A young woman caught in a loveless marriage faces dangers real and imagined in 17th-century Iceland.
The second novel by Lea (When the Sky Fell Apart, 2016) follows naïve young Rósa, who marries Jón, the rich but troubled leader of a village many miles from her home, in order to provide for her sick mother. Once installed in his home, she labors alone for most of the day with housework and is often deserted by Jón at night. Shunned by most of the villagers, she is befriended by a couple of the older women, who overcome their fear of Jón to teach her about life in the village between the sea and volcanic mountains and tell her disturbing stories about the sudden death of Jón's first wife. When Rósa hears strange noises from a locked attic at night, she starts to wonder how safe she is. The book is charged with the dark energy of the Icelandic Sagas and the country's bleak proverbs, which provide epigraphs for its chapters. Lea effectively communicates the isolation and dangers of the landscape in which the story unfolds as well as the tension between Christianity and the Nordic religion it attempts to supercede. Written primarily from Rósa's point of view, the novel also occasionally shifts to Jón's. While some readers may find the novel slow going and may chafe at a romantic subplot involving Rósa's too-good-to-be-true childhood sweetheart, who follows her to her new home, Lea uses an unusual setting to good effect, amplifying the impact of both an alluring but hostile landscape and a closed society on a vulnerable young woman. Without diminishing the mythic impact of the novel, she closely and sensitively examines the more ordinary psychological challenges her characters face.
A haunting novel delivers chills.