Reading Guide: Man with a Seagull on His Head

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1. Ray is a cryptic character, especially for a protagonist. As readers, do we ever truly know him?

2. Early in the book, Ray is described as being “past the age when anything interesting was likely to happen to him.” The same might be said of Jennifer when we rejoin her in Chapter 6–the moment when something extremely interesting happens to her. What do you think the author is trying to tell us via the similarities of these characters, and what else do they have in common?

3. Ray has, to say the least, an unorthodox relationship with George and Grace. But right up until Grace turns violent, it never seems to affect Ray’s art. Why do you think this says about the couple’s interest in him—or about the art itself?

4. The main characters have very little interaction. This is particularly drawn into focus at the end, where Ray and Jennifer very nearly meet and interact, but then miss each other. Why do you think the author ends the book with this missed connection?

5. At the end of the novel, the narrator addresses the reader, writing of Ray’s aspirations, “If that sounds crazy to you, then I suspect you have not seen the paintings themselves. For anyone who has, and has been touched by their beauty, will surely recognise the truth of it: that what you are seeing is not just a woman standing on a beach, but a spirit soaring, a man attempting to fly.” Having not seen the fictive paintings, does it sound “crazy” to you? Do you think Ray achieves flight—and, if so, what kind?

6. If you could ask the author one question, what would it be?