NB’s Recommendation for the month of July is the brilliant The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. What better way to introduce the novel, than through words from the novel’s Editor, Sophie Jonathan, Editorial Director at Picador:
The Mercies begins with a storm. On Christmas Eve, 1617, the sea around the remote Norwegian island of Vardø is thrown into chaos. As Maren Magnusdatter watches, forty fishermen are lost to the waves, the menfolk of the island wiped out in an instant. Vardø is now a place of women.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s novel had me mesmerized from the first ‘finger snap’ of that storm. The Mercies is inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1620 witch trials in Norway, and with those tragic pieces of history as her starting point, Kiran has written about the way suspicion can twist its way through a community, about fear of the female, and about a love story that may prove as dangerous as it is powerful. The Norway of these pages is brutal and beautiful, fascinating and strange – a place written into the skin and souls of its inhabitants. As for our protagonists, Maren and Ursa (the young wife of Absalom Cornet, who arrives in Vardø in order to bring the place to heal), their gentle strength and daring and their devotion to each other are perfectly pitched and their voices continued to ring in my ears months after I first read The Mercies. These are women you will wish to know, these are injustices you will be furious about – despite the 400-year distance from the true facts of what happened, the story Kiran tells feels acutely exciting and painful. I wouldn’t dare spoil the ending, but I will say that the last few pages of The Mercies, as love and danger peak simultaneously, are staggering. Ultimately, The Mercies is a breath-taking novel: written in prose that sings and dances, and impossible to put down.