Sarah Needs Saving
Reading Group Guide

Sarah Needs Saving book by author DCR Bond

This reading group guide for Sarah Needs Saving includes an introduction to the book, discussion questions, and a Q&A with author DCR Bond.

The questions posed are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your conversations.

We hope that these ideas will enhance your discussions and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

From “The promising new voice in women’s fiction, DCR Bond” comes her debut novel, Sarah Needs Saving, an entertaining, pacy family drama with a touch of thriller, littered with unexpected twists and turns. A page turner that keeps readers fully engaged.

A great read for a book club because the complexity of the plotlines provide fertile ground for discussion and reflection on very relevant “baby boomer” issues. Providing for children when we are gone, succumbing to; or needing to care for someone with dementia; be they parents or spouse. The passage of intergenerational wealth and the conflicts, especially those involving inheritance, that can arise from multiple marriages.

Then there are other debates; about Sarah’s decisions, her judgement, her openness and honesty within her marriage, her ambition, ultimately her character.

Synopsis

Sarah never expected to be blackmailed, especially not by someone so close. She hadn’t expected to be receiving criminal hush money either. As a respectable Exeter University Professor’s wife, neither were really the done thing, But super organised Sarah has it all under control.

Or so she thinks.

Set in rural north Devon, this family drama shines a light on “baby boomer” issues, the care of elder relatives, passing of wealth to the next generation, dementia, probate and Inheritance following multiple marriages.

A rollercoaster ride, or a cautionary tale?

Topics & questions for discussion

These questions aim provide you with room for discussion, reflection, and exploration of the themes and issues presented in "Sarah Needs Saving." They’re framed to encourage thoughtful consideration of the characters' actions, motives, and the broader societal implications of the story's events.

  • 1.

    When taking into account Sarah's situation, do you believe she had a moral obligation to care for Mary, given their family ties and Mary's condition? In Sarah's position, faced with the clear need for care, how would you have reacted? Would you have considered the expense of private care or perhaps offered to care for her? Why or why not?

  • 2.

    At the beginning of the novel, much of Sarah's life seems to be in disarray. Why do you think Sarah's life was the way it was? What societal factors or personal circumstances might have contributed to her current situation? What pressures or personal circumstances may have influenced her choices?

  • 3.

    If Sarah had confided in Freddy about her infidelity, how do you think it would have affected their relationship and the subsequent events in the story? What consequences might she have faced if the truth came out? Would Freddy view Sarah’s other indiscretions in the story in the same way as infidelity and would the elapsed time have been a consideration?

  • 4.

    Can you imagine any situations where evading justice for a traffic accident could be seen as justified? What ethical dilemmas might arise in such cases? Do you think the severity of the accident i.e. if becomes a fatal accident changes things?

  • 5.

    Freddy's behaviour often revolves around deferring to his older brother. What societal norms or family dynamics might explain this? In your opinion, are there common reasons why individuals give preference to certain family members over others? What dynamics might be at play in sibling relationships that lead to such deference?

  • 6.

    Harry and Amy's loss of their house and way of life is significant in the story. How did this make you feel, and what social issues do you think it highlights? Did you emotionally connect with Harry and Amy any more after the loss of their home and lifestyle? What feelings did it evoke, and why?

  • 7.

    Considering Sarah's decision to make a deal with Mike over the Dower House, was she justified in prioritizing her financial security over other concerns? Was it the right choice? What other options might she have explored?

  • 8.

    Freddy wanted to sell the Dower House and split the money with his brother, what does this reveal about the impact of money on sibling relationships and family loyalty? Money can sometimes conflict family relationships with marital loyalties, as seen in the conflict between Freddy and Sarah. Can you share examples from real life or other stories where money played a similar role? Can money sometimes bring out the worst in people?

  • 9.

    What do you think motivated Mike to buy the Dower House with Mary? How do you interpret his intentions? Despite his actions, do you feel any sympathy for Mike? What aspects of his character evoke this feeling?

