Questions from Readers Groups, Answered by Katherine Neville
FROM A READERS GROUP IN KING OF PRUSSIA, PENNSYLVANIA
Q. Was Catherine the Great white queen before Catherine Grand?
KN: No, I am assuming there was no game underway during the 1000 years the pieces were buried. Also, Catherine Grand came from India and chess itself came from India, so she would have an important esoteric connection.
Q. Was Valentine slated to become the White Queen (Black Queen?) had she lived?
KN: Nope, the abbess pulled a fast one on the girls. She knew the history of the game, which was passed down to her from the year 800 by oral tradition. So she knew that Mireille was slated to be the B.Q.(Birth date, mark on hand, etc). She also knew that Mireille would not accept the job unless there was some bait— so she used “protecting Valentine” as the lure to get Mireille invested in the game.
Q. Did Mireille have true immortality, or was she slowly dying? There were comments that she had show some signs of aging. Was suicide an option for her?
KN: It is my understanding from the stories of the Count of St Germain, Cagliostro etc, that the elixir just makes you live a very long time in good health, like the biblical figures who lived 900 years. You can still commit suicide or be killed by a bullet or a bomb, but your normal life expectancy multiplies by perhaps ten times.
Q. Have you ever considered writing a book continuing the story?
KN: I am working on the sequel right now!
FROM A READERS GROUP IN GLENVILLE, ILLINOIS
Q. Where did the board end up after Catherine the Great and The Abbess died? Our readers seemed to remember that Paul saw Catherine the Great and The Abbess with The Black Queen and the board and the cloth. Were The Black Queen and board hidden together? Paul unearthed The Black Queen, but did he not know where the board was? Did The Abbess tell Mireille where the board was in her last letter?
KN: Catherine the Great and The Abbess sneaked out in the dead of night to where workmen had just poured a new foundation for the winter palace, and put the board into the cement, as it was too big to hide otherwise. The Abbess doesn’t tell anyone it is there. They did not bury The Black Queen, so Paul gets it after his mother’s death. The board is later discovered when repairs are underway on the Hermitage, in modern times, and Solarin uses this as a pretext to get the KGB to escort him to America where he claims he can help find the rest of the service. He is actually joining Minnie to help select the prospective new queen, whom he will protect. At the end, Solarin and Nim are considering going back to Russia to try to get the board. They will not actually get there for twenty years.
Q. How was Mireille’s lengthy journey financed?
KN: Initially she has money from the de Remy estate. But I’m assuming that once she has the formula, she can cook up her own gold if necessary!
Q. Who is to say which player you are in this game? How is it determined or who is to say that Catherine Velis is “The Black Queen?”
KN: It is my understanding that the queen is chosen by the previous queen when the previous one is about to die or, as in Minnie’s case, decides to resign. So Minnie had to take the big risk to come to New York and check out Catherine as a candidate for her replacement. (It helps to be born on the right day and have the right symbol on your hand, to qualify.) Then I am assuming the new queen, as the most powerful piece, gets to choose the other players. In the sequel we will find out what happens when a queen sacrifice takes place early in the game!
Q. Did Mireille really want to kill Marat? What was Mireille’s attitude toward killing? If you did not really know what happened between Corday and Marat, is it easier to guess that Mireille is going to kill Marat? Who knew Mireille killed Marat? Why did Robespierre make it sound like murder? After Mireille killed Marat, how did she feel about it?
KN: This topic seems to be among the most often discussed in chat rooms and book groups surrounding The Eight : was it murder, assassination, homicide in a moment of rage, or self-defense? You decide.
Q. Did you sense a change in Lily’s character from the beginning to ending of the book? What do Valentine and Lily have in common? When does Catherine’s attitude toward Lily change?
KN: In university writing programs, a frequent discussion topic is the “character development” among the numerous characters in The Eight, both fictional and real historic figures. For instance, the changes in Napoleon between the Paris-to-Corsica scenes versus his subsequent behavior in Egypt and later— or Talleyrand’s progress from self-seeking womanizer to sympathetic hero. As Literature Professor Scott Rice, of San Jose State University, once commented: “Even Carioca the dog’s character develops— through his trials, he changes from a yappy, annoying pest into a courageous little hero!”
