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Reading Group Guide

  1. Book ImageThe Wall: A Novel

    John Lanchester

    The best-selling author of The Debt to Pleasure and Capital returns with a chilling fable for our time.

Discussion Questions

  1. What methods does Joseph Kavanagh come up with to deal with the monotony of life on the Wall?
  2. What does it meant to be a Defender? How does Kavanagh’s perspective of his mandatory service as a Defender change over the course of Part 1? What do you think they are actually defending?
  3. How would you characterize the society before and after “the Change”?
  4. Kavanagh has a hard time relating and talking to his parents. It’s not just an issue in his family, but throughout society. Why is there an intergenerational rift? Do you think the children of Kavanagh’s generation will have a similar rift?
  5. What are the social classes in Kavanagh’s society, and how rigid are they? Who are the Elites and the Help? Does Kavanagh’s opinion of either of these groups evolve over the course of the novel?
  6. Why do you think the camping trip meant so much to Kavanagh?
  7. Do you think Kavanagh’s unit received adequate training to be successful Defenders? Why or why not?
  8. How do you think Kavanagh’s life would have played out if he and Hifa had become Breeders?
  9. Several times Kavanagh’s unit is visited by the blond politician. What is his significance? What does Kavanagh learn from him about the world of the Elites?
  10. What happens to Defenders if Others make it over the Wall? Why is this rule in place?
  11. The story is told through Kavanagh’s eyes. How would the Captain’s—or Hifa’s—take on the events at the Wall differ from his account?
  12. Describe the legal process after Kavanagh’s arrest. How does the law operate in Kavanagh’s society? How are the laws different at sea?
  13. What do Hifa and Kavanagh find at the island? Does this run counter to the narrative they’ve been told about life beyond the Wall? How does the fate of the flotilla act as a lesson in human nature?
  14. What is in store for Hifa and Kavanagh at the novel’s close? What do you think happens next?

About John Lanchester

John Lanchester is the author of five novels, including The Wall, the best-selling Debt to Pleasure and Capital, as well as several works of nonfiction, including I.O.U. and How to Speak Money. His books, which have been translated into twenty-five languages, have won the Whitbread First Novel Prize, the Hawthornden Prize, and the E. M. Forster Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is a contributing editor to the London Review of Books and a regular contributor to The New Yorker. He lives in London.

Books by John Lanchester

  1. Book CoverCapital: A Novel

    "A vibrant piece of fiction, pulsating with events and emotions…Seems destined to be read a hundred years from now." —Martin Rubin, Los Angeles TimesMore

  2. Book CoverHow to Speak Money: What the Money People Say—And What It Really Means

    "Refreshingly clear, sharp, and funny, How to Speak Money will help you understand not only what the language of finance means but also why it matters." —James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of CrowdsMore

  3. Book CoverThe Wall: A Novel

    The best-selling author of The Debt to Pleasure and Capital returns with a chilling fable for our time.More