The first post for today is a review of The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting, a historical novel in translation, which was one of those books that called to me and I ended up enjoying even more than I expected.
*Disclaimer – I received an e-arc via netgalley in exchange for an honest review*
Norway, 1880. In the secluded village of Butangen at the end of the valley, headstrong Astrid dreams of a life beyond marriage, hard work and children. And then Pastor Kai Schweigaard comes into her life, taking over the 700-year-old stave church with its carvings of pagan deities. The two church bells were forged by her forefather in the sixteenth century, in memory of conjoined sisters Halfrid and Gunhild Hekne, and are said to have supernatural powers. But now the pastor wants to tear it down, to replace it with a modern, larger church. Though Astrid is drawn to him, this may be a provocation too far.
Talented architecture student Gerhard Schönauer arrives from Dresden to oversee the removal of the church and its reconstruction in the German city. Everything about elegant Schönauer is so different, so cosmopolitan. Astrid must make a choice: for her homeland and the pastor, or for a daunting and uncertain future in Germany.
Then the bells begin to toll . . .
Translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin
The Bell in the Lake was one that I requested on a whim after getting an email about it, because there was something about the cover that just called to me, and I am glad that I did because it was a beautifully atmospheric read that ensnared me from the very beginning.
This book was that wonderful blend of historical detail, traditions and folklore contrasted against the swell of rising modernity, and beneath all that was the very human stories of the local populace in a period of change. It was a slow-paced book and set the foundations for a sweeping story across a broad canvas, and it did so beautifully. There was a fascinating level of historical detail, especially with regards to the Stave Churches, but also of rural life – both social and economic – of that time, and even better it never lost sight of the fact that this was a historical novel and instead used that basis in fact to build some truly vivid descriptions that pulled you firmly into the world.
The characters were wonderfully complex, vividly real and alive in this world caught between the past and the future, ancient versus modern, religion and folklore. You could easily imagine meeting each one of them, no matter how brief their appearance was. Astrid was a fantastic character, feisty and questioning, and you can’t help but become invested in her search for her place in this world, caught even more in the middle than the village itself was, she’s our key to the heart of the storm, and her story was incredibly powerful. I also enjoyed Kai and Gerhad as characters, and they were both a wonderful counterpoint and complement to both Astrid, but the village itself, as they brought not just modernity but the wider world into collision with the old.
The Bell in the Lake was a powerful, beautiful story and set against the harshness of the cold frozen landscapes of the far north, in rural Norway it felt a world away. Yet Mytting’s writing is so vivid that it felt very much as though I had been dropped in that time and location, and that I was part of that landscape, that history, and honestly, I couldn’t get enough of his writing, and I would highly recommend this book, and I look forward to reading the rest in the series.
The Bell in the Lake (The Sister Bells #1) – Lars Mytting – **** (4/5 Stars)
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.