Questions for Additional Discussion, Posed by Readers Groups
FROM A READERS GROUP IN PALM DESERT, CALIFORNIA:
1. Katherine Neville’s bio states that she has lived and worked extensively overseas, in Europe and North Africa. How do you see her experiences, both personal (in travel) and professional, influencing the story? How do you think things have changed for women in business since the period of the book?
2. THE EIGHT’s modern part is set during the OPEC Embargo in the 1970s. Are there any events right now that seem to be deja vue, based on the plot? Which are they? (Fictional and real)
3. How does the French Revolution (1790s) period connect to the modern part of the book (1970s) in terms of both historic events and the plot of each part?
4. Why do you think she decided to write the historic part of the book in third person and the modern part in first person?
5. Which of the two main protagonists (heroines) did you connect with the most–Mireille or Cat–and why?
6. With respect to the male characters, which did you find the most interesting? Talleyrand? Solarin? Nim? Marat? Napoleon? Shahin?
7. How about the other historic characters?–Napoleon’s grandmother, Catherine the Great, Catherine Grand, Robespierre, Jacques-Louis David, Johann Sebastian Bach, etc.
8. Which three characters in the book(real or imagined) would you most like to have dinner with?
9. Which of all the characters would you most like to see appear in a sequel to the book?
10. What part of the story would you most like to know more about, to have discussed further, in a sequel to the book?
FROM A READERS GROUP IN HERSHEY, PENNSYLVANIA:
The Discussion Group Leader writes: “Thank you so much for posting reader group questions for “The Eight” on your web site. Our group enjoyed discussing those questions and your response to the questions. I am sending you the questions I presented to my group. I can’t wait for the sequel to come out !!”
KN: Neither can I!
Questions for book discussions of The Eight:
1. Which character do you identify with the most and why?
2. Which characters are similar, and which ones provide foils for other characters?Which characters from different centuries share many similar traits? Finally, how does each character prove to be an individual in their own right?
(A foil is a character that is the exact opposite of another close character. This foil not only shows different personalities at work but also emphasizes the extreme characteristics of each character. For example Mireille and Valentine are foils for each other. The careful Cat is very similar to the hesitant follower Mireille.)
3. Why do you think this book has so many strong women characters?
4. T.S Eliot says, “It is better to act wrongly and with conviction than to never act at all.” Do you believe conviction and belief in ideals, however “good” or “evil” these ideals may be, is better than no ideals or convictions at all? More specifically, is Mirelle really a better person than, for example, Catherine the Great? What defines character? Who is to judge right or wrong? Is it better to make a huge mistake that you fully believe in and act upon, or never have any convictions but also never act?
Remember, Catherine the Great is a strong and independent woman who has worked hard to remain in the position she is in. She has many convictions and acts upon them. Mirelle is not strong, independent or powerful. She does the “good” thing, but not out of action or certainty. She simple does it because that is what she has been told to do and has never questioned it. Does that automatically make her a good person, and Catherine the Great an evil woman?
5. Powerful women in this book such as Lily and Catherine the Great use men just as well as men use them. They never fall for stupid romantic ploys or get caught up in unwise romantic choices. Why can these women do this – what have they discovered that Cat and Mirelle have not?
Why does our society still condemn women like Catherine the Great, who want, pursue and obtain other things beside love and marriage and use men only for business or pleasure, but never for intellectual purposes, (much like men have used women for centuries)but still applaud men who have high-powered jobs and do not want love or marriage? Why is there such a double standard and why do modern women such as Cat never even think to question it? (Do you question it? What have you done about it?)
6. If this book was a piece of music or a work of art, what would it be and why?
KN:Wow! Interesting question! I will have to try to figure that out for myself!
7. What does power mean to different characters in this book and what does it mean to you? The people seeking the chess pieces believe they hold something- what? Why is finding the chess pieces a sort of salvation for the people in this book?
8. Discuss the metaphor of the chess game. Is it the game of life? (Duh.) But what do the pieces represent ? What are the players looking for, and what are they running from? Who are the players? Why are there intentional players (people who have chosen to play the game) and unintentional players (people who have fallen into the game). Are you an intentional or unintentional player? Why? Do you even want to be in the game?
9. What is the most dangerous idea in this book?
10. What words or phrases stuck out in your mind? Why did the author choose these particular words or phrases?
11. Why is Cat chosen to be the leader? What qualities make her special?
12. Why can some people handle power while others go crazy?