Astrid Sees All: A Novel

  • Autor: Natalie Standiford
  • Narrador: Emily Tremaine
  • Editor: Simon & Schuster
  • Duración: 8:10:17
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This reading group guide for Astrid Sees All includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Natalie Standiford. The suggested questions 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.


Set in New York’s last bohemia, the star-studded, heart-pounding downtown club scene of the 1980s, Astrid Sees All unveils the world of its irresistible main character, Phoebe Hayes. Phoebe moves to the city with her best friend, Carmen, just after graduating from college, in search of adventure and a life she can call her own. But there is real pain—from Phoebe’s past, from a man who wrongs her, even from her relationship with Carmen—lurking beneath the surface. As much as Phoebe tries to bury it with sex, drugs, and a job telling fortunes at a glamourous nightclub, when Carmen suddenly disappears, Phoebe must confront what she’s been desperately living to avoid.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. We first meet Phoebe at college in Rhode Island, dreaming of a bigger, more adventurous life. How do you think her experiences in college shape that dream for her?

2. Phoebe’s relationship, such as it is, with Ivan is one of her first experiences after moving to the city. How do you think this relationship—and the way it ends—affects her? How does it change her perspective on what life might be like when she gets to make her own choices? What does she decide to do about what happens between them, and why do you think she makes that choice?

3. We’re initially introduced to Plutonium as “a new kind of nightclub, club as performance art” (p. 87). Art is everywhere in this novel, and the idea of life as performance art is an interesting concept in this context. Later, we’re told, “The art didn’t matter as much as being seen as part of the group” (p. 156). How much of Phoebe’s persona is a performance, meant to be seen by others, and how much of it is true?

4. Phoebe chooses the name Astrid for her fortune-telling alias. How does choosing an alias for her new job help Phoebe become a new person, someone who she’s always wanted to be? Do you think she sees herself as that person yet? At what point does she become the girl she wanted to be when she was younger? Is it like she imagined?

5. Phoebe is low on money or in debt throughout the novel, but this is especially so before she starts the job at Plutonium. She does have the safety net of her mother’s home in Baltimore, although she desperately doesn’t want to rely on that. Do you think having this safety net there, even if Phoebe doesn’t want to use it, affects the story? Do you think Phoebe’s experience and choices would change if she did not have that security?

6. Portrayals of drug use and abuse show up several times over the course of the novel. How does the portrayal of drugs for recreational use—like everyone using at clubs, and the “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll” lifestyle—contrast with the darker realities of substance abuse at the beginning of the crack epidemic? How do these issues show up in the novel?

7. We’re told that Carmen “loved who she loved. Once she loved you, you couldn’t shake her. But you couldn’t earn your way into her heart, either. So if she loved you, it made you a kind of royalty” (p. 119). In what ways does Carmen make Phoebe feel special? Why do you think Phoebe continues to remain close with her after she discovers, time after time, that Carmen lies to her or hides things from her? Do you think Phoebe wants the relationship with her to be more than simply platonic?

8. Phoebe’s sightings of the posters with missing girls appear several times throughout the novel before we realize why or what is happening. How does having this backdrop of potential loss and fear—even fear for Phoebe’s own safety—affect our experience reading the story?

9. Phoebe and Carmen’s relationship throughout the novel is tumultuous. At times, they’re as close as two friends can be, but at others, Carmen’s lies are revealed and Phoebe feels like she doesn’t know her at all. Why do you think this portrayal of turbulent friendships is so fascinating? What other works of fiction portray addictive but often damaging relationships between two close friends?

10. At Plutonium, Phoebe brushes up against all kinds of famous people, like Andy Warhol, Sting, Grace Jones, Christopher Walken, and many more. How does including these real people help ground the story and show the scope of Phoebe’s world? How are celebrities viewed in the New York bohemia of the time? Are they revered or treated as ordinary people—or somewhere in between?

11. Phoebe feels like she has so much agency throughout the story; she makes her life look the way she wants it to. But at some point, she admits, “I thought about Ivan. . . . When I’d wanted the story to end, I’d declared it over, but by then it had taken on a life of its own and was out of my control” (p. 142). How much of what happens to Phoebe is out of her control? Does this become increasingly so as the story goes on, or was it always that way?

12. Near the end of the book, Jem asks Phoebe about how she tells people’s futures when they’re hiding their true selves. In what ways does Phoebe become more perceptive when it comes to reading others throughout her journey? How does this skill serve her amid everything that happens at the end of the novel?

13. Over the course of the novel, we slowly realize that Phoebe’s father’s death took a much greater toll on her than we’d previously realized. What signs were there, in retrospect, that suggest that Phoebe’s grief was affecting her thoughts and actions?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. This story is so cinematic that you can almost hear the music and see the clothes and the clubs. If this were a movie or TV show, what would be your dream casting for the characters?

2. Watch classic films set in the 1980s like Desperately Seeking Susan, Bright Lights, Big City, and The Last Days of Disco and discuss them with your book club. How do they intersect with the world shown through Astrid Sees All? What does Astrid Sees All reveal about that time and place that other books and media have not?

