Bottled Goods is a captivating, one-of-a-kind work. A flash fiction novella, it follows the life of Alina, a citizen of Romania during the 1970s when it was experiencing a period of communist rule. Married to Liviu, Alina’s marriage, although happy and hopeful at first, struggles when Alina’s brother-in-law defects to the West. Alina now finds herself under strain as she and her family are prime suspects in an investigation by the state. The investigation sees Alina questioning what the future holds for her and how she will cope under this new scrutiny. Feeling trapped, Alina turns to her aunt for help, a woman who is well versed in the practices of the old folk ways.
Llewyn masterfully crafts a variety of literary texts from letters and diary entries to lists and postcards, all of which provide a different level of understanding into Alina’s life and the toll that is taken on her marriage. The novella almost functions as a collection of snippets which provide a peculiar yet enchanting way to experience the story. The shift from first person to third person narratives blend with the collage of different text styles, leaving the reader in constant surprise as to what the next page will hold. Not only is Bottled Goods a novella, meaning it is shorter than the average novel, but the sections, are only a few pages long, making it a book that is perfectly-matched for a reader who is always on the move.
How did the format of the novella impact on the story?
How do you think the magical realism elements contributed to the Alina’s narrative?
Did you find the use of Romanian folktales entertaining? Were you familiar with the term ‘strigoi’ before reading the book?
Did any of the writing styles particularly appeal to you?
What does the ending imply about Alina’s mother?
How do ambiguous chapter titles draw you, as the reader, in?
What effect does the use of Romanian language have on the novel? Do you feel it helped immerse you in the setting?
Were you surprised by Alina’s breakdown towards the end of the novel? What do you think Sophie van Llewyn was hoping to communicate with this brief section and does it have an effect on the story?
Little is mentioned of Alina’s father. Why do you think this is? Did van Llewyn want Alina to have a limited support network, leaving her to face the pressures of the communist government – somewhat independently?
How does van Llewyn subtly build the separation of Alina and Liviu throughout the book? Bottled-Goods-Discussion-Questions.pdf
Alina and Liviu manage to escape Romania, fleeing to Germany by car under the guise of a holiday. Years after emigrating to Germany, Alina sees on the news that a revolution is taking place in Romania and calls her aunt. Aunt Theresa informs her that she has found her Alina’s mother and that she is currently hiding in Grandfather’s cage to avoid the cat. Alina and Liviu go on vacation to Tenerife; it is implied from Alina’s manner that they are going through a rough patch in the marriage. It is revealed as a series of postcards from Alina to her Mother that Alina and Liviu have since divorced, with Alina staying in a mental institution to recover from a breakdown she suffered. A message in the form of an email arrives from Aunt Theresa who informs Alina that they received her postcards. She also implies that Alina’s mother has died, the result of an incident with the cat.
Alina returns to her hometown to visit her aunt; there she finds all the glasses turned upside down like when the strigoi was present. She asks her Aunt where she buried her mother to which Aunt Theresa replies that she lied and presents Alina with a wooden box.