The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury: Exploring Constantinople



One night, at the urging of her friends, Alice Pendelbury consults a fortune teller who tells her that the most important man in her life was just walking right behind her…and before she can meet him, she must meet six other people. And so begins Alice’s journey…

While lacking in a satisfying romance, Alice Pendelbury delivers a rare view of Turkey in the 1950’s and the 1910’s.

The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury takes place in England and Turkey after WWII. After her neighbor, Mr. Darby, offers to fund her trip to Turkey (which was weird for the reader and for Alice), they embark. Mr. Darby makes some more questionable decisions with his money and Alice pursues her career as a “nose”, developing and sharing scents and techniques by meeting with local perfumers.

A Title Change That May Have Affected the Story

Largely, we felt the romantic relationship in Alice Pendelbury read like it was written at least twenty years ago—particularly the awkward and ostensibly charming way the Mr. Darby pursues Alice. At no point in the story was anyone of us rooting for the main characters to get together. And we wondered if this was because of the title… We learned after reading that the original publication (in French) was titled “The Strange Journey of Mr. Darby”. Given that title, you would make more assumptions about the outcome of his relationship with Alice—namely that he would end up with her. But because the English publication is titled “The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury” it actually felt like you were supposed to wonder who she was going to end up romantically partnered with?

This is part of what makes this story feel old: the author assumes that the reader assumes the most important man in her life is a romantic relationship. We were all waiting for a familial relationship to reveal itself. Perhaps this is another unintended side-effect from the title change…

How Old is Alice Pendelbury?

I remember reading her birthdate at one point late in book and started to do the math and then stopped when it wasn’t making any sense for her character. But the girls brought it up at book club and indeed–Alice Pendelbury is 39 years old during the events in this story. (!!) Levy has written her as though she was in her early twenties, including the way she and her friends interacted: passive-aggressively fighting for the affections of a male friend at a carnival outing?… I’m not saying relationships could never be complicated when you’re 39, but they also wouldn’t be so silly. It felt like he wanted to write about a younger woman and he just forced it to work for a different age so he could include certain world events in her timeline.

War-Torn Turkey & Armenian Genocide

Levy does a great job depicting a time and place I am unfamiliar with: early and mid- 1900’s Turkey. And also for bringing attention to horrifying events that occurred in Turkey during WWI.

Our book club’s timing with this book was accidentally in line with current events, because earlier this year, President Biden formally recognized the Armenian genocide, “which claimed more than a million lives during the tumult of World War I as Ottoman forces expelled or killed ethnic Armenians during the unraveling of the empire.” (Side note: I recommend getting a Washington Post membership: it’s very inexpensive for unlimited access to articles for the year. This is not sponsored, just my honest recommendation. Quality journalism is becoming more and more important!) Recognizing the Armenian Genocide is particularly important to Armenian diaspora living all over the world, including Europe, Russia, and around 1.5 Million people in the U.S.

Wine Selection & Tasting Notes

Elyse Nero Misto. Pleasantly dry, cherry, black currant, and something herby.

Discussion Questions for The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury

  1. Alice’s journey begins with a prediction from a fortune teller. Shaken by this reading, she is compelled to take a journey to Istanbul. Do you believe in fortune tellers? Would you ever make a major life decision based on a reading from a fortune teller?
    • How do you feel about the story adding the possibility that the fortune teller knew who Alice was?
  2. In the novel’s original publication (in French), the title was “The Strange Journey of Mr. Daldry.” Why do you think the title was changed in the English publication?
    • Does the character focus of the title change your perception of the book?
    • Does knowing the gender of the author change your perception of the book?
  3. Who was the most compelling character? Alice, Mr. Daldry, Can, Carol?
  4. Alice begins writing letters to her friend Carol and never sends them. Why?
  5. Originally written for his son, Levy’s first novel, If Only It Were True, was later adapted for the big screen as Just Like Heaven (starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo).
    • Do you see similarities in the dynamics of the two romantic leads from that story and Alice Pendelbury?
  6. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following:

“Imagine the kind of strength it takes to constantly reinvent the presence of a loved one. And she’s right to do so. Just because somebody is gone doesn’t mean they don’t exist anymore—with a little imagination, you’re never alone.”

7. Alice decides to live in Turkey, despite how her parents died there. How would you feel in Alice’s position?

“…Turkey is the most beautiful country in the world, and it’s my home.”

“And you can forgive it for what happened to our parents?”

“One has to forgive. Not everybody was at fault. Think of Yaya and her family, who saved us. They taught me tolerance. I think one person’s courage can defeat the complacency of a thousand others. Look out the window. Look how beautiful Istanbul is.”

Check it out for yourself!…

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