The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I loved this book. It does what novels can do so well which is take an interesting subject about a far away place in time and space – it is mostly set in a remote fishing village in seventeenth century Norway –  and turn it into a fresh, breathing creature that speaks to the world we live in today. 

The story can be described in sensational terms: after a storm kills all the men bar the Pastor, the women of Vardø have to fend for themselves. This is at a time when old traditions and the polytheism of Sámi beliefs (the Sámi historically have been known in English as Laplanders) still hold some sway but with a Norwegian King keen to enforce Lutheranism these old traditions and beliefs in addition to the enforced female empowerment of Vardø after the storm, leave the community open to charges of witchcraft. When a Scottish Lutheran is sent to rule over the area, and he brings his young Norwegan wife, Ursa, with him, Vardø will have a new kind of storm to face. This is without mentioning the strength of friendship that develops between Ursa and a young girl of Vardø, Maren. 

However, the story can also be described as a portrait of a community at that time. The subsistence living that flows with the seasons and relies upon the bounty of the sea, is a careful and quiet story. 

Into all of this, developing organically from the hardships that both young women have to face in a world built around men, is the story of Ursa and Maren. A visceral relationship you can feel so clearly that their future and the things they are prepared to do for each other has you spellbound.

Needless to say, the questions it raises about what people are willing to do in the name of religious belief and increased status and control, is painfully relevant to today.

It’s a great book that gets better and better as it goes on. Go Kiran Millwood Hargrave. I haven’t read her children’s fiction, but I can’t wait to read her next adult book. I definitely recommend preordering The Mercies. It comes out in January of 2020.

I’m reading Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann next but judging by its size, it may take me more than week. Let’s see!

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