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This reading group guide for Eight Perfect Hours
provides an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lia Louis. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.Introduction
While returning from a disappointing college reunion and finding herself caught in an immovable traffic jam caused by a snowstorm, Noelle Butterby meets Sam Attwood. Sam is a handsome American stranger, trapped on the motorway in a nearby car, and they share eight perfect hours together where they talk about everything and nothing, and truly click more than they have with anyone for a long, long time. When the traffic clears and they go back to their normal lives, Noelle still thinks of Sam often. Then, she runs into him again. And again. What unfolds is a sweeping, heartwarming story about two people, and the turns of events—whether it be fate or happenstance—that bring us to right where we’re meant to be.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Soon after the beginning of the novel, we learn that Noelle’s friend, Daisy, has passed away. How does the vibrant tone of Daisy’s letter and the quick realization that this woman is no longer living serve to frame the story?
2. Noelle describes Sam as “someone calm and steady. The sort of person that’d fare well in an apocalypse” (pg. 37). How does Noelle’s initial impression of Sam hold up over the course of the novel? To what extent is it true and to what extent is it a front that Sam puts on?
3. Noelle notices that if everything that went wrong that day in the snowstorm hadn’t happened, she and Sam may not have met. Do you think this is a random string of events with a happy accident? Or fate? How does the theme of chance versus destiny continue to play out over the course of the book?
4. At the beginning of the novel, Noelle’s life—her job cleaning houses, staying close to home to be with her mum, worrying about paying the bills—feels claustrophobic. Much of it seems like something she’s stuck with, not something she would have dreamed for herself. Do you think Noelle’s initial fascination with Sam in Oregon is a way she can escape from the mundanity of her life
5. We learn that Noelle has a love of growing flowers and creating flower arrangements for the people she works for, and that being a florist is a career that she has dreamed of but won’t let herself explore. Why do you think Noelle is so drawn to flowers? How would being a florist help connect her with others and live a bigger life?
6. Noelle tells us she initially didn’t give her number to Sam because he would just be one more person to miss. Over the course of the story, we also learn that she misses Ed, Daisy, and her dad. How does this loss of the people who could have been huge figures in her life inform the way Noelle interacts with the world and how she meets new people?
7. When we hear Ed update Noelle on his family, she notes that his description is “career and achievement focused. No information on how they actually are
” (pg. 98). How does this distinction between what people achieve with their careers and how they’re actually doing show up in other places in the novel?
8. Ed accuses Noelle of not living her life for herself, but living it all for other people. Do you think this is a flaw or a gift? Does it hold her back? Or does it make her who she is?
9. So much of Noelle’s time seems to be spent remembering the past. She tells us that “I hate that Daisy is stuck in time. I hate that she will forever be eighteen” (pg. 153). Do you think some part of Noelle got stuck at that age too?
10. When Noelle and Sam discuss the way they lived life after dealing with the deaths of people close to them when they were younger, Sam says he was afraid to stop living and we know that Noelle is afraid to live too much. What do you think of these different reactions to dealing with loss? Do you have any experience with tending toward one or the other?
11. Sam’s dad, Frank, tells Noelle that Sam likes her and that, “He changes, when you’re around . . . Opens up. Sticks around. Makes plans” (pg. 279). Do you think that meeting the right person can make you change how you behave? Does being around someone who complements you so well alter how you interact with the world overall?
12. In the novel, people like Daisy, Charlie, and Ian are as much family as anyone biologically related to Noelle. What is the novel saying about chosen family and the lifelong connections we make with those who cross our paths?Enhance Your Book Club
1. This book has been compared to other popular love stories like One Day in December, Evvie Drake Starts Over,
and The Two Lives of Lydia Bird.
Discuss how this novel is similar to those other books in the same literary space and how it differentiates itself.
2. Discuss something good that has happened in your own lives and some of the events that had to happen to lead up to it. Discuss with each member of the group whether they believe chance or fate brought them to where they are now.
3. The characters in Eight Perfect Hours
are so vibrant that you could easily imagine their story played out on the screen. Who would be your dream cast for the characters in the book?A Conversation with Lia Louis
Q: Why did you choose to start the book with Daisy’s time capsule letter to Noelle? What about that letter helps sets the stage for what’s to come?
A: Firstly, I wanted a way to introduce the reader to Daisy, which was always going to be quite difficult to do, given that she’s no longer alive, so I thought the letter really allowed Daisy’s voice and character to come through. And secondly, it was important to show a snapshot of everything Noelle wanted for herself, back then, so the reader can see just how far she’s slowly fallen from those things and how far she feels from that hopeful, zest-for-life version of her past-self when we join her in the present day.
Q: There is so much in this book about fate versus chance and the story seems to come down on the side of fate. Do you, personally, believe that fate and destiny are guiding forces in our lives?
A: The reason I wrote Eight Perfect Hours
is because I am so interested in fate versus choice, and I thought it might help me explore that in my own mind, and “pick a side” so to speak! However, instead of picking a side, I’ve grown to believe there are some things in life that are meant to be—things too spooky to be coincidences, things that feel right,
and you can’t quite put your finger on why, and perhaps we’ll never understand how it works or what is out there. I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I do believe in fate. But I also believe life is in our hands too. (See! Still haven’t picked a side!)
