Book Review: Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss

Book Review: Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss

*contains a few spoilers (sorry I couldn’t resist)

Iceland has always held a unique fascination for me. Driven by a love for Sigur Rós and Björk, along with the vague romance of going to a remote and icy place. In Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss, you get to actually explore the nuts and bolts of what it’s like to temporarily relocate with your family to Iceland for a year, along with theincredibly evocative and compelling writer Sarah Moss. This is a no-holds-barred look at how it would be to move from the domesticity and predictable English countryside to Iceland. I love that the author Moss has not glossed over the shadow side of the culture there, and Iceland and its people are fully explored with both compassion and also a clear-eyed view and a talented writer’s eye for detail.

If you are (like me) a bit obsessed with going to Iceland, this book will be real eye-opener for you and may actually make you less likely to want to go. My favourite parts were the stirring and slightly creepy descriptions of the landscape in mid-winter.

“The sea is silent. There are are no birds. Most of the sun is below the lava field now, and the eastern sky is darkening…we come down to the shore. There is no movement in the sky or along the beach because the sea is frozen. Instead of waves there are grey slabs, piled up against each other like fallen gravestones, from the black rocks of the beach to the dimming horizon. I hadn’t thought this would happen, hadn’t understood the movement of the water and the light, the rise and fall of the waves, the shifts between lapping and pounding, the coming and going of the tide could simply stop.” ~ Names for the Sea, Sarah Moss.

What you will learn about Iceland

  • In fashionable kindergartens – Icelanders, prefer to educate their young children in a gender-neutral way. In other words “feminine” traits are encouraged in boys, and “masculine” traits are encouraged in girls. Which is vaguely terrifying.
  • It is ridiculously cold and bleak for most of the year there and you cannot go outside. Nobody walks, everyone drives.
  • You cannot buy anything second-hand there.
  • You can’t get fresh fruit and vegetables for a portion of the year. A lot of things simply run out of stock there.
  • They eat a lot of whale blubber and meat preserved in fat or salt.
  • Icelanders drive like maniacs and they have an issue with fatal car accidents there.
  • You will always be an outsider or foreigner if you come from another country there. But not in a bad or racist way.
  • You can’t very easily grow flowers or plants there.
  • There are no trees.
  • Icelanders are independent and trusting and they let their kids roam around without discipline from the time they can walk – because there are no trees and nowhere to hide and everyone knows everyone there – so what could ever happen?
  • The landscape and its dangers are enough to make children toe the line. As a result of their freedom, children learn to be responsible from a very young age.
  • Many Icelanders believe in elves and the ‘hidden people’.
Book Review: Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss

Anyway, suffice to say I’m not interested in going now. Which may sound like a bummer, but at least I just saved myself some Kroner. Back to the book – this is an incredible journey and you the reader will feel as though you are perched on Moss’ shoulder the whole time along for the ride. It’s a fabulously entertaining, evocative and interesting ‘warts and all’ journey into the the heart of a mysterious and isolated country and a fascinating culture. 4*/5

This book is definitely worth a read. If you have read this book or are interested, let me know what you think.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss

  1. I’m going to buy this! Went to Iceland for a few days at the end of July, beautiful flowers around the hot springs in Fluδιr, but maybe similar to landscape in NZ, it was v expensive, survived on pasta and cereal bars 😂

    1. How interesting Jane, overall what were your impressions from your trip. Yeah I heard that food is super expensive in Iceland, Sarah Moss talks about that in her book as well, how it’s impossible to get certain fresh fruit and veg there during winter months. It must be an island thing, being isolated from the rest of the world, as New Zealand is is pretty pricey for fresh fruit and veg as well. One thing I loved about Scotland was how cheap all of that was! I think you will really enjoy this book, let me know what you think. xxx

  2. Did you ever watch ‘Trapped ‘? A big bear of a policeman named Henrik rooting out corruption and murder in Iceland in the depths of dark winter. The landscape and elements play a starring role. They are not alluring or attractive. But thanks for noting the book Catnip. It sounds very well-written.

    1. Trapped…I have heard of this and I think it;s only a streaming TV channel we have here in NZ, so I am going to check it out, thanks for the tip Kev. Love the Nordic Noir vibes 🙂 Some British Noir set in Scotland or the north of England has the same spooky and wintery vibe too. The show Shetland comes to mind!

  3. OMG Sigur Ros- of course!!!!!!!! Forgot to mention them myself. What an image! AmAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. They are such a great band, I saw them live in Auckland and they didn’t disappoint with their live show 🙂

  4. I am going to get it. IMMEDIATELY. AD- let’s go together to Iceland- a group of women only! We will reconnect with our inner witches. x

    1. I am so keen Gosia. I always wanted to hike around Iceland during the summer, what a way to reconnect to our inner selves and inner power eh, and what an adventure 🙂

  5. To be honest Gosia this book is more of a deterrent for visiting Iceland, it doesnt; really sell it’s appeal. Although I am sure it has that in spades. I have been leaning more towards getting a time share villa in Croatia or something and just lying in a pool and eating wood-fired pizza and pierogi, how does that sound? hehehe

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