  • 10.

    Reflecting on the events in the novel, do you think there should be stricter legal safeguards to protect inheritances from potential fraud or exploitation? Why or why not?

  • 11.

    Can you comprehend Sarah's decision to confess to the police? Would you have done the same in her situation? Was it the right thing to do? Considering the consequences, would you have made the same choice? Why or why not?

  • 12.

    The novel touches on the use and supply of narcotics like cannabis. What are your thoughts on the legalization of cannabis? Should it be legalized, should it be allowed for medical or recreational use? What implications might that have on society? Are your thoughts influenced by age constraints and how children may be protected.

IN DISCUSSION WITH the author DCR bond

Q: What inspired you to write Sarah Needs Saving?

A: My main reason for writing has always been to entertain. By entertain I mean to provide an escape, albeit temporary from whatever else is going on in the readers’ life and to give them something to enjoy. In my mind’s eye I have a very clear view of who I am writing for and the kind of issues they will respond to.

So, I set out very much with the reader in mind. With “Sarah Needs Saving” some of the plot lines were loosely inspired by what happened after my mother-in-law died. Initially my husband and his sister were informed and had accepted, what they were told by her third husband, that she had died intestate. (“but don’t worry, if there are any family knick-knacks you would like I won’t stand in your way”).

Somehow the story just didn’t stack up and definitely was not what had been planned or expected. The numbers were very much smaller than in the book but the principle that it was for my mother-in-law to decide how her estate was bequeathed, (she had written her will well before dementia was diagnosed) and that those wishes should not be changed by anyone manipulating her dementia weaknesses seemed important at the time.

Q: What inspired you to include the topic of dementia in your book, and was your process for researching and writing about this complex issue?

A: My mother-in-law was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia in her mid-seventies, so I had to learn the hard facts about the disease, like so many other families.

Of course, there are vast amounts of information available on the internet, not always that comforting. There is specialist dementia care from the NHS and affiliates and one learns “on the job”, interacting with the person you love as their condition evolves, their confusion grows and their independence recedes and cherishing the ”normal” moments when they are back with you as their old selves.

Q: Sarah Save Needs Saving explores the expectations and pressures placed on women to take on the role of caregiver in dispersed families. How do you see this issue playing out in our society today, and what do you hope readers will take away from your portrayal of this topic?

A: I felt this pressure myself. I live in Devon, my mother lived near London, six hours away by car. (more by train) My sister lives in Cape Town, South Africa and my brother in Melbourne, Australia. Obviously, they couldn’t help that, but I felt the pressure and the guilt whenever I was unable to visit her.

Q: Your book also touches on the theme of secrets and old mistakes in marriage coming to live. What drew you to explore this theme, and how did you go about developing these plotlines?

A: Marriage is a complex arrangement. Each has its own boundaries and an understanding of what’s required of each other. An unwritten contract if you like. Sometimes if there’s an old mistake or secret, guilt can be unburdened by telling the partner, getting it off one’s chest so to speak.

But actually, in doing that, is one just passing the dilemma to the other (presumably injured) party?

Q: In Sarah Needs Saving, you touch upon issues of ambition, class and privilege, particularly in the context of marriage, family acceptance, and ultimately expectations of and rights of inheritance. How do you see this issues playing out in society today, what do you hope readers will learn from your portrayal of them?

A: I think there are two distinct ideas here.

Marrying “up”, that’s a well explored theme, Sarah wants to fit in, to be accepted, whereas her husband Freddy is entirely happy with who she is and sees no reason for her to change. He’d rather she didn’t.

Her insecurity drives her ambition for acceptance. I think perhaps it’s a British thing in some ways and still occupies a small perch on the edge of our collective psyche. I’m not sure if it’s about social mobility or a sense of one’s roots or belonging. I have noticed that it can generate some fairly “marmite” reactions. Interestingly I have close girlfriends; who are originally from South Africa and Australia; married to Brits and living here in the UK (rural Devon) and the whole thing completely passes them by. They don’t see an issue, so curiously nor does anyone else! They are liked for who they are!

