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England


B.A., St. Edmund Hall, Oxford University, 1990

Read an Excerpt

7:15 P.M.

Clare watched as the young woman passed her in the corridor. First-timer, definitely: excitement and panic were etched on her pale face as she made her way slowly down the hall, dragging the IV on its wheels beside her, legs bent and shoulders hunched, shuffling in girlish slippers bought for this special day. Her glance at Clare said, "Help me. When will this be finished? When will he be here?" Probably came in half a centimeter dilated -- when she'd fiddled with her TENS machine at home for a while, then called her mother and repacked the holdall with all the impossibly small, impossibly white sleep suits, scratch mittens and hats like egg cozies.

The double doors behind the woman swung open, and a big, dark man went to her, put one hand in hers, the other round her shoulder. He handled her gingerly. He was paler than she was. A Type X, Clare thought. They were copers, the strong ones. Type Ys barely made it through the epidurals without crying. They were a few decades too late -- would have been happier pacing the corridor with a cigar behind each ear. Clare liked the Type Ys better.

Elliot was probably an X. Or maybe the hybrid: Y masquerading as X. They were okay unless things got scary. Who was she kidding? She had no idea which type he'd be. Not that it mattered. Not anymore. The girl moaned, leant forward. Clare answered his imploring look. She never felt detached. Still, each story that played out, each life that started within these walls pulled her in. Still.

"Okay, hold on, let's give you a hand. What's your name?"


"Okay, Lynne. We'll get you back to your room. You probably need a bit of a rest. Who's looking after you?"

A colleague appeared from behind the same double doors. "Sorry, Clare. Hang on, Lynne. We've got you. Got it from here, Clare. You're off, aren't you?"


"Have a good night, then."


Tonight, thank God, she had a reason not to be at home, not to see Elliot. She'd probably be out again before he got back from college, and he'd be asleep by the time she made herself climb into bed beside him.

And that girl, Lynne, would be holding her baby in her arms.

7:20 P.M.

As usual Harriet climbed the stairs with a teetering pile of single socks, discarded sweaters, stray toys -- the flotsam and jetsam of the day. Down was usually a mug or two, plastic cups found under beds, read newspapers and sticky plastic medicine spoons. Up, the aforementioned. Still, she supposed, with a fairly twisted smile, variety was the spice of life. Ha, ha. Domestic bliss reminded her of that silly film she'd seen once, Groundhog Day, where this guy was compelled to repeat the same day over and over again, never quite getting the girl because he couldn't change what happened. And slightly higher up the cultural scale, wasn't there that guy in mythology -- Sissy something . . . Sisyphus, was it? -- sentenced by the gods for some transgression to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a big hill only to watch it fall straight down again, and on, and on. At least pushing a big boulder up a hill would soon sort out these bat wings she was developing beneath her upper arms, Harriet thought. Sweeping the flipping kitchen floor four times, loading and unloading the washing machine three times and answering forty-two questions about why there aren't any more dinosaurs, and if there were, how big their poos would be, wasn't doing much for hers.

Upstairs, all was quiet for the first time since 6:00 a.m. Harriet followed the sound of Tim's voice to their bedroom. He was sitting on the sofa under the window, having been allowed by his kidnappers to remove his shoes and jacket, and loosen his tie. The children, damp and clean from their bath, were huddled, one under each arm, listening to their story. Tim was reading slowly, ascribing to each character his or her own voice, occasionally making animated gestures. Harriet felt a twinge of habitual guilt. She usually chose the shortest story and speedread it: her children might be forgiven for thinking that every character in literature had been raised in the middle-class South, for all the effort she made with her inflection. Still, it was easier, wasn't it? Coming in at the end of the day, when the snot and the pasta sauce and the tears had been wiped away, and the fight over the toothbrushing, and the frantic shoving of toys into too-small cupboards had all been done. Easy to reward the exuberant greeting with warmth and affection and a story reading fit for Radio 4. The kids had spent their energy through the long day, and Harriet had absorbed it. Now the fight had gone out of them: they were passive, gentle. And she was catatonic.