Q: Were any of the events in the book inspired by things that happened to you or to someone else in real life?
A: Not really, although there have been small things that have happened in my life that I did bear in mind while writing. My boyfriend and I, for example, lived hundreds of miles apart when we were children, but we “missed” each other numerous times before we met. I was offered a place at the college he went to (if I’d gone, we’d have met then) but I turned it down, and we went to a couple of the same concerts and had no idea we were in the same room because back then, we were strangers. I love those sorts of stories, and always have! I like stories that make this huge, wide world feel small and all of us, somehow interconnected.
Q: This story is told as a first-person narrative from Noelle’s point of view. What made you choose this perspective rather than, say, a third-person narrative that showed multiple perspectives? Why was this structure important for the story you wanted to tell?
A: I always toy with different points of view before I write, but this was one of those things that came so naturally, that I almost couldn’t choose another path. Noelle’s voice came so naturally to me, I felt like she was in my head. I also really wanted the reader to feel
and understand Noelle’s journey, so when things did start to work out for her, and she started to take control of her own life, there would be a sense of satisfaction and like the reader was taking every step with her.
Q: Your previous novel, Dear Emmie Blue
, is also beloved by readers and also touches on the themes of love, friendship, and finding oneself. In what ways did your past writing help inspire this story? And, conversely, in what ways did writing this book differ in your process from writing past novels?
A: I think my favorite part of Emmie’s story in Dear Emmie Blue
was Emmie’s own personal journey. Thinking that the strength she needed was outside of herself, and learning it was within her all along. I definitely put that into Eight Perfect Hours
, and not just with Noelle, but with her mother, Charlie, and also Sam to a degree.
As for how it differed—I found the opening chapters in the traffic jam really
hard to nail. I drafted so many, many versions of them and edited them a lot, more than I’ve ever edited anything, and I think it’s because with Emmie, the relationships with all of the other characters were already established when the book opened. They had years of memories to share, and they were familiar with each other and knew everything about each other. But with the opening of Eight Perfect Hours
, Noelle and Sam are not only strangers to the reader, but also to each other, so it was really difficult establishing them on the page, while showing them getting to know each other without it being boring or sounding like a job interview!
Q: Do you have any favorite books, movies, or tv shows that helped inspire you as you were writing Eight Perfect Hours
A: One of my favorite movies in the whole world is Serendipity
and I was definitely inspired by the notion of fate in that story.
When I was a teenager, I watched it over and over again and couldn’t pass a secondhand book store without thinking of John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale!
Q: The Chinese proverb about the red thread appears at the beginning of the book and throughout the story as something Daisy mentions in her letter to Noelle. What does the story of the red thread mean to you? Why did you want to include it?
A: I saw that proverb online quite serendipitously! I knew I wanted to write about two strangers who met in a traffic jam but had absolutely no idea what to do with it—I walked around with two people meet in traffic and spend eight perfect hours together, then. .
. for such a long time, and just needed something else to complete the puzzle. One day I was browsing Pinterest, and I saw the quote and knew it was my missing piece. I love quotes, and find the wisdom in ancient proverbs like this one so comforting. Something about wise minds speaking such wisdom, way way way before I even came to be, grounds me, and I find the notion of a red thread connecting us to those we’re destined to meet, the ultimate comfort.
Q: The passage that reads: “It’s a warm, new autumnal day, the sky is the color of the ocean, the clouds above, feathered at the edges like swirls of cream in coffee” (pg. 203) is particularly beautiful, as is so much of your writing about the world around Noelle. Why was is important to you to set the scene like this and to describe her surroundings in such vivid detail?
A: Thank you so much! I think firstly, it helps really paint a cinematic scene in the reader’s mind and that is so important to me—to really set a vivid, colorful picture for the person reading and giving them the best possible experience while they’re in the pages. Also, I think Noelle, as a character, would notice things like this. Her world is quite small and she has learned on her journey, to count her blessings. I think if you feel lucky to be here on this earth, regardless of whether you wish things were different, you tend to notice the little things we so often miss.
Q: Throughout the story, Noelle helps her friends and family deal with difficult times they’re going through (especially her mum and Charlie) and they, in turn, help her in really meaningful ways. What do friends and family mean to you? Did your close relationships help inform the depiction of family—chosen or biological—in the story?
A: Definitely. Being surrounded by those who make me feel like it’s totally OK to be myself and who I am, flaws and all, is very important to me, in life and in my writing life too. I’m introverted, I like my own home, I’m not a party girl or the sort to be out too late, and for a long time, I felt I had to pretend to be other things in order to keep friends. Then I learned that if I had to pretend to be a certain way to be loved or respected, it wasn’t real. I now have a circle of people I surround myself with that I can be totally myself around and they’re a lifebuoy for me, each and every one of them. I often write about people after their guards have crumbled, and when that happens, I write about people who stay despite it. It’s a reminder I think to myself, and I hope, others, that it’s OK to be vulnerable in life. Because the people who love you will stay.
Q: Do you have a next project in mind? If so, can you share anything about it?
A: I do! I’m writing it at the moment and I think it’s my favorite idea so far. I adore all of my books equally, but this one has the spark of something special. All I can tell you at the moment is that it features a train station piano, a mystery, and a gorgeous surfer.