Monday, September 6, 2010

The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley

Author:  Christina Sunley
Published:  2010 (Picador)
Length:  368 pages
Source:  Free review copy
Author website

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5

"Winter in Iceland, Freya min, was much longer and darker than here. . .Dark day after long dark day the Icelanders were trapped inside.  How did they stand it?  They read.  Members of the household took turns reading out loud by the smoky glow of a lamp lit by whale oil:  sagas and poetry and the Bible and newspapers and any books they could get their hands on.  Books were passed from farm to farm.  The name for these evening readings was kvoldvaka, meaning evening-wake.  In Iceland in winter, words took the place of light" (pg. 64).

A reverence for literary tradition and a love of words are apparent in this debut novel about a young woman driven to discover a long-hidden family secret.  Freya's curiosity about her Aunt Birdie's past distracts her from an isolated and rather dismal life in New York and invokes memories of Gimli, a village in Canada where she spent summers with her captivating, bipolar Aunt.  The search eventually leads her back to Iceland, the site of a traumatic event in Freya's childhood.  While discovering about her ancestors and Icelandic history and mythology, Freya learns even more about who she is and where she comes from.

There are so many layers to this novel--when I finished I was impressed with how subtly they were all woven together.  It's a lot to pack into one book, but Sunley pulls it off well (although summarizing is difficult!)  I also loved the virtual trip to a place I will probably never go.  The descriptions of Iceland are breathtaking.  There's a definite sense of being "there."  The stark setting and tragic story pair together perfectly.

The writing was unique (to me)--at times poetic, but almost always quite readable.  The only exception to this was the first chapter, until I could wrap my head around the fact that she is addressing a cousin that she has discovered may exist.  It was a little unsettling at first, but I calmed down a bit when I realized she wasn't talking to me.  (I don't like a narrator to pay too much attention to me.)

The first line is "You want a bit of Birdie?"  At first I wasn't so sure that I did want a bit of Birdie, but  I soon got into the rhythm of the book and by the end I can say that it was satisfying to learn more than a bit about Birdie, as well as Freya, Freya's mother and grandmother, not to mention a whole new Icelandic vocabulary that is a whole lot easier to pronounce than the name of the volcano (Eyjafjallajökull???) that erupted earlier this year in Iceland. 

Any that I missed?


  1. Sadly, I didn't end up being able to get into this one...

  2. Shelley, thanks for the link love. This book had so many levels. I thought about it for a long time after I read it. I hope the author will write another book about Iceland. I enjoyed learning about that country.

  3. I have an award for you HERE

  4. I had a hard time getting into this one, too, although it had a lot of interesting elements to it. I've never read anything about Iceland before, so I enjoyed peeking into its culture and landscape a little bit. Anyway, my review is here:

  5. Amanda,
    It was a little rocky for me at first, so I can see why you couldn't get into it.

    That would be great if she wrote another book about Iceland, although I read in the back this one took 8 years to research and write. We may be waiting a while!

    Thanks for the award!

    I can't believe I forgot to add your link because I was even thinking about it when I was writing this post! I've added it now.

  6. Great review. I enjoyed this book a lot. Here is my review on Rose City Reader. Let me know (in a comment on my review, so I can find it) if I can list your review on mine.

  7. Rose City Reader,
    I added your link. We definitely had similar thoughts regarding the beginning. It is a bit awkward.

  8. This is a book that has stayed with me much longer than I expected it to. Shortly after I read it, I saw a music video set in Finland and it was exactly as I had pictured from reading the book!

  9. I loved this book. I thought her writing was so beautiful, and the story and setting were amazing. I have a friend who has been to Gimli and she told me it was really nice. I actually spent time looking up some of the places she mentioned in Iceland too just because it all sounded so amazing.

    I didn't figure out the mystery for a little while in the book either. I sent my copy to someone else for review, but I think that this might be a book I'd reread at some point. I love your review and I'm glad you liked it!

    Here is my review of The Tricking of Freya if you are interested.

  10. Lisa,
    It has stayed with me as well, especially the setting.

    Carin B.,
    Maybe I'll make it to Gimli someday, but I won't hold my breath for Iceland. If only there was time and money to visit all the wonderful settings in books. Thanks for the link!

  11. I loved this book...I felt like I was visiting Iceland along with the characters.

  12. I really like this book too, especially the trip to Iceland and all the layers of language in the story.