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.
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.
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!