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Complicit

A Novel

Read by Katie Leung

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About The Book

“Winnie M Li’s harrowing thriller…doesn’t sugarcoat her subject, nor should she.” —Elisabeth Egan, The New York Times Book Review

After a long-buried incident, a woman whose promising film career was derailed has an opportunity for revenge in this visceral and timely thriller about power, privilege, and justice.

A Hollywood has-been, Sarah Lai’s dreams of success behind the camera have been put to the wayside. Now a lecturer at an obscure college, this former producer wants nothing more than to forget those youthful ambitions and push aside any feelings of regret…or guilt.

But when a journalist reaches out to her to discuss her own experience working with the celebrated film producer Hugo North, Sarah can no longer keep silent. This is her last chance to tell her side of the story and maybe even exact belated vengeance.

As Sarah recounts the industry’s dark and sordid secrets, however, she begins to realize that she has a few sins of her own to confess. Now she must confront her choices and ask herself, just who was complicit?

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Complicit contains discussion questions that are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Complicit tells a story that we think we already know through real-life headlines, but from a lesser-known perspective. How did the book make you feel about this topic in the end? Did it make you feel angry? Sad? Empowered? Hopeful for change? Did any part of the story come as a surprise to you? And what does this say about our expectations around so-called #MeToo stories?

2. Can you understand why Sarah Lai made the choices she did at the time, when she was working with Hugo North? Do you believe she was complicit in a system that abused and mistreated women, or was she a victim in her own way? What could she have done differently, and how would this have affected her subsequent life and career? Does the book help you understand why some real-life perpetrators were able to get away with their behavior for so long?

3. At first glance, some of the characters in the book may seem like stereotypes: the wide-eyed starlet, the visionary film director, the hard-working Chinese-American woman, the gay hairdresser, the wealthy Brit, etc. But did these characters go beyond the shallow outlines of these stereotypes? In what way? What do you think the book is ultimately saying about stereotypes and the way individuals are judged externally?

4. Did you like the character of Sylvia Zimmerman? How would you describe her relationship with Sarah? Was she a protective mentor toward a younger woman in the industry, or did she exploit Sarah and expose her to other dangers? What about Sarah’s relationships with Holly and Courtney? Do you think women can do more to support each other in the workplace? And is it their responsibility to support each other, or should the professional world be designed to be more gender-equal?

5. Sylvia’s career suffers because of her dedication as a mother, and Holly undergoes rigorous scrutiny over her appearance. What are some other examples in the book of how women are disadvantaged and held to a different standard from men? How does the book depict female ambition in a male-dominated workplace?

6. Complicit portrays an “old boys’ network” where men retain most of the power in the film industry. They socialize with each other after hours and give each other opportunities, while treating female colleagues in a very different way. Did you find this realistic? Have you encountered scenarios like this in your own working life? And how does one speak up about sexual harassment and other gendered injustices in the workplace?

7. We also see a workplace where young talent is exploited, underpaid, often unrecognized, and exposed to other dangers like sexual abuse. Could you relate to this at all? Do you think this is particularly pronounced in industries like film, which are heavily glamorized?

8. Did you enjoy the film industry setting and the many references to films? Did you learn anything surprising or eye-opening about how films are made? The book makes use of “familiar” settings we associate with Hollywood, like the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globes. How did it make you feel about the glamor and spectacle of movies vs. the reality of making them?

9. How does the book portray fame and celebrity? We get to know Holly Randolph before she becomes famous, and yet Sarah refers to that fame as a “burden.” What are other examples where the book uses motifs of surfaces, illusion, and artifice in depicting the entertainment industry?

10. Why do you think the author inserted the transcripts from other interviews Thom Gallagher was conducting in his investigation? What does this say about the different perspectives that people can have regarding instances of sexual harassment and assault?

11. In exploring the media world, the book considers the question of who is allowed to tell the story. What did you think of the Thom Gallagher character? How did his gender and class privilege help him in uncovering a story and in enabling his own professional success? How does this notion of privilege and success play out in other characters in the story?

12. Complicit interrogates the concept of the American dream: that in America, anyone can work hard to achieve individual success in their career. Does the book agree with this idea? At one point, the book claims: “Envy is built into the immigrant experience. It is what drives the American dream, after all.” How did envy affect Sarah’s own ambition—and her attitude towards other women like Holly and Courtney?

13. How does race play a part in Sarah’s professional life? Do you think she was perceived and treated differently because she was Chinese American? Do you think her own parents’ cultural attitudes toward career affected her own choices and behavior at work? Could you relate at all to this aspect of Sarah’s experience?

14. Sarah is embarrassed by her family’s Chinese restaurant in Flushing, and yet it is also undeniably her roots, and a place where she developed many of her own skills. What does this seem to be saying about immigrant communities in the US? And when she stumbles upon the Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles, what is the importance of this scene?

15. Sarah claims that in the film industry, money ultimately decides everything. Do you think this is true in other contexts? Do you think that every character in the book was swayed by money? And what does the book say about the ethical and artistic choices we can make in a world dominated by money?

16. Storytelling and silence are important themes in Complicit. The book opens with a bitter, cynical thirty-nine-year-old Sarah, who has kept silent about what happened to her when she was young and eager. Over the course of the novel, what do you think the process of sharing her story does for Sarah? And what does the end seem to be saying about the collective value of sharing so many individual stories?

About The Author

Photograph by Grace Gelder

Winnie M Li is an American author and activist living in the UK with her partner and young son. A Harvard graduate, Winnie worked as a film producer in London before her career was disrupted by a violent rape. Inspired by that experience, her first novel Dark Chapter was nominated for an Edgar Award and translated into ten languages. She is the founder of Clear Lines, the UK’s first-ever festival addressing sexual assault through the arts and discussion. 

About The Reader

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (August 16, 2022)
  • Runtime: 13 hours and 57 minutes
  • ISBN13: 9781797142029

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