Review: The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley

by Kim on September 21, 2010 · 39 comments

Post image for Review: The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley

Title: The Tricking of Freya
Author: Christina Sunley
Genre/Format: Fiction
Year: 2009
Acquired: From a publicist for review.
Rating: ★★★★☆

One Sentence Summary: Freya Morris is 30-years-old, haunted by a mistake from her childhood, and tracking down a family secret in Iceland.

One Sentence Review: The Tricking of Freya beautifully plays with language and storytelling in a book about the culture of Iceland and the challenges of immigration.

Why I Read It: I like fiction set in a specific place and fiction that helps me learn things, and this book did both because of its strong Icelandic influences.

Long Review: The Tricking of Freya starts out as a letter from 30-year-old Freya Morris to her unknown cousin. As a child, Freya grew up in Connecticut with her mother, Anna, the daughter of Icelandic immigrants to Canada. Starting when she was seven, Freya and Anna would spend summers in Gimli, a remote Canadian village where a town of immigrants settled, with her grandmother and “mercurial” aunt Birdie.

The story spins off in threads from there, with stories about Freya in Gimli, a terrible accident that nearly destroys her mother and takes away Freya’s childhood, and Icelandic lore and legends.

When I think about this book, which I enjoyed reading and had a hard time putting down, there are two things that stick with me: the beautiful use of language and the engaging and complicated story.

Language is one of the central points of the plot in the book, and one of the challenges Icelandic immigrants face in Canada. Freya is the descendant of one of Iceland’s greatest poets, something her aunt Birdie often points out. Birdie herself is a poet and loves the Icelandic language. She teaches it to Freya when she is a little girl, as well as many of the legends of Icelandic culture. Words are a way of connecting and interacting with a culture that Birdie is afraid of losing.

Sunley also has a good time playing with words and sentences – the book is full of lovely paragraphs and funny sentences, like this section just a few pages into the novel:

You can’t imagine not wanting it. Words live inside you, rearranging themselves in your mind like building blocks. A shy fly. A pig’s wig. This before you can spell or even write. When words are pure sound. Plants at a dance. A lonely bonely. Strings of words to make your mother laugh. But it is Birdie who says, You have an ear. A tongue.

Doesn’t everyone?

The Icelandic language is also important, both as a way for Birdie and Freya to connect with their culture as well as a way to explore the history of the country because the Icelandic language is such an important thing for Icelanders. Language permeates the story in a very cool way.

The other big thing I enjoyed about this book was the story. The different story threads blend together well, and even though Sunley reveals a lot in the first few chapters – the missing cousin, some upcoming terrible things that will happen – the book always feels like it’s going somewhere.

Different sections have very different feels to them – a childhood memoir, an adventure story, a mystery – and yet all the parts fit together cohesively. In a weird way, I kept thinking about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo when I read, even though the only real similarities are the Norse settings and the long-standing family secrets. It’s probably an odd comparison; I’m curious what other people who have read the book think.

In any case, The Tricking of Freya is an novel full of history, language, and terrific storytelling that I’ll be recommending to friends and family.

Other Reviews: Boston Bibliophile | My Random Acts of Reading | The Book Lady’s Blog | Book Clutter | The Book Nest | Leswammes’s Blog | S. Krishna’s Books | A Little Bookish | Amy Reads |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Lu September 21, 2010 at 6:31 am

I’m definitely interested for this one for its setting… and I happen to love the name Freya. Beautiful language? Count me in!

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Kim September 22, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Lu: Icelandic is a beautiful language; there’s a lot of it in the book that was fun to read.

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Amy September 21, 2010 at 6:58 am

I’ve reviewed the books here (http://amckiereads.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/review-the-tricking-of-freya-by-christina-sunley/). I also really loved the use of language throughout the book, it was so beautiful!

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Kim September 22, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Amy: Thanks for leaving the link – I’ll add it to the review.

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Carin B. September 21, 2010 at 9:02 am

Oh I’m so glad you liked this book! I thought it was really good as well! To me, it was a book that was to be savored so it actually took me about two weeks to read it. It wasn’t only the Icelandic language that I loved (which haha, I don’t understand at all) but the writing in the book was beautiful. I gave my copy away to another blogger so that word could be spread about this book, but I think I might end up buying it someday so I can reread it.

If you are interested in my review, you can read it HERE.

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Kim September 22, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Carin B: I think is a book that could be savored. I just got so absorbed in the mystery that I wanted to know what was going to happen. I also thought the writing was beautiful, especially the way the two languages mixed together.

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BuriedInPrint September 21, 2010 at 9:51 am

This sounds really interesting; your description recalled Vendela Vida’s Let the Nothern Lights Erase Your Name (although that’s Lapland-set, rather than Iceland), but I know you mostly read non-fiction, so you mightn’t care for her novel despite the thematic and language-use similarities…

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Kim September 22, 2010 at 6:53 pm

BuriedInPrint: Thanks for the recommendation. I enjoy fiction with the qualities this book has – language, history, and a sense of place – so I think I could enjoy that one too.

