However, one afternoon something strange happened to the sky, and when the sky not only goes dark but also strange and is low and hard to read, this is a sign in itself, a sign of the worst.
The people on the island do not make the rules. The weather makes it for them, and they must cope accordingly.
Young Ingrid has an infectious laugh. She laughs all the time, until she goes away from the island to school. There, the first thing she learns is to swim; she also learns her alphabet and her numbers and sees herself in a big mirror for the first time.
You are not allowed to laugh in the classroom, for three reasons, the teacher counts on his long, thin fingers: it is disruptive, it is infectious and it looks stupid…Ingrid doesn’t understand what he means. Not being allowed to laugh when you need to is like being deprived of a leg. But life is hell, she does learn that at least, so she stops laughing and starts crying instead.
I am learning about a country of which I am ill aware: Norway. The open space must be wonderful, the sea’s power terrible, and the work arduous beyond belief. Just staying alive, and warm in the Winter, takes every day’s efforts. But, there is a certain beauty in a job well done, as only experienced, wind-chapped hands know how to do.
A correctly constructed peat stack is not only beautiful, like a man-made eye-catching attraction in the countryside, it is a work of art. A slapdash, hastily built stack, on the other hand, is a tragedy, which reveals its true nature at the worst possible moment, in January, when they wade through the snow with hand-woven baskets on their backs and discover the peat to be encrusted with ice, frozen rock solid.
I loved reading about this family on their island, catching and salting the fish, rowing the færing into the Trading Post on the mainland, caring for one another, as well as unexpected children who come their way. Jacobsen gives us a magnificent picture of life in Norway, but even better, to me, is the portrayal of family. Which need not be related by blood.
He also includes themes of dreams and regret, courage in the face of adversity, and how to survive the loss of something you aren’t even aware is being taken away from you.
This is yet another splendid book in what is proving to be a very powerful long list.
The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen
Translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw
Published by Quercus on August 16, 2017