The minute I began reading, I was immersed in the small town of Butangen, Norway, hundreds of years ago. I read of the conjoined twins whose father, Eirik Hekne, had the Sister Bells cast in their honor. The bells were forged of bronze and silver, for Eirik threw into the melting pot not only all of his silver cutlery, but two fistfuls of silver coins. Was he being wasteful? Perhaps not, as the bells were cast from his fortune, but also in grief and longing.
Few Felt that silver was better spent on church bells than on barns, yet they took it as a reminder that hardship was easier to bear than sorrow. (p. 124)
I read that Norwegian nights are “coal-black in the winter, filling even the stoutest heart with fear.” I read of the stave church, built of wood in the 1100’s, embellished with the heads of dragons. The door of the one in Butangen was once surrounded by a carved serpent and decorated with Nordic symbols. It is in such a church that Kai Schweigaard has come to pastor, that lovely Astrid Hekne visits with elderly Klara Mytting. It is in such a church that Klara dies in the bitter cold at the edge of her pew, against a wall, during one service. Her death causes Kai to wonder how his parishioners’ needs can be better met by the church.
The painter Johan Christian Dahl, made a professor in Dresden, aroused interest in Germany over Norway’s culture, especially the stave churches. The churches were dismantled in Norway where they were no longer wanted, and rebuilt in Germany, thus preserving their historic value. Each beam, each stave, each plank of the medieval church must be carefully recorded so that it could be accurately rebuilt in its new home.
And so, a young German artist named Gerard Schonauer is sent to Butangen to draw the church, to fulfill the architectural plans that have been set before him. But, he was not sent to fall in love with Astrid. And certainly not to leave the bells in their native village in Norway instead of being taken to a new, unfamiliar home in Germany.
The bells seem to have a mystical power of their own, almost personifying the sisters for whom they were named. They have an uncanny way of ringing unexpectedly, or falling suddenly; they seem to know where danger lurks.
He (Astrid’s grandfather) started to talk about the powers of the Sister Bells. “They do nay ring for pretty things. They donae ring to warn of forest bandits or a little earthslide. They ring when folk mun wake up and choose wisely. Or to warn of a disaster as they did in 1814.” (p. 124)
While it might be easy, in theory, to take down a church, the German officials do not understand the power of the Sister Bells any more than they understand the church was originally a house of worship containing far more than wooden staves made from the tallest pines of the forest.
I can’t do this, Gerard said to himself. Nobody can. If the church is taken down it’ll never be made whole again. There’s more here than I can ever understand. The most important thing of all, an inner essence, will disappear when we demolish it.
But another anxiety gripped him too. An anxiety that had started when, on that first day, he had heard the church bells. Now he got the distinct feeling that they disliked him They were somewhere above him, where they lived, free in the air, in fragile balance. (p. 129)
Creating bells that are as real as any character may seem an extraordinary thing to write about. But, they took on a presence that stood for something. More than being merely powerful bells of bronze and silver, the Sister Bells stood for tradition. For superstitions. For two sisters, their father, and the bond made in a small Norwegian village between a young woman and the two men who loved her. It is an atmospheric book, of powerful proportions, that fully transported me to Norway in the nineteenth century. I cannot stop thinking about what I have read, pondering the history, the religion, and the sacrifices made within these pages.
Lars Mytting, Norway’s bestselling novelist, is the author of Norwegian Wood. His books, which have sold over 1 million copies in 19 languages, have won the Norwegian Bookseller Prize and have been shortlisted for the prestigious Dublin IMPAC Prize, among others. The Bell in the Lake has been sold in 12 countries and was a #1 bestseller in Norway.
- Imprint: The Overlook Press
- Publication Date: September 29, 2020
- Price: $27.00
- Trim Size: 6 x 9
- ISBN: 978-1-4197-4318-4
- EAN: 9781419743184
- Page Count: 400
- Format: Hardcover
- Rights: North America
- Additional formats: Ebook