Tuesday, April 28, 2009

REVIEW: The Tricking of Freya, by Christina Sunley

The Tricking of Freya, by Christina Sunley. Published 2009 by St. Martin's Press. Literary Fiction.

The Tricking of Freya, Christina Sunley's accomplished debut, is an addictive mixture of coming-of-age, family secrets and glimpse into the culture and history of Iceland. It was a treat from start to finish.

Sunley tells the story of Freya Morris, a young woman whose life with her mother, Anna, in a suburb of Connecticut, is punctuated by annual visits to the Canadian resort town of Gimli, the center of Canada's Icelandic immigrant population. It's also home to her mother's family and friends, chief among them her eccentric sister Birdie and her mother, Sigga. Birdie, a moody, brilliant and mischievous beauty whom nobody trusts, dotes on Freya and tries to instill in her a love for her Icelandic heritage. Freya alternately idolizes and fears her, so glamorous and yet so dangerous, so loving and yet so mercurial. Anna becomes disabled following an accident when Freya is little for which Freya will punish herself for years to come. She will also punish herself for the after-effects of a trip to Iceland with Birdie. Years go by; Anna passes away, and Freya grows up. Returning to Gimli for Sigga's one-hundredth birthday, Freya overhears an echo of a family secret and returns to Iceland to figure it out.

More than that I don't want to tell you. I really admire Sunley's writing in general; the tone is light but The Tricking of Freya is not a light read- Sunley covers some pretty dark territory concerning shame, mental illness and self-recrimination, and manages to do so in a way that seemed both psychologically real and gripping. There are some really harrowing passages but I never wanted to put the book down.

On the contrary, I had a great time reading The Tricking of Freya. I love the combination of a strong plot and character-driven drama, and Freya's first-person narration, with her own tricks and deceptions, works beautifully to bring the story to life. Sunley also delivers a lot of fascinating detail about Icelandic history, culture and language, all of which was new to me and added a lot of richness to the novel. Sunley makes heavy use of foreshadowing throughout the novel and although I started predicting the big twist early on, it still came as a surprise that brought tears to my eyes. There are actually lots of little twists here and there and Sunley fits them together skillfully in her finely-crafted, beguiling debut. And now I want to go to Iceland!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.