Time’s Tide is an affecting novel; an insightful take on the relationships between fathers and sons across three generations of the same family. It is also about the connection to the land, to home, the sense of belonging that tugs on the heart strings of the exile (voluntary or forced). From the beautiful rugged descriptions of landscape to the subtle and perceptive observations on relationships this is a powerful and gripping read. Beautiful and haunting.

The novel opens in 1958:

“On other days, the sea would crash into the hull, tower over the gunwales, threaten to suck the boat below; it would howl and rage, but today even the man’s breathing, pulling in time with each twist of the oar lock, was muffled only by the low sky.”

On a calm night Einar and his family, wife Jóna and son Eiríkur, are returning to the home they abandoned six years before, Hesteyri. Glæta the cow begins to produce milk again, clearly she missed the land too. But this is the place where Eiríkur’s brother, Ólafur, died and his memory haunts the family. Eiríkur explores the Hornstrandir peninsula on his own as his father rebuilds their home, his mother seems content. Yet the loss of Ólafur shapes the relationships between the surviving family members – loving but joyless.

2008, Arni and his wife Charlotte are getting ready to celebrate his 39th birthday in Cambridge. Arni can’t help thinking about his father, Charlotte has anglicised his name, calling him Eric, which he finds irritating. He is sure that Eiríkur is not coping well since his mother died. Arni misses her too, but he left the family home seventeen years ago, long before his mother died. Arni diligently gets the children talk to their granddad on the phone but his detachment is obvious and it unsettles Arni. Even though he has a good life, Arni feels the pull of his home, the place he originally left for Reykjavik when he made the decision to further his education/career. A generation before Eiríkur had stayed in Hesteyri with his father, Einar, rather than leave.

The story of the three generations of the family is told through specific years; important events, turning points; births, deaths, marriages, career opportunities, exile. A picture of the family emerges; the things they say and don’t say, of the changing attitudes of the generations, the impact of social change and the pull of the city/wider world, marriage and career development. Arni will return home but will it be too late to rekindle the relationship with his father? Time’s Tide is a tale of grief, poignant in what it reveals about the inability to communicate when we need to talk most. It’s also a vision of a fading world, inevitable change – and the human capacity for survival.

From the opening description we are aware of the desolate beauty of the Hornstandur peninsula, the awesome force of nature and its grip on the people, and the sustainability of their subsistence lifestyle. Time’s Tide is a saga, a story of a family, but one that also reflects on a thousand years of history, of the symbiosis between the people and the land.

This is a novel I didn’t expect to get as much from as I did, but I suspect it will stay with me, haunting me, for some time to come. Elegantly written, Time’s Tide is a powerful evocation of family, belonging and of place. It’s a story that will echo across rural communities around the world. The Icelandic experience depicted is not unlike that of the decline of the crofting community in Scotland.

Paul Burke 4/4

Time’s Tide by Adrian Harvey
Urbane Publications 9781912666232 Mar 2019