Harriet hovered at the doorway, not wanting to go in and disturb the perfect tableau, the circle of love. Somehow, she didn't fit into these moments. Instead, she deposited her bundle on the guest bed and went into the bathroom. Studiously ignoring the bubble scum around the bath, the toothpaste squeezed carelessly across the washbasin tap, she poked ineffectually at her mad hair in the mirror and flicked some powder across her nose and chin. She hastily drew a line of lipstick on her upper lip, then rolled her lips together in concentration. (Not for her the liner-brush-blot prescribed by glossies she only saw every three months in the hairdresser's.)

Tim appeared in the doorway, carrying a slumped, sleepy Chloe. "Say 'Night-night, Mummy.'" Thumb firmly plugged in, Chloe waved her plastic beaker of warm milk vaguely in Harriet's direction.

"Night-night, sleep tight, darling." Harriet smiled.

Behind Tim, Josh asked, "Are you going out, Mummy?"

"Yes, I am, sweetheart. Daddy's going to look after you. I'll be home again later, though."

From The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.

What People are Saying About This

Carole Matthews

“A thoroughly accomplished debut novel which embraces a wide range of contemporary issues. Fresh and sharp. Funny and sad.”

Reading Group Guide


What starts out as a good idea born from a glass of wine and the need to socialize, turns into much more. Over the span of a year, Clare, Harriet, Nicole, Polly, and Susan -- five women of different ages, backgrounds and contrasting dilemmas -- transform themselves through the shared community of a book group.

Through the years, The Reading Group gradually evolves into a forum where the women may express their views through the books they read and grow to become increasingly more open as the bonds of friendship cement. In The Reading Group, Noble reveals the many complicated paths in life we all face, as well as the power and importance of friendship.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Consider the epigraph by Margaret Atwood: "the real, hidden subject of a book group discussion is the book members themselves." What does each member reveal by her book selection and contribution to the discussion every month? Is it possible to read a novel objectively, without filtering it through the prism of one's own life experiences?

  2. As a reader, Harriet says, "I care so much more about the characters women create. And if I don't care, really care, by about page fifty, forget it." If Harriet judges a book by the emotional bonds she forms with the characters, what criteria do the other reading group members use in evaluating a good book? Consider the Harriet-led conversations on male authors, and on discerning a novel's timelessness. Do you agree with Harriet that, when reading classic literature, "you have to be able to apply what you call modern values to it and still find something relevant and pertinent in it?"

  3. At the meeting to discuss The Alchemist, Harriet critiques the book saying, "I've heard the same points made more succinctly by Hallmark." As the women argue and analyze the book's relevance to their own lives, do they convince Harriet of the profundity inherent in simple truths?

  4. When Polly, Susan, Harriet, and Nicole discuss Clare's infertility, what do they reveal about changing cultural attitudes toward pregnancy?

  5. Compare Tim and Harriet's marriage to Jack and Polly's relationship. Are the crises that arise in each pairing similar? What happens when Tim acts on the lyrics, "If you love someone, set them free?" Does Polly do the same? How is Tim and Polly's situation different from Nicole's? How is it possible to differentiate between a love that needs to be set free, and a love that has to end?

  6. Why does Susan think of motherhood as, "the steel ribbons that bind us -- Mary and Clare, me and Mum, Polly and Cressida, Cressida and her unborn baby?" How is the strength of each woman's bond tested? What does Susan mean when she says, "we're all mothers, aren't we? Different stages maybe, different problems, but the love is the same. The instinct for self-sacrifice is the same." Do you agree that motherhood is intrinsic to each stage of womanhood?

  7. Why does Rob become uncomfortable and embarrassed when Tim reveals the details of his marriage? Why does he think, "It might be okay for women to talk about that stuff?" What seems to be missing from the male characters' relationships with each other? As a "man's woman" with not a "single girlfriend left from school or university," do you think Nicole was handicapped in her relationship with Gavin? How has the "feminine cocoon" of The Reading Group strengthened Nicole? Where, do you suppose, the author might stand on the nature vs. nurture debate on gender and emotional bonding?

