Review – The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.


Hello Book Lover,

There are books which sometimes you know will be your kind of book, so I will let you into a little secret I rarely ask for books from publishers, I am on bloggers lists but I tend not to ask for a book directly. I broke this self-imposed rule for this book, I had heard a few mumblings on Twitter about a book which if you liked Burial Rites and The Glass Woman would be one that you wouldn’t want to miss, Burial Rites is one of my favourite books ever, so instantly my books senses were all a tingle and I knew I had to get my hands on it. So, I put my big girl pants on and asked the lovely Emma @bookbreakUK if there would be any chance of a review copy – To my absolute elation and astonishment, (it still feels a little bit like magic), a copy arrived on my doorstep several days later.

‘The Mercies’ ticks all of my bookish boxes –

Cold Desolate Landscape   √

Strong Women in a Matriarchal society  √

Witches and Witch trials  √

Stunning, atmospheric writing  √

‘The Mercies’ is the perfect book to curl up on the couch with a big cup of tea and a blanket, Karen Millwood Hargrave’s writing is splendid immediately transporting you to this cold, desolate Island with an eerie undertone. I felt a bit blindsided by the book in the way that a really good film just hooks you in and for those two hours you are there in it. ‘The Mercies’ had the impact upon me, for those two days, it consumed me.

‘The Mercies’ is split into three distinct parts; The Storm, The Arrival and The Hunt – just a quick side note I loved the art work for each part, particularly Storm, it was stunning. The book begins on Christmas Eve 1617 on the remote Norwegian Island of Vardo, as the women say goodbye to their fathers, sons and brothers who are about to set out fishing, the 40 men and the boats are swallowed up by a horrendous storm, which has ramifications for the whole island and the life which the women had been so accustomed to.

Maren lost her father, brother and her fiancé in the storm, she is left living with her mother and her sister in law Diinna. I love a book which explore relationships, Kiran Millwood Hargrave deftly explores a whole range of relationships within ‘The Mercies’, those between a mother and daughter, husband and wife, friends as well as an exploration of the development of relationships.

The relationship between Maren and her mother, has been significantly damaged since the storm, her mother grows bitter and a void begins to open between them, Maren is unable to make sense of her mother’s behaviours and her inability to live in the present. Added to this dynamic, her sister in law Diinna, is pregnant and finding it difficult to come to terms with the death of her partner, she begins to seek solace in herself, she doesn’t talk to Maren like she used to and a rift grows between Diinna and her mother in law. Diinna is seen as different to the other women in the village, she is ‘Sami’, so when Diinna begins to turn to her non-Christian beliefs for comfort; runes, wind weaving she doesn’t care who in the village is aware, causing the rift to widen further.

We are introduced to Ursa, who is from a wealthy family living in Bergen, having lost her mother at an early age, she lives with her father, a boat maker and her sibling Agnete, whom she is very close to, she operates almost as a nurse for her bedridden sick sister, her father rarely visits the girls only to say goodnight. Ursa’s world is turned upside down when her father arranges her to marry, Commissioner Absalom Cornet, originally from Scotland, he and his new wife are sent to Vardo to root out all non-believers. Cornet’s behaviours are brutal and unrelenting as he seeks approval and admiration from his peers, this leads Ursa to become more distant from her husband particularly when she finds out over a dinner party how he had ‘disposed’ of a young girl who was accused of being a witch.

As Cornet and Ursa move into the village, the women living on Vardo who were once so close begin to fracture in two, those who attend the Kirke and those who do not observe Christian traditions. What was once a quiet settlement now becomes a place of contempt, suspicion and unease. The tension in the writing is wonderful, between the two groups of women. I particularly enjoyed the character of Kristen, she was my favourite character in the book, I loved how she was the cause of and broke the tension at the same time. I like to think that we all have a bit of Kristen inside us kicking out against the Patriarchy and system.

Ursa soon gravitates to Maren and seeks solace in her, she provides a place of warmth comfort and familiarity which her husband is unable to provide, he is cold, distant and mechanical in his touch. Ursa and Mareen could both be described as naive but in different ways, Ursa has no concept of the outside world, unable to complete tasks such as baking bread, cleaning the house she is at a loss of her new tasks as a wife. Mareen on the other hand, seems older than her years, able to turn her hand to most things, savvy on her approach to the harsh weather but lacks the understanding of how life outside Vardo’s works and how quickly her world could soon fall apart. The development of their relationship is one which I thoroughly enjoyed reading, while I was reading it I was willing for things to happen, for these two to find a way.

The final few chapters are seared into my brain, some of the most heart-breaking and tenderly written sentences, I was blown away by the tension which Kiran Millwood Hargrave managed to build and also by the powerful imagery she was able to conjure throughout ‘The Mercies’ and the final few chapters were the pinnacle of this work, I just absolutely adored this book.

A huge thank you once again to Emma from BookBreak for seeking out a copy for me to read, I am incredibly grateful and I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you enjoyed Wolf Winter, Burial Rites or The Glass Woman, you definitely need to hot foot over to a book shop and get your mits on this incredible book. The Mercies is out now and is published by Pan Macmillan.


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