I'm wondering how many of you have managed to embrace and enjoy (if that's the right word) the current round of Nordic dramas on TV??
The Killing, Borgen, The Bridge, Trapped ...are you on it and following them??
We haven't and I sometimes wish we had because everyone raves about them, it's a bit like sulking and sitting out on a party that you really want to go to. I think it's the subtitles that seal our non-compliance, I really can't get on with them and Bookhound even less so...he's asleep within minutes.
All this will have to change if Ice by Ulla-Lena Lundberg, and published by Sort Of Books, ever makes it onto our screens. It's not crime, it's not gloomy, it's not a thriller, it's not a psychological drama...it's post-war life on a remote Finnish island, and I would want to watch every single minute.
In the first instance, I am quoting the resume from Sort of Books website because it would be far too easy to give away spoilers and this will hopefully remind not to..
"It is the summer of 1947. A novice Lutheran priest, his wife and baby daughter arrive at a windswept island off the coast of Finland, where they are welcomed by its frugal, self-sufficient community of fisher folk turned reluctant farmers. In this deeply atmospheric and quietly epic tale, Lundberg uses a wealth of everyday detail to draw us irresistibly into a life and mindset far removed from our own – stoic and devout yet touched with humour and a propensity for song. With each season, the young family’s love of the island and its disparate and scattered inhabitants deepens, and when the winter brings ice, new and precarious links appear. Told in spare, simple prose that mirrors the islanders’ unadorned style, this is a story as immersive as it is heartrending."
Young Lutheran priest Petter Kummel, his wife Mona and their fourteen-month-old daughter Sanna arrive on the remote Örland Islands where Petter will take up his ministry. The resourceful, self-contained and hard-working islanders are friendly and welcoming, almost grateful that someone wants to fill the posting, and whilst Mona is more reserved Petter's heart soars with joy as the organist plays Cappelen's "Prayer" (adagio) at his first service.
This was a real teaser because I was suddenly desperate to listen to it but can find next to nothing anywhere about Norwegian composer Christian Cappelen or any recordings by him. But it all demonstrated that by page fifty-eight I was completely immersed in this quietly different novel. The personalities and the various factions present in any tight-knit community slowly start to emerge, the old feuds and disagreements that are never quite forgotten surface and Petter must learn to balance on a tight-rope if he is to be accepted. It is a complex weave of simple threads, human nature reduced to the basics, little seems to happen and yet a lot happens.
Any member of a clergy family would recognise the life; the tensions and the contradictions, the conflicts between tradition and change along with all the distractions and the demands that a community can make on a priest's life. Seemingly married to his community as well as his wife, Petter finds it hard to refuse any requests for help, for counselling or for listening, and with all the challenges of the weather, the intense cold and the isolation to contend with, as well as all the layers they need to wear, well life will be hard for Mona.
'They are all bundled up to the teeth...the whole family a hymn of praise to the native Finnish sheep.'
Petter's ministry develops in his own inimitable style...
'He's more inclined to wish them the freedom of a Christian soul. The freedom to be unharassed, untormented, untroubled...'
...and he realises that the Örlanders have 'opened the path to Christian fellowship for him much more effectively than he could have done it for himself.'
And with it the couple's marriage grows too, and please don't be put off by any overtly religious themes to this book, they sit comfortably within the whole and at no time did I feel uncomfortable or beaten around the head by them.
Now it does say 'heartrending' in that resume I quoted so I don't think it's a spoiler to tell you that I doubt I have read many books of late that give me 244 pages of ice-laden but happy idyll, before suddenly sending a little chill through the pages and into my mind...and I start to feel a bit uneasy.
I have a quiet word with Ulla-Lena Lundberg.
I rarely read a book where I don't want anything to happen, but I realise I'd like to get to the end of Ice and would be satisfied with a bit more sledging across the ice and some more skating, and babies and a nice harvest festival, and more of that lovely Christmas passage...lots more hygge and woolly jumpers in fact and then let's all go home.
Of course, I won't tell you whether I was hygge-fied to the end or not, but I can tell you that Ice proved to be an epic story of community and family, a stunning and compelling read (and clearly a wonderful translation by Thomas Teal). I have put this book straight up on the Special Books shelf. If anyone asks me to recommend a Good Read, Ice by Ulla-Lena Lundberg would certainly be on the list.
As Petter also wishes for his congregation these words I would wish for anyone...
'A road you travel in daylight, with a burden no greater than you can bear.'
I had just come back from New Zealand when I read this and there was one little place that resonated in my mind.
The Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo.
It is a highly popular tourist venue except at sunrise it would seem, so I was fortunate enough to have it to myself (apart from about a million rabbits) even if it was too early for the church to be unlocked.
Meanwhile If you have read Ice I would love to know your thoughts...
If you haven't, and don't want to buy it, maybe ask your library to stock it.
And any more good ice-laden reads to recommend...
Even if it is warming up here I could squeeze a few more in before the last frost.