  8. How would you describe Susan's relationship with her sister Margaret? Are the ties that bind real sisters more prone to jealousy and misunderstanding of female friendship? How does the revelation of Alice's enormous act of generosity and sister-love affect Susan and Margaret?

  9. When Jack picks up baby Spencer for the first time, he felt, "something instinctive, quite beyond his control." And when Spencer smiles, Jack "felt as if he'd won first prize. He wanted to make him smile again." Cressida's pregnancy seriously jeopardized her future, almost destroyed Polly's chance for marriage and love a second time around, and leaves Polly with a baby to raise during her retirement years. But in the face of these massive complications what simple, powerful truth does baby Spencer represent? Conversely, was Nicole's decision to deny the truth an act of courage or selfishness, given her changed circumstances?

  10. As a member of the "sandwich generation," Susan cares for her children as well as for her Alzheimers afflicted mother. Polly raised her daughter Cressida to maturity, but now cares for her daughter's child, as well. Alice rescues her sister, and keeps her secret to her grave. Are all the women in The Reading Group caretakers, of one sort or another? Where does their unhesitating instinct for self-sacrifice come from? How does The Reading Group help the women sort through their complicated lives?

  11. How does Elizabeth Noble's fictional reading group resemble your own? Has your group become more friendly over book discussions?

About the Author

Elizabeth Noble lives in Guildford, Surrey with her husband and two daughters. The Reading Group is her first novel.