ON EXPECTATIONS OF INHERITANCE

Children often expect to be their parents primary love and this can be complicated when, in later life a new partner changes the family dynamic and the hierarchy of assumed family loyalties is threatened. (emotional or financial).

I think these matters do feature in society today. I know couples, friends, on second or third marriages (or in some cases, long term, co-habiting relationships where they are not actually married). Some with children on one side of the family only and an age disparity suggesting complications when one older partner passes – what happens to the family home and when does that crystalize?

One of our friends, having lived with her husband for almost 25 years, both on second marriages, had to sell the home she had lived in for their entire married life, when he passed, so that the house could be sold and the proceeds split between his two daughters.

Q: What was the inspiration for the discovery of the Gainsborough?

A: Actually it was inspired by a true story. One I have always remembered. Years ago, it must have been around 2001, a lost masterpiece, one of the few surviving works by the 13th-century Italian artist Cimabue, (who, at that time I was unaware of!) was handed over to the National Gallery “saved for the nation” as payment of around £7m in death duties. A huge sum at the time, and now for that matter!

The Virgin and Child Enthroned with Two Angels, a panel painting which is 10in by 8in, was due to be auctioned, (I actually attended the auction for the other contents of the house) it was the only Cimabue believed left in private hands, and one of a handful of his works to survive anywhere. The artist is renowned as the father of the Renaissance, the tutor of Duccio and Giotto, but almost nothing by him is left.

In a thriller type twist the painting was spotted during a routine valuation of the contents of Benacre Hall in Suffolk, it had to be attributed and formally accepted internationally by experts of course, but is very similar to another small panel in the Frick in New York, so was acknowledged as a Cimabue, because the style, particularly the punched decoration in the gilding, is so similar. But they didn’t know what it was for all those years before then! Nice surprise!

Cimabues have been lost in wars, floods and earthquakes. This one survived a major fire at Benacre Hall in the 1920s, when it was among piles of furniture and books dragged by the servants out of the burning house and heaped up on the lawn. I understand from press articles etc, that the family (I don’t know them) believes it may been bought by Sir Edward Sherlock Booth in Florence in the 19th century. I have not followed the story since but so far as I am aware the picture is still on display to the public.

Q: Why would readers choose to read your books?

A: I have been asked this a few times now, usually, someone has heard about my writing and is curious. Or they’re looking for a new author, but why should that be me? What sort of books do I write, and more importantly will you enjoy them?

Technically, I write “women’s commercial fiction”, but that’s about as useful as me telling you Tesco sells food.

My novels are light-hearted dramas, a touch comedic - not laugh out loud funny, but I am confident I will elicit a chuckle. There are multiple interwoven plot lines, and lots of twists, and turns. I explore topical themes, and question human nature, which will make for lively discussions at your book clubs, or just cause you to pause and reflect for a few moments.

Q: How would you describe your writing style?

A: Let me explain. Think visual family dramas, with strong credible characters, which are dialogue heavy, then add (in the same way that Grisham so cleverly picks an interesting legal problem to twist his books around) a regulatory spine to the plot, that adds a dash of thriller style tension. Really? Regulatory?

So, following on from that: Q: How on earth do you create thriller style tension involving regulation?

A: Think Liane Moriarty (one of my idols), meets John Grisham (another favourite). Odd combination I hear you say (but, as an avid reader I devour multiple genres). The regulation, or more particularly, the process which it prescribes, provides pace and the detail, often open to interpretation, provides tension. I understand, (and love) that interplay.

My life has been woven around sets of rules. I read law at university, qualified as a chartered accountant, then spent decades advising on rules governing the London Stock Exchange and The Panel on Takeovers and Mergers. That’s a regulatory environment on steroids!

I research and delve into detail and use each chosen regulatory process to weave a credible but intriguing path that will leave you itching to read the next chapter. My goal is to entertain.