Book club questions for Northern Spy by Flynn Berry takes a deep dive into this complicated novel about two sisters who get involved with the IRA. There will be spoilers so for more context about the story, check out my spoiler-free review first.
I really enjoyed this one! As I mentioned in my review, I didn’t know much about Ireland politics and the conflict going on prior to reading the novel. It was very eye opening and I ended up Googling more about it after I finished the novel. One problem of the U.S. media is that it’s so focused on domestic issues that we’re not always aware of what’s happening elsewhere in the world.
So I read all of that with interest. I feel the author Flynn Berry really helped to humanize the conflict with such a strong and relatable protagonist. While I didn’t always agree with Tessa’s decisions, I certainly understood where she was coming from.
All in all, this is a high tension, fascinating read! Thanks to Reese’s book club for putting this novel on our radar.
To enhance your discussion of the novel, I highly recommend you check out this New York Times article, The Ghost of Northern Ireland’s Troubles Are Back. What’s Going On?.
A producer at the BBC and mother to a new baby, Tessa is at work in Belfast one day when the news of another raid comes on the air. The IRA may have gone underground in the two decades since the Good Friday Agreement, but they never really went away, and lately bomb threats, security checkpoints, and helicopters floating ominously over the city have become features of everyday life. As the news reporter requests the public’s help in locating those responsible for the robbery, security footage reveals Tessa’s sister, Marian, pulling a black ski mask over her face.
The police believe Marian has joined the IRA, but Tessa is convinced she must have been abducted or coerced; the sisters have always opposed the violence enacted in the name of uniting Ireland. And besides, Marian is vacationing on the north coast. Tessa just spoke to her yesterday.
When the truth about Marian comes to light, Tessa is faced with impossible choices that will test the limits of her ideals, the bonds of her family, her notions of right and wrong, and her identity as a sister and a mother. Walking an increasingly perilous road, she wants nothing more than to protect the one person she loves more fiercely than her sister: her infant son, Finn.
Riveting, atmospheric, and exquisitely written, Northern Spy is at once a heart-pounding story of the contemporary IRA and a moving portrait of sister- and motherhood, and of life in a deeply divided society.
Book Club Questions for Northern Spy
- Did you know much about the conflicts in Ireland prior to reading this novel? In your opinion, why do you think these conflicts have escalated this year?
- Reese’s book club selects all kinds of novels and genres. Why do you believe she chose this novel for her April book club pick?
- Tessa is our protagonist, a single working mother who loves her family. What was your initial impressions of Tessa?
- When she sees her sister Marian as part of a robbery with the IRA, Tessa is convinced that Marian must have been abducted. Did you agree with Tessa or did you have suspicions that Marian willingly took part?
- What do you make of Marian’s reasoning for joining the IRA?
- Tessa wants nothing to do with Marian but when she finds out her sister is now an informant for the government, Marian pleads for her to get involved. While initially she rebuffs this out of fear for what will happen to her son Finn, she realizes that she has no choice, in her mind at least. Do you agree with Tessa’s decision to become an informant as well? What would you have done if you were Tessa?
- Tessa really struggles with Marian’s decision to join the IRA and thinks to herself, “can you be a terrorist and an informer at the same time, or are you only ever one or the other?” What’s your opinion on this?
- As Tessa becomes more involved as an informant she eventually meets the rest of Marian’s team with the IRA. What did you make of the other members? How do you think they could talk about bombings and such so casually? Do they view the attacks more of an abstract action by them—as in they don’t think about the body count so much as moving forward their cause?
- Which scenes do you feel provided the most tension in the story?
- How did you think this story would resolve? Were you satisfied by the ending? Will the family ever be able to return to Belfast?
- The epilogue shows a happy and curious Finn. Why do you think the author decided to include that?
- Why was the book titled Northern Spy?
Hope you enjoyed book club questions for Northern Spy! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.
The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse
Half-hidden by forest and overshadowed by threatening peaks, Le Sommet has always been a sinister place. Long plagued by troubling rumors, the former abandoned sanatorium has since been renovated into a five-star minimalist hotel.
An imposing, isolated getaway spot high up in the Swiss Alps is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But Elin’s taken time off from her job as a detective, so when her estranged brother, Isaac, and his fiancée, Laure, invite her to celebrate their engagement at the hotel, Elin really has no reason not to accept.
Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge–there’s something about the hotel that makes her nervous. And when they wake the following morning to discover Laure is missing, Elin must trust her instincts if they hope to find her. With the storm closing off all access to the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.
Elin is under pressure to find Laure, but no one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she’s the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they are all in. . .
The Guest List by Lucy Foley
The bride – The plus one – The best man – The wedding planner – The bridesmaid – The body
On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.
But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.
And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?