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Archive for the ‘Iceland’ Tag

Hidden in Darkness   Leave a comment

Snowblind
I get on book kicks and my latest has been mysteries; they’re my reading guilty pleasure. It’s especially satisfying to come across something as well-written and intriguing as Snow Blind by Ragnar Jonasson.

Set in a small town in northern Iceland, Jonasson’s novel is dark –thanks to the limited hours of daylight so close to the Arctic Circle – and is filled with intelligent characters with plenty of positive traits and foibles – like most of us.

Ari Thor is in the process of completing his exams at the Reykjavik police academy when he’s offered a job in a small, but once-thriving fishing community on the other side of the country. Without consulting his live-in girlfriend, he accepts the position and leaves her behind.

What he initially encounters is the difficulty of fitting in where most of the residents have lived, if not all at least most, of their lives. He’s an outsider. He’s repeatedly told by his captain “Nothing ever happens here.”

The narrative is told in two different parts: one beginning in spring 2008 and ending in January 2009; the other, set off in separate chapters and in italics, describing a murder. The reader knows the two will intersect, but the question is not just when but how. Jonasson deftly teases curiosity while leaving very few clues along the way.

In the place where nothing happens, Ari Thor deals first with an accidental death and then the brutal beating of a woman. Yet, these are only part of the plot.

Snow Blind
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Minotaur Books, 2010
302 pages

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From Dust to Ice   Leave a comment

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It should come as no surprise from the title of Hannah Kent’s debut novel, Burial Rites, that death plays a major role since it overshadows the entire plot. It is also obvious from the onset who will die and why. What is less clear is the unexpected empathy that develops for the condemned.

Kent creates an unlikely protagonist in Agnes Magnusdottir, charged with the brutal murder of her former lover. While awaiting her execution, Agnes is sent to live with a farmer’s family apprehensive of have a murderess in their home. Like the harsh, cold Icelandic setting in which the story occurs, warmth toward to Agnes is slow to kindle.

The beauty of Kent’s writing lies in her ability to develop an emotional response in readers in much the same way the host family members relinquish their reluctance, revulsion and fear of having Agnes in their midst. The transformation is hard won.

Told in part from Agnes’s perspective, a few official letters, and an omniscient narrator, each character is skillfully portrayed through personality quirks, physical descriptions, and overt reactions. It’s easy to envision the pompous, narrow-minded District Commissioner who inflicts his will. Kent is equally successful in developing Toti, the young assistant reverend Agnes has requested as her spiritual advisor. This uncertain young man, and his faith, evolves as Agnes grows more comfortable sharing details of her life.

The novel, a fictional account of actual events, demonstrates hardened hearts can be softened by honesty, profound interaction, and a good storyteller.

Burial Rites
Four-and-half Bookmarks
Little, Brown and Company, 2013
322 pages