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S. Krishna September 21, 2010 at 10:39 am

I reviewed this book when it was released in hardcover and really liked it. I’m so glad you enjoyed it as well, I hope more people read it!

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Kim September 22, 2010 at 6:53 pm

S. Krishna: I hope so too! I like reviewing older books (this isn’t that old, really), to remind people how good they are.

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Amanda September 21, 2010 at 10:39 am

Sadly I had a really hard time getting into this one. :/

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Kim September 22, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Amanda: That’s too bad! I was absorbed right from the beginning, but to each her own :)

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Kate {The Parchment Girl} September 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm

I love how you write a short review and a long review. I wish I could express myself so effectively and concisely.

This sounds like an excellent book! I haven’t read much fiction set in Icelandic culture, but that part of the world has always fascinated me.

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Kim September 22, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Kate: I think it’s good practice from writing headlines and leads from news stories. You learn to be concise. That said, some of my one sentence summaries/reviews are better than others :)

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bermudaonion (Kathy) September 21, 2010 at 12:57 pm

This sounds wonderful to me. I love good storytelling and immigrant stories.

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Kim September 22, 2010 at 6:56 pm

bermudaonion: I think you’d like this one a lot!

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Shelley (Book Clutter) September 21, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I love that quote! Thanks for the link–I’ve added yours to mine.

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Kim September 22, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Shelley: The book was full of things I wanted to quote; just lovely.

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Trisha September 21, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Oddly enough I’m reading this review right after reading a review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Must be fate!

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Kim September 22, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Trisha: Funny! I don’t think it’s a very good comparison, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it :)

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Care September 22, 2010 at 6:07 am

So the author isn’t Icelandic? After reading that book on Geography of Bliss, I’ve been curious about Icelandic art.

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Kim September 22, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Care: I can’t remember… I don’t think so? She might have some Icelandic heritage though.

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softdrink September 27, 2010 at 7:27 pm

I think you’re right…she has relatives in Iceland, but isn’t Icelandic herself. There are some beautiful photos of Iceland on her blog.

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Kim September 28, 2010 at 7:42 pm

softdrink: Thanks for the clarification :)

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Suzanne September 22, 2010 at 6:52 am

This book sounds interesting — though I must point out that Gimli is not THAT remote and quite a beautiful little town.

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Kim September 22, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Suzanne: Thanks for the note on Gimli. I’m not familiar with it, other than how the author talked about it in the book.

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Stephanie September 23, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Ok I was already considering reading this one and then I saw that you compared it to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and now I am convinced I have to read it!

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Kim September 25, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Stephanie: I don’t know how fair the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comparison is; there isn’t any murder in this one. It was more just the Nordic mystery aspect of it, the sense of place. I’ve actually not read any of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books, just saw the Swedish movie, so I could be totally off with the comparison!

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Kimberly Hosey (Arizona Writer) September 23, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Nice! Now I’m interested in both this and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I have not yet read.

I was also intrigued by the setting; it sounds like it really evokes a good sense of place. Always appealing.

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Kim September 25, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Kimberly: The book does create a deep sense of place, which is I think why I compared it to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Like I told a previous commenter, I’ve just seen the movie, so when I was reading the book it evoked similar imagery to me.

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Marie September 25, 2010 at 3:42 pm

I love books that are tied to a place. Hello, TBR list!

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Kim September 27, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Marie: I do too; place books help satisfy my urges to travel all over the place.

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Lisa October 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm

I really found this book unique and loved learning about the new culture and a new country. But can I just say that I swear I was cold the entire time I was reading?!

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Kim October 3, 2010 at 11:03 am

Lisa: Lol! The book does an amazing job creating a sense of place; I felt a little chilly too.

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Christina Sunley October 7, 2010 at 6:58 am

Wow — thank you all for this marvelous discussion thread! I just returned this week from my honeymoon on a Greek island — quite a change from Iceland, where my husband and I went on a book tour in June. (For anyone interested, you can find the link to the Iceland book tour blog, with lots of amazing photos, on my homepage at http://www.christinasunley.com.) And I too am a big fan of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Just to clarify, I’m American of Icelandic descent – my mother’s parents were Icelanders. My grandfather left Iceland after a major volcanic eruption in the 19th century.

Kim, thanks so much for the review and instigating this lively discussion. Now I need to hunker down and get my next book finished!

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Kim October 7, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Christina: Thank you for stopping by to leave a comment! I’ve always wanted to go to Greece, so I’m a little jealous that’s where you’ve been. Thanks for the clarification about your ancestry. I sort of remembered it from the book, but was a little too lazy to look it up. Good luck with your next book – can’t wait to read it.

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