At thirty-one, Charlotte Merryweather has it all: a successful public relations business, a loving and committed boyfriend, designer clothes, and a fabulous apartment. Life is much different than when she first came to London after graduating college in the States – her job is better, her clothes are better, and her residence is better. Of course, she has to work constantly to maintain her business, and she never really gets to see her flat or her boyfriend because she’s always out meeting clients, and since turning thirty she’s developed a slew of allergies – but her life is truly fabulous.
Or so she thinks, up until she’s redirected during rush hour traffic one morning, and she passes a VW Beetle that looks just like her own first car, driven by a young woman who looks unmistakably like her twenty-one year old self – the same curly, scrunch-dried hair, tan skin, and reckless, carefree spirit (demonstrated by the young woman’s slightly reckless driving – Charlotte’s much better than that now). When Charlotte sees her more than once on the same street, out of curiosity she follows her . . . back to the same address where Charlotte used to live, when she was working as a puzzle editor and her greatest concern was getting the sexy and elusive rocker Billy Romani to notice her.
And so when Charlotte literally bumps into her former self, Lottie, at the corner pub, she strikes up a friendship. Strange coincidence or no, Charlotte knows that this is the chance few people have – to impart some words of wisdom and help her former self avoid the mistakes she’d rather not have made over the past ten years. Yet as she spends more time with her twenty-one year old self, thirty-one year old Charlotte realizes that perhaps she’s lost some perspective over the years – and that maybe there are some things that the impulsive, fun-loving Lottie could help her remember about love, friendship, and living in the moment.
- Did you believe that Charlotte’s life could be as good as she claimed when the story first began? Discuss Potter’s use of dramatic irony throughout the book, and how it serves to add humor and suspense – as we, the readers, are able to tell that Charlotte’s job, health, and personal relationships may not be as wonderful as she claims.
- Similarly, did you trust Miles when you were first “introduced” to his character in the book? Did you believe he could be as trustworthy, or as perfect, as Charlotte claimed? What clues existed that these two were not quite as compatible as they assumed they were?
- Also, did you, like Charlotte, believe Julian was truly cheating on Vanessa? Why or why not? What clues pointed to his fidelity? Did you find his explanation for his behavior believable?
- Trust is a major subject of this novel. Discuss the ways and instances in which Charlotte is forced to confront her trust in herself (or, as Lottie puts it, her “gut”), her trust in her lover(s), her trust in her friends, and her trust in the advice of all of the self-help books she reads at night. What can we learn from her experiences?
- When Charlotte follows her twenty-one year old self and sees Lottie parking outside the same address where she once lived, she assumes she’s suffering from a brain tumor. What did you think at this point in the story? Did you imagine anything like the car accident at the end of the book, or the morphine-haze, as an explanation for Charlotte’s time with Lottie?
- After befriending Lottie, Charlotte creates a list of advice to pass on to her younger, more rash and impulsive self. What advice would you give your former “self” of ten years ago? If you could go back in time – or take a diversion, as Charlotte did – what three bits of wisdom would you impart to that less worldly, less experienced person? Why?
- Discuss the ways in which Larry and Cindy Goldstein are obvious caricatures of the ugly American abroad. Consider the ways they provide comic relief, while at the same time commenting on American ignorance, excess, and arrogance. (Also, how is this tempered by Charlotte, who is, also, an American by birth and heritage?)
- Discuss Beatrice, Charlotte’s trusted (and trustworthy) assistant, and the way she adds humor and heart to the novel. What did you like best about her quirky character? How was she a good foil for Charlotte? (Meaning, how did she “interrupt” Charlotte in a useful way and often save Charlotte from herself?) Were you pleased to see her find happiness with Dr. Hamish at the end of the novel?
- It’s through her interaction with Lottie that Charlotte realizes that 1) Olly/Oliver exists and that 2) he’s more compatible with and desirable to her than any of the men that she’s dated, including (or, perhaps, especially) Miles. What clues were laid early in the novel regarding Oliver’s significance in Charlotte’s life? Would you have forgiven Charlotte as easily as Oliver did for the things that she said and did over the course of 10 years? What does this say about his character?
- What did you think of the time travel concept of the book? Did you think that it was well conceived and executed? When Charlotte met her future self in the park (after finding out that Goldstein was responsible for shutting down Oliver’s grandfather’s antique store), did you guess at the identity of the old woman? What clues existed that this was Charlotte’s future self? How did this third “meeting” between Charlotte’s parallel lives add to (or, possibly, detract from) the novel?
- Through character and plot development, the novel makes several comments about fate and destiny, sexual chemistry and romantic love, trust and fidelity, and friendships and loyalty. Discuss the various messages of the book. Which one did you like the most, and why? Did the novel, and Charlotte’s character especially, help you come to any conclusions about your own past and/or present?