Customer Reviews

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Reading Group 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book. It's about women friends. I didn't want this one to end. I can't wait to read another one of her books. This book draws you in from the beginning. Harriet, Susan, Nicole and Polly will get to you!
DemyD More than 1 year ago
Lindsie More than 1 year ago
This is my first novel by Elizabeth Noble and I will admit that I enjoyed it. It surely makes readers want to be a part of or start a reading group! I will say though, that it was a bit like short stories combined into one novel. Im not sure which would be better because at first with all the characters it gets a bit confusing to remember everyones own story. However, it picks up after the first few chapters. Therefore, it is an enjoyable read and it fits in well with the stories the women read in the book. I would give it a B or Good If you like a bit of drama in novels, and you enjoy a few conflicts the pick up the readnig group. It won't dissappoint!
amyemily56 More than 1 year ago
This unique book kept my interest throughout the entire story. The clever way Ms. Noble incorporated each month's book choice into the book group conversation was brilliant! Her characters were well written and I was genuinely interested in what happened to them. I love the way their lives intertwined and how they could relate to the stories they read. I would highly recommend this book and any other book written by this author. She's a fun writer and I've already read almost every book she's written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I expected the book to be more like "The Jane Austen Book Club." The book club choices seemed to correspond with the issues the characters were facing, but I wasn't familiar with all of the books so some of the intended layers of meaning were undoubtedly lost on me. The characters are well-written and I totally identified with one of them, which kept me engaged in the book to the end. There was just enough overlap in the character's lives to hold the book together as a cohesive unit. Having the list of characters at the beginning is a good indicator that keeping track of everyone was going to be a challenge. Many times in the book I had to figure out how one person was connected to another. Overall, a good rainy day read... which is exactly what I bought it for!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sure, it wasn't the light-hearted book I was expecting, but it is a truly amazing book. It is depressing and uplifting, and contrary to popular belief, can reach far beyond its target audience. Chances are you've experience some of the same feelings as the characters, and if you haven't, you can still relate to them. Noble does an amazing job of capturing every aspect of relationships and love.
Suzejamesy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I must admit that chick-lit really isn't my cup of tea and at the beginning of the book, when all the characters and their problems were introduced, I was a bit disheartened. It does improve however, and the characters are likeable and easy to relate to. I did find however, that a few of the more interesting characters - usually, the secondary characters - didn't really get chance to shine. I'm not convinced if I'll ever read something like this again, there wasn't enough adventure or interest for me, but It is well written and I'm sure those more interested in this genre will enjoy it.
livrecache on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have very mixed feelings about this book. It was easy reading, and yes, I did get drawn in by the characters, but I thought they were a little too formulaic. (Although reading the author's puff piece at the end, it seems to be intentional. She'd call it 'representative', I expect. ) And while I concede that most women could relate to at least one of the events happening in at least one of the women's lives, I found some of the ways that some situations were resolved or turned out to be quite unlikely. (They're probably the ones that the author could cite as being true.) I shan't spoil it for future readers by being specific. And everything was tied up so neatly at the end: life may not be like that, but it's the way this type of book would go, so I sighed at its predictability, but I would have been disappointed had any thing been left unresolved. I rather liked the device of using the book the women were reading each month as a pointer to the narrative.I thought the men were all quite one dimensional, even though they were central to the women's concerns. For all that, I did like the book for its gossipy, Maeve Binchy feel, and the central theme of the importance and strength of women's friendships. I felt most of the end matter was a tad patronising and bossy: I mean really, telling us how to set up our own reading group!
mjhelme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Slow to start, then it picked up.
ljpower on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am not used to reading this type of multi-character book with lots of personal drama. I found it a little confusing keeping the characters straight and often referred to the character list at the front of the book. By the time I finished the book, I was finally able to keep them straight but I found that this confusion detracted from the fluidity of the novel. I did like the list of books that the Reading Group chose and it made me want to join a reading group just for the camaraderie. The sections involving the actual group meetings and their conversations were the most interesting to me. Of course, truth would probably not be as good as this fiction. I think that the appeal of a group of people with similar interests forming these types of relationships is something I would enjoy. The author provides some good resources on ways to create reading groups for those who are interested.All in all, an enjoyable book.
bnbookgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was our first read when we started our bookclub and I must say I was not impressed. I could not really relate to any of the characters. When discussing we tried to talk about which of the ladies we most like and we all had a rather tough time with this. I was not a fan of the writing style either. I know I will not pick up another book by this author. There are far better books about women and bookclubs.
Brandie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting book for sure. I have to admit that it felt a bit fake with the way some of the plot lines ran and I really felt that some of the characters should have made different choices, but ti was a nice read about a good reading group (and of course made me wish I had one, except of course, our lives wouldn't be quite as rocky as the women in this story!)
Bibliofemmes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pure fluff, unmemorable characters and loose writing.cp
CatieN on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Chick lit with an edge. Harriet, Nicole, Susan, Polly, and Clare start a book group, and the book follows the dramatic turns their lives take in the next year and the books that they read. Some of the plot turns are a little far-fetched, and the ending is too pat, but it was a nice, light read.
debavp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was classic chick lit all the way through, but still enjoyable for the most part. I do like that each character is dealt with individually as well as within the group without focusing too much on just one or two. The story covers a year in the lives and the books chosen , without them realizing, are significant to different members at different times. I did like that Noble does not give much away about the books as they were discussed as there are a few that are in my TBR pile.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very good novel about the lives of the members of a reading group, their friends and families. Nicely organized with the cast of characters in the front (very very helpful at first!), with the theme of the month's book for each section. I only wished they discussed the books more, as I also did in my own short-lived reading group.
bibliophile26 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Part of the "women's book club" genre. The women have all these shocking things happen to them and there is minimal discussion of the books (the thing that connects them is supposedly their book club). Entertaining, but not particularly memorable.
solvigbirch More than 1 year ago
I was thoroughly taken by this book.  I enjoyed the story, the five women central to the book club, the relationships that developed, with such ease, were easy to imagine and surprises popped up along the way.  The Reading Group was written with humor, drew characters that were believable, and the books chosen by the group offered a few titles that I plan to share with my own book club.  The British terms, that naturally came up, kept my interest going.  Very satisfactory read.  If a sequel were to surface, I'd read that, too.  I liked Harriet, Susan, Nicole, Clare and Polly and wouldn't mind reading about them again. 
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