Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Island House includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. 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.
Freya Dane, a PhD candidate in archaeology, arrives on the island of Findnar off the northern coast of Scotland. After years of estrangement from her father—an archaeologist who recently died—Freya has come to the island to find out more about him and his work. As Freya explores the island and her father’s research, she discovers much more than just the roots of Findnar’s history. In AD 800 a young girl named Signy from the local Pictish tribe is taken in by the surviving members of the Christian community who have settled on the island of Findnar. As Signy grows up behind the walls of the monastery, she finds herself at the center of the clash between the island’s three religious cultures—caught between her adopted Christian faith, her native Pictish religion, and the Viking man she loves. Alternating between present-day and ninth-century Scotland, The Island House is an intertwined story of fascinating discoveries and two women connected to each other over centuries.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Reread the opening passage, which describes the brothers’ burial chamber: “The dead must have attendants in the next life and, too, sacrifice paid the blood debt of betrayal. Murder, unappeased, makes the dead malevolent.” (p. 1) What tone does this preface set for The Island House? Who do you think is the “attendant”?
2. Freya describes an “unholy trinity” of anxiety, fear, and yearning that have followed her since childhood. (p. 7) How do these feelings influence her actions throughout the novel? What motivates Freya’s character? Do you think this “trinity” still defines Freya by the conclusion of The Island House?
3. How does the “Wanderer comet” influence both Freya and Signy’s lives? Reflect on instances in the novel where the comet is mentioned. What do you think “the Wanderer” might symbolize?
4. Freya reflects early in the novel: “Perhaps, in the end, there were no accidents.” (p. 32) How is the theme of destiny and fate played in The Island House? Do you agree with Freya? Why or why not?
5. Freya and her father both longed to rebuild their relationship, but never made the first step to reconnect. What stood in the way? Why do you think they never reached out to one another? How might Freya’s discovery have been different if her father was still alive?
6. Dan was initially withdrawn and hostile toward Freya. What caused him to open up? How do Dan and Freya transform one another? What do they learn from each other?
7. Is Signy’s loyalty to her family and need for a deep religious faith greater than her love for Bear? Is she the author of her own tragedy?
8. Why does Signy become a nun? Why does she remain devoted to the Christian lifestyle, even though she struggles to fit in? What does this say about her character? What finally causes her to turn away from her adopted faith? What was her breaking point?
9. What was Simon’s motivation for taking the pictures? Do you believe he ever had legitimate feelings for Freya? Or do you think he was using her?
10. The Island House alternates between the present day and AD 800. Did you relate to or have a preference for one storyline more than the other? If so, which one? How did the two women’s stories parallel each other? Do you think Freya and Signy would have understood each other if they both lived in the same century?
11. Both Freya’s and Signy’s lives change dramatically over the course of The Island House. Reflect on each character in the opening pages of the novel. How did each evolve or mature as characters?
12. There are many religious and supernatural elements in the novel—from Signy’s ancestry as the daughter of the Pictish shaman to Freya’s discoveries on Findnar. Discuss each character’s relationship with their faith. How does religion affect their lives, and those around them? When is religion a source of comfort? A source of contention?
13. Discuss the ending of The Island House. How do you think Signy’s bones ended up on the ship with Bear’s?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Freya’s father, Michael Dane, has only one word carved on his gravestone: “Scholar.” Freya wonders to herself, “How could a life be summed up in just one word?” (p. 123) If you had to pick just one, what word would you use to describe Freya? Signy? Yourself? Your fellow book club members? Discuss this concept and your chosen word at your next meeting.
2. “Freya” is the Norse goddess of love, beauty, fertility, and destiny, while “Signy” is the name of heroines in two connected legends from Scandinavian mythology. Divide your book club into two groups: one group that will research the goddess Freya and one that will research the importance of Signy in Scandinavian mythology. Have each group present their findings at your book club discussion. Do you see any parallels with what you found in your research on Signy’s and Freya’s characters in The Island House? Finally, research the origins of your own name to share with your book club.
3. Get a feel for a coastal Scottish town by watching the movie Local Hero, starring Burt Lancaster. The 1983 film is one of Posie Graeme-Evans’s favorites and was partially filmed in Pennan, a town located in northern Scotland. The town and beautiful landscapes featured will help you visualize the setting of The Island House. Visit www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/pennan/pennan/ for more photos.
4. Author Posie Graeme-Evans drew inspiration for The Island House from the Scottish landscape during research trips in 2006 and 2011. Real standing stones on the island of Orkney—the Ring of Brodgar—and at Callanish on the Isle of Lewis provided reference for the ring of stones on Findnar; both sites are over five thousand years old. Neolithic passage tombs at Maes Howe (Orkney) and Newgrange in Ireland were also influential in her descriptions of the tomb of Signy’s ancestors on Findnar. View pictures of these remarkable and mystical places and learn more about Posie by visiting www.posiegraemeevans.com.