Published: 2010 (Picador)
Length: 368 pages
Source: Free review copy
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.
Other thoughts on The Tricking of Freya: Boston Bibliophile, The Book Nest, The Book Lady's Blog, My Random Acts of Reading, Pages Turned, S. Krishna's Books, A Little Bookish, Bloggin' 'bout Books, Rose City Reader, Book Bird Dog (Interview), A Little Bookish, Sophisticated Dorkiness
Any that I missed?