Have mercy! Our latest reading group saw an animated discussion of The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. A dramatic historical work set in the 1600s on a remote Norwegian island, the book takes us through how a community of women survive after all of the men of the island perish in a storm. When a new governor and his wife arrive to take charge on the island, the story turns to suspicion, witch hunting, love, friendship, and the plight of a woman who dared to wear trousers and fish. Our main protagonist, Maren, shows us her life on the island, coping with the deaths of her father, brother and fiancé. We see her friendship with Kirsten, and relationship with her mother and sister-in-law (a Lapp- woman, almost universally disliked and facing huge racial prejudice within the community). We feel her despair, and fears for the future. Then, when Absalom Cornet arrives from Scotland with his young city dwelling wife Ursa, we watch as Ursa and Maren develop a relationship which gives them both comfort and hope. Not to give away the ending, but there are a few plot twists that kept us reading, and at least one event that made this writer at least, gasp.
The group mostly enjoyed the book, although some felt the end was a little rushed, and wanted more exploration of what happened to the characters at the end of the story. Our historian suggested there were some modern touches to the story which jarred a little, and the majority of the group agreed. However, we still relished the story and loved that it was telling the world from a female point of view. We were outraged at the injustices that the women faced simply for being women, and felt there was a certain justice in the ending.
There were characters that we found one dimensional, but we accepted that they were there to move the story along, although we’d have liked more depth to some of them. We found similarities in setting and tone to some previous reading group reads- The Sealwoman’s Gift and The Familiars, which gave us some frame of reference for the Scandinavian setting, and the treatment of women suspected of being witches.
All told, this was a good read for us, many would recommend it, and we could imagine it being made into a movie. Some of our group absolutely adored it, with one rating it as their favourite read yet!
Our next read is The Windsor Knot- a bit of a change in pace! Details of the next reading group meeting time and date will be released soon- check out our reading group page for more information.