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This reading group guide forThe House on Willow Streetincludes 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.
Tess Power is shocked to discover her world crumbling around her. Newly separated from her husband and on the verge of bankruptcy, her pain only deepens when her former fiancé and first love suddenly returns and buys her beloved childhood home. Set in the Irish coastal town of Avalon, The House on Willow Street tells Tess’s story, as well as the story of three other women—Suki, Danae and Mara—all of whom must come to terms with their past in order to understand their future.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The novel opens with Danae as the narrator. Musing on the thunderstorm, Danae thinks: “People who’d never felt the pure darkness of life itself were scared when night fell. People who understood the darkness knew that lack of light wasn’t the problem.” (pg. 13) Do you think that darkness and the inevitable pain of living are central to Danae’s philosophy on life? If so, why?
2. Discuss the ways in which Tess’s shop—Something Old— demonstrates her desire to hold onto the past. What people, events, or memories do you think Tess wants to keep close? Is “something old” more important to Tess than “something new”?
3. Consider the relationship of the Power sisters Tess and Suki. How are they alike? How are they different? Is there a bond that holds them together besides their blood?
4. The novel is divided according to season. In what ways do the different seasons inform the story? In what ways does the setting inform the story? “Perhaps it wasn’t the place that was the problem but the time of year” (pg. 70), Danae muses to herself. In your opinion, what has a more powerful effect on the characters—the season or the town?
5. All of the female characters embody a type of feminist theory that is slightly different from the others. Do you think Suki, the self-proclaimed feminist, is the strongest female character? Why or what not? Would you classify Danae as a feminist? Mara? Tess?
6. Do you think that Danae made the right decision regarding Antonio? Would you have done the same thing in her place? Why or why not?
7. Answer the question that Suki poses to herself on page 120: “Smart women didn’t look back, they looked forward. Right?” Do you think this is true, or is there something to be gained from looking back at ones own past? Consider Suki, Tess, Mara, and Danae in your response.
8. The House on Willow Street has many characters. Ultimately, whose story is this? Is there one character you could name as the heroine?
9. Discuss Cashel’s character. What role does he play in the story? Do you like him? How does his anger change throughout the course of the story? Does the purchase of Avalon House symbolize change for Cashel? How so?
10. “Thanks to Mara and her magic, this had been the first Christmas that Dane hadn’t spent tormented by the guilt of knowing that Antonio would never be able to participate in the seasonal celebration . . . and now Danae was being punished. Punished for casting aside all thought of her husband for a few days.” (pg. 383) How does guilt inform Danae’s character? Do you think guilt impacts any other character? Why?
11. Revisit the scene at Antonio’s funeral on page 441. Discuss the ways in which this is a pivotal moment in the story. Do you think that Adriana’s forgiveness changed Danae’s life?
12. “There was merely Avalon House, a beautiful house that was never going to be his home because he had no one to share it with.” (pg. 468) Discuss the ending of the story in light of this quote. What are you thoughts on the ending?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. On page 113, Suki asks: “Though the glass ceiling remained, no one seemed interested. Feminist writers had devoted entire books to topics such as body image, sexuality, the power of motherhood, and what difference had it made?” In light of this question, have your book club read The Feminine Mystique (1963) by Betty Friedan. Consider the ways in which the characters do or do not live up to the examples set out in Friedan’s book. In your own expereince, do you think it is true that womens lives have not changed much since the advent of feminism? Do you think women’s lives are “like hamster wheels, endlessly turning” (pg. 386)? Share your responses with your book club members.
2. Ireland and Irish culture play a large role in this novel. Like Danae, explore Celtic myths and traditions. What information can you find out about the role of myth in Irish culture? What connections can you draw between the myths of the country and the myths in the novel?
3. The House on Willow Street touches on the topic of domestic abuse. Danae, the victim of abuse, continues to be a controlled by her husband and her guilt over his brain injury years after he has been put in a long-term care facility. Host a movie night with your book club and watch the 2002 movie Enough starring Jennifer Lopez. How does Danae differ from Jennifer’s character? Is she similar in any way? In your opinion, which character handled her situation better? Would you have made the same decisions in their positions? Why or why not?
Cathy Kelly is the Irish bestselling author of twelve other novels, many of which have been number one bestsellers in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. She lives in Ireland with her husband and twin sons. In 2005 she was appointed an ambassador for UNICEF Ireland. Contact her on Twitter at @cathykellybooks or follow her on Facebook or at CathyKelly.com.