The Dhow House by Jean McNeil is set in east Africa and follows Rebecca Laurelson, who is forced to leave her post as a trauma surgeon in an east African field hospital. She arrives at her aunt’s house on the Indian Ocean and is taken into the heart of a family she has never met before. A novel of actions and consequences, of love and betrayal, and of the incalculable price of self-knowledge, The Dhow House is not afraid to make you question your own sense of judgment page after page.
“Jean McNeil's latest is a completely absorbing, eminently readable — to the point of being almost unputdownable — complex, cleverly crafted work, principally about loyalty: what we owe to our country, our relatives, those we love, and those who simply cross our path. You won't read many better novels this year.” – The Daily Mail
Whether you’re a lover of good fiction or passionate about a page turning thriller, The Dhow House is sure to be your next favourite read. Consider this book for your next book club; full of complex topics and thought-provoking characters, The Dhow House is sure to get conversations flowing.
Dig a little deeper within the pages of The Dhow House with our handy reader’s guide, the perfect post-reading companion. Some of the questions contain spoilers, so consider yourself warned.
- On page 87, Tom tells Rebecca that “boats are good for getting to know people you know you won’t like, much too quickly. They accelerate everything.” Is this true of the Dhow House? How are the characters and their relationships influenced by their surroundings?
- What do you make of the local party scene in Kilindoni? Why is it so persistent, and why do so many locals stay even when the threat of terrorism looms?
- Race is a peripheral but significant issue in the novel. How does it impact the characters? Why do you think so little is said about it?
- What is love in The Dhow House? How does betrayal both conflict and intersect with love and loyalty throughout the book?
- Rebecca’s mother is a spectral figure who hangs over the story but never fully materializes. We know that she died in a car accident (p. 93) and that Rebecca’s childhood was a poor one (pp.101–104), but little else is directly said about her. How do maternal relationships directly or indirectly influence the narrative?
- Rebecca, thinking about Storm, notes “the transfixing hollowness at his core . . . she understood he might be the key to a similar space within her, that he was an alternate self” (p. 306). How are she and Storm the same? How are they different?
- In the field camp, Rebecca meets Ali, a terrorist. She saves his life, and then, after threatening her, he saves hers. What do you make of their complicated relationship? How does it impact Rebecca later on?
- How does the UK government, in the fight for freedom, manipulate Rebecca into covert work? What does Rebecca’s decision to participate in intelligence work say about her? How does it impact her freedom? What does she learn from her decisions and experiences in the field camp?
- In sections IV, VII, and IX, the narration shifts from third to first person. Why does “Rebecca” suddenly become “I”? What do you make of this break from her former self? In what other ways has she developed a multiplicity of identities in the novel?
- Rebecca is repeatedly asked why she chose to be a doctor. Her answers range from wanting to help people (p. 71) to wanting “to see how much I could take” (p. 225). It’s also suggested that she became a doctor to “avoid the reality of life, not to confront it” (pp. 113–114). What do you think Rebecca’s true motive is for being a doctor? Why does she change her answer? What do you think motivates her other actions throughout the novel?
- Rebecca’s and her family’s pasts are filled with secrets. Are any secrets left untold? How does knowledge, or lack of knowledge, shape the characters in the novel? How does it affect your reading experience?
- Rarely are big moments in the text narrated directly; much of the novel is written to take place just before or after significant and traumatic events. Why do you think The Dhow House is written this way?
- Why do you think each section of this novel is named after a particular species of bird? Are these birds and their order significant? What does this imposed order contribute to the novel?
- What do you make of Bill’s exploitation of animals and his subsequent connection to terrorist activities? Does his or others’ treatment of animals signify or suggest anything else about their character? For instance, what might Rebecca’s interest in identifying bird species say about her? How else are animals brought into the story? Why do you think the author did this?
Make sure to pre-order your copy of The Dhow House today. This novel will be available everywhere books are sold in April 2017.