Source: Review Copy
Publication: 7th February 2019 from Michael Joseph
An isolated, windswept land haunted by witch trials and steeped in the ancient sagas . . .
Betrothed unexpectedly to Jón Eiríksson, Rósa is sent to join her new husband in the remote village of Stykkishólmur. Here, the villagers are wary of outsiders.
But Rósa harbours her own suspicions. Her husband buried his first wife alone in the dead of night. He will not speak of it.
The villagers mistrust them both. Dark threats are whispered. There is an evil here – Rósa can feel it. Is it her husband, the villagers – or the land itself?
Alone and far from home, Rósa sees the darkness coming.
She fears she will be its next victim . . .
Oh goodness but this is a sad, haunting story. Told from the perspectives of Rosa, a young woman brought up in a god fearing family where her father was the Bishop of Skaholt, and Jon Eiriksson, the bondi, or protector, of the village of Stykkisholmur, several days journey away.
Rosa may have been brought up to hold to the teachings of the Bible, but like all families thereabouts, she has heard the sagas and the stories of the runes and knows enough to know that secretly hedging your bets is never entirely a bad idea.
Since her father died, Rosa and her mother have lived a very meagre existence and so when Jon Eiriksson comes to ask her to be his bride, and offers to make sure her mother is well looked after from then on, she accepts. Rosa may have some trepidation, but she knows a good offer when she hears one and if this is not a love marriage, well, at least it is a marriage where she can and her mother can be fed, clothed and kept warm.
This is Jon’s second marriage; his first wife Jane, died in tragic circumstances and though there have been many rumours, nothing is actually known.
Rosa makes the decision herself. She is, unusually for women of the time, an accomplished reader. She knows the runes and she loves to write poems and stories. There are those in Iceland who see this as part of the old ways, a dark stain close to witchcraft which threatens god fearing communities. But as with all such stories, it is often what lies behind the rumours, the motives and jealousies of the rumour mongers that tells where the real dark hearts lie.
Caroline Lea conjures up a cold, bleak unforgiving Icelandic winter where it is all too easy for people to starve or die of cold and the whispers of village gossip can travel across mountains and echo in the valleys for all to hear. This is a bleak Iceland of mystery, runes, sagas and superstitions and above all an Iceland where knowing your place is what matters almost more than anything.
Lea’s story works because she brings her setting and her characters to life in beautifully written prose. As we watch the relationship between Rosa and Jon develop, we can see that it’s not what we, or Rosa, thought it might be. Yet it’s not clear quite what is going on. There is so much secrecy in Jon’s life and so much he hides from Rosa that it is difficult to work out quite what the narrative might be.
The Glass Woman is rich and rewarding – a beautifully imagined landscape full of mystery, incredibly melancholic and wholly engrossing. This is not a fast paced book; Lea takes her time making sure the atmosphere is right to portray the way in which the new is forcing out the old and the prejudices and superstitions of the past are making new rods for the residents of the future.
This is a harsh, sinister and sometimes brutal book, but it is emotionally wholly engaging, deeply immersive and utterly mesmerising.
Verdict: A haunting and sinister love story that captured my heart.
Caroline Lea grew up in Jersey and gained a First in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Warwick, where she now teaches on the Creative Writing degree. Her fiction and poetry have been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, the Fish Short Story Competition and various flash fiction prizes. She currently lives in Warwick with her two young children and is writing her next novel.