*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’.
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.