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Book clubs  •  12 May 2016


Napoleon’s Last Island book club notes

Tom Keneally’s Napoleon’s Last Island – a reading group selection to remember.

While living in exile on St Helena, Napoleon exerted an extraordinary influence on young Betsy Balcombe. How did she get from Napoleon’s side to the Australian bush? On a visit to the National Gallery of Victoria, Tom Keneally discovered that Betsy Balcombe, a young girl living on St Helena while the Emperor Napoleon was living there in exile, had become Napoleon’s ‘intimate friend and annoyer’, and had later moved with her family to Australia. Keneally was compelled to begin this extraordinary novel, exploring the intersection between the ordinary people of the world and those we deem exceptional.


Reading group questions

  • Does reading fiction like Napoleon’s Last Island, which is based around factual events and people, inspire you to read more about them in history books?
  • From a writer’s point of view, what are some attractive points about the genre of historical fiction? What makes these stories appealing to readers?
  • Tom Keneally is known for creating prominent female characters. How convincingly does he portray the point of view of Betsy, and how it changes through the different stages of her life?
  • How would you respond if someone of international notoriety – be it Vladimir Putin, the Pope, the Dalai Lama or even a Kardashian – came to live in your garden?
  • Modern-day perspectives on Napoleon vary. He has many prominent admirers as well as detractors. Should the real Napoleon be regarded more as a hero or villain? Does your opinion of the real Napoleon differ to you opinion of the Napoleon in Keneally‘s novel?

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