The Tricking of Freya by Christine Sunley
Published by Picador, an imprint of Macmillan
Over one hundred years ago, Freya’s grandfather left Iceland, because of the disruption caused by volcanic ash, and moved to Canada, his family eventually settling with other Icelandic families in Gimli. Now, it is Freya’s turn to move away from her past. After the deaths of her aunt and mother, she has not been able to bring herself to return to Gimli and the only family she has left. Instead she lives a lonely, uprooted life in New York City. Until her grandmother’s 100th birthday, when Freya finds herself back in Gimli, if not exactly by choice. This will turn out to be a fortuitous visit, however, as Freya overhears mention at the party of her aunt’s baby, a child she had no idea existed, one who was take away from his or her unwed mother and given to a ‘good family.’ Freya’s resulting search for this long-lost cousin forces her to reexamine both her personal past, and the history of her family.
Dear “The Tricking of Freya,” I just wanted to let you know that I love you. I mean, I really love you, a lot. And, to be honest, I’m not sure that this will be a very coherent review, or really do you justice, so I’m just going to mention some of the things that I love about you.
First, and most evident throughout the book, was the language. I absolutely reveled in both the writing and the integration of Icelandic terms. Sometimes when foreign languages are woven into a story they feel forced, but this was always authentic and added depth, reality, and a sort of coziness to the story. Related to this, was the heavy emphasis on the subject of reading and language throughout the book. I loved the celebration of literature that was such a cultural issue for both the people of Iceland and those who had emigrated from Iceland. Books where everyone loves reading and literature just give me the warm fuzzies.
Next, I think that the way Sunley wove Icelandic history, cultural, and lore into “The Tricking of Freya” is a textbook example of how to do it right. Never did I feel that I was being treated to an info dump, Sunley simply needing to get out everything she had learned while researching her own past. Instead, I learned absolutely scads about the physicality and psychology of Iceland and Icelanders in ways that were absolutely natural to within the context of the story. Since I love learning new things, particularly about cultures with which I am not particularly familiar and hate overly expository writing, this was a big selling point for me.
Mostly, though, I just adored Freya’s voice. It didn’t matter whether she was directly addressing her cousin – the vast majority of the novel is meant to be read as a letter that Freya is writing to Birdie’s unknown child – or reminiscing about her childhood and time in Gimli. Everything about her voice just absolutely resonated with me, enough so that it didn’t matter that I found her a somewhat unsympathetic adult initially. Some people will have issues with this part, I think, since she occasionally addresses “you,” as in her cousin, but also as in the reader. This didn’t bother me at all, since the entire thing is meant to be her letter, and I thought it added a certain heartfelt quality to the whole thing.
Oh, and the plot was great too. So many things came together so well, without making any of it too neat and tidy.
This is getting a place on my permanent shelf, and perhaps in my re-read rotation, and I highly recommend that you read it, because I did not want to put it down, so great for it was my love.
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