By Rachel Gray and Shridula Singh
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers reviews of The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops by Shaun Bythell.
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a brilliant historical novel set during the 1600s on a remote Norwegian island. After a deadly storm on Christmas Eve wipes out all the menfolk of the island who are fishermen, the women are left to fend for themselves. With the arrival of a sinister figure, who is sent over by Scotland to take control of the island, the tight-knit community become suspicious of one another and loyalties are broken. According to the author, this novel was inspired by the real life witch trials of 1621 and she succinctly weaves an atmospheric tale of womanhood, of sexual suspicion and of grief.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave is known for her children’s novels, this is her adult debut. This novel is so beautifully written, the prose is lyrical and magical, and every sentence was a delight to read. The details and depth that is included in the descriptions Hargrave gives, creates such an absorbing novel that I felt myself being drawn further and further into the tale.
The setting of this novel is an island called Vardo, a small fishing village. The island is cold and dark, and the author does a wonderful job of creating this atmosphere of darkness. The womenfolk are left to survive without their main income with no fishermen, and this desperation and anxiety really pervades through the entire novel. As a reader I could really feel the tension and strain these women were experiencing during the novel.
I also loved the characters within this novel. The women are an eclectic mixture of personalities and I was fully engaged with them throughout. