And the Swans began to Sing by Thora Karitas Arnadottir – Imagery and relationships in Iceland

This unusual book tells of many things, family, traditions and the names of loved ones going back many generations. There is, however, a more than underlying sadness and sense of fear to this book which reflects one of the evident reasons for its creation; the abuse of the narrator. It has a strange beauty of the names and setting of the family in which she grew up, a rhythm of family life in a small community where the generations intermingle with good and bad effects. It is an extraordinary book, lyrical yet overwhelmingly sad.

The book opens with the assertion that “Stories heal the soul”, and it seems that recounting her life history, and that of its setting, will bring healing to her soul. It is a small country, and her grandfather is a notable figure within it, so that the possibility of revealing his true nature is difficult, if not impossible, for a small girl. She must endure as she grows up in a community and indeed a family house dominated by her grandfather’s duplicity. This book succeeds because it records faithfully the small details of family life and a strange house which seems to have evolved rather than been built. It brings out some of the pain, physical and mental, of being attacked repeatedly, and the lack of opportunity to report what has happened. The rather confused narrative give glimpses of the lasting effects of abuse, and the sheer time it took to open up about her pain.

I must confess that I got a little confused about the generations and relationships detailed in this book, combined with a little uncertainty about the names which is an important element of the book. The horrific nature of the abuse is not detailed so as to be overly distressing, but there is a subtle linking of objects and clothing to attacks which is compelling. Also fascinating is the after story when the family member is encountered in various ways. Returning to the site of the family home is a touching event in the book, as what survives is a memory of a mother’s love for her child. This is not an easy read, and there are some confusions, but it is essentially a painful account of a true situation. The imagery of this slim book is incredible; the concept of the swans singing the grief of the narrator is a powerful link to a life which sometimes defies description.


As you may have noticed, I have been putting up quite a few posts over the last week or so for blog tours, and now there is a pause. Having said that, I am looking forward to reading and reviewing some Christmas themed books as I know that some people enjoy reading them during December. I have  prequel to A Christmas Carol to come, as well as another British Library Crime Classic. Meanwhile, there is a Christmas Crib display to wrestle with, as well as piece of work for my M.A.  Busy times!