Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone

Oh, my goodness. Where do I start? I loved this book. It was quite marvellously immersive... one of those books that just pulls you in, making everything and everyone around you disappear so that you need to come up for air every now and again to make sure you're still part of the real world. I picked it up this morning to add it to my "on the shelf" list for the blog template, then started reading and next thing I know it's 8 pm. Where did my day go?

This novel is the story of Gudrid of Iceland, who lived a thousand years ago and accompanied one of the Norse expeditions to North America. She is credited with giving birth to the first European born on North American soil, was married to a brother of Leif Eriksson and comes alive in this novel as a hardy, pragmatic, independent woman. The novel itself is actually set in Rome, where Gudrid, as an old widow, has come for a final pilgrimage and meets Agnar, a young priest who has been asked to transcribe her remarkable story of travel "beyond the world" to what we think of as North America (archeological evidence seems to indicate that the settlement's location was in Newfoundland). Most of the story is told by Gudrid to Agnar, the silent transcriber, with occasional entertaining asides as she talks to him about their "present" lives in Rome and about her wish to return to Iceland before her death. This is punctuated by evocative third-person descriptions of specific moments, memories of Gudrid's life.

I have no idea how factually based this book is, but that hardly matters... what matters is the vivid beauty of the writing, the way that Margaret Elphinstone made this woman come alive and made her experiences, so different from my own, seem familiar. Go, read this book! And be sure to let me know what you thought of it.

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