3. You can find the fully designed book club kit at In it, you can find lists of songs, movies, and places mentioned in the book and an eighties playlist created by the author to accompany the read.

A Conversation with Natalie Standiford

Q: New York City in the 1980s is such a vibrant backdrop for the story. What made you decide on that particular time and place for the novel? Do you have a personal connection to it?

A: I graduated from college in 1983 and moved to New York on the last day of August that year. It was such a momentous occasion for me that I still mark the date, privately, every August 31. So I can’t help but associate that time and place with coming of age.

I lived on the Upper West Side (where my first job was as a clerk at the late, legendary Shakespeare & Co. bookstore on Broadway and 81st Street) for a year before moving to the East Village. New York City has always been a magnet for adventurous young people, but the downtown Manhattan of the eighties was remarkable for the way it combined a burgeoning arts scene with danger, grit, and a kind of magic. In describing the photographer Nan Goldin’s great work from that period (most notably The Ballad of Sexual Dependency), the New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote that her “photographs of determinedly broken youth . . . preserve the desperate, at times literally deathly, ardors of a generation that stayed up late to fit into each day its maximum quotient of mistakes.” I remember that feeling of craving excitement no matter the consequences, of needing to live on the edge. The East Village of the eighties drew outsiders of all kinds who weren’t afraid of taking risks, and who wanted to live big lives on their own terms . . . which makes a great setting for a novel.

Q: Even though the book is set only a few decades ago, did you do research when writing to add more details to the story? Did you research any of the art exhibitions, clubs, etc. of the time? Did you find anything surprising when you did? How did you choose what details to include?

A: I did do some research. In 2017 the Museum of Modern Art had a show called “Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978–1983,” which thrilled me because that was slightly before my time and I’d always felt I’d missed something big. Club 57 was an influential performance venue/gallery/party space in the basement of a Polish church on St. Marks Place, and the museum tried to re-create that basement vibe. The same year, the Whitney Museum exhibited paintings from the eighties, focused on downtown New York, which brought back memories of the crowded East Village gallery openings I tried to shove my way into on Thursday nights.

I read books like St. Marks Is Dead, a history of St. Marks Place by Ada Calhoun; looked at photos by Ken Schles (Invisible City) and Nan Goldin (The Ballad of Sexual Dependency); and read all the accounts of nightlife I could find. I reread some of the books I’d loved in my twenties, like Lives of the Saints by Nancy Lemann, Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz, Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, and Elbowing the Seducer by T. Gertler, which made a big splash in 1984 but seems to be undeservedly forgotten now. I revisited some of my favorite movies from or about the eighties—Desperately Seeking Susan, Smithereens, Stranger Than Paradise, Downtown 81, Basquiat, The Last Days of Disco, Wings of Desire, Paris, Texas, and Éric Rohmer’s Summer, to name a few—which helped me remember the look, the sound, and the emotional tenor of the period.

I also reread my journals from those years, which was painful and embarrassing but did yield some juicy details that I probably would have blocked out otherwise. Nothing really surprised me, except perhaps how run-down and dirty the city was in those days. There was a real sense of decay, which, of course, is part of “decadence.”

I included only a fraction of all this research in the book, though I suspect that immersing myself in these details enriched the atmosphere of the novel. I used anything that helped illustrate Phoebe’s state of mind—what she would notice, what would matter to her or seem new or strange to her—or that contributed to the story.

Q: Why did you choose to start the book with one of Phoebe’s experiences with Ivan, before going back to her college days?


  • 001 AstridSeesAll Open

    Duración: 13s
  • 002 AstridSeesAll Dedication

  • 003 AstridSeesAll Epigraph

    Duración: 16s
  • 004 AstridSeesAll Ch1 GoingUnderground

    Duración: 33min
  • 005 AstridSeesAll Ch2 AnApartment

    Duración: 24min
  • 006 AstridSeesAll Ch3 TheTaleOfAttilaAndCaledonia

    Duración: 17min
  • 007 AstridSeesAll Ch4 TheGatsbyParty

    Duración: 27min
  • 008 AstridSeesAll Ch5 Chanterelle

    Duración: 11min
  • 009 AstridSeesAll Ch6 DonGiovanni

    Duración: 07min
  • 010 AstridSeesAll Ch7 Shadow

    Duración: 17min
  • 011 AstridSeesAll Ch8 ExaminationRoom

    Duración: 06min
  • 012 AstridSeesAll Ch9 TheDietzesParty

    Duración: 20min
  • 013 AstridSeesAll Ch10 Roses

    Duración: 08min
  • 014 AstridSeesAll Ch11 WhatTimeIsIt

    Duración: 31min
  • 015 AstridSeesAll Ch12 CafeLethe

    Duración: 22min
  • 016 AstridSeesAll Ch13 SoBoredOfHavingMyPictureTaken

    Duración: 18min
  • 017 AstridSeesAll Ch14 JunkieHeaven

    Duración: 07min
  • 018 AstridSeesAll Ch15 InternationalWithMonument

    Duración: 15min
  • 019 AstridSeesAll Ch16 PurpleFootprints

    Duración: 10min
  • 020 AstridSeesAll Ch17 Wake

    Duración: 13min
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