This debut novel, long-listed for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, was a massive treat for me. I’d been lusting after it since I saw in WHSmith, with its stunningly beautiful cover (the font along is enough to reduce me to a quivering mess, what is it? I want everything printed I own to be in it) and black coloured edging (again, what is the official word for this?). It also ticks pretty much every single one of my boxes, being a historical crime drama about wronged women, set in 1820s Iceland, written by an Australian woman who is MY AGE and far too talented.
This is just SUCH a good book. Clear-cut writing, with some moments of true beauty. A ‘dark love letter to Iceland’ that puts the last book set in the country (the dire Falcons of Fire and Ice by Karen Maitland) to shame. It also has moments of real tension and parts that made me jump out my skin a little bit. The characters are all real and well-developed people, with real flaws, living desperate livings sometimes scratched out of an unforgiving land. I know the bare bones of Icelandic history, this is set pre the populist revival of the folk tradition, when the sagas and the Bible were revered more than the oral tradition that came later. This book made me want to know more and more though, and set me a lot of questions-how can a land with almost universal literacy be otherwise so divided in the standards people live? What must it have been like, to be an intelligent, literate, self-assured woman with knowledge of medicines and plants and everything else, to be trapped in master-servant relationships the way that the heroine, murderess Agnes is?
This, according to the author, isn’t a feminist novel-except it quite obviously massively is, and probably more up my street for being so. This is the sort of book that I would have liked to have written and I am exceptionally jealous of the author for being able to do so-also for being able to have spent so much time in Iceland, probably my favourite place in the world, which I cannot afford to get back to.
A very very good book, and I look forward to Hannah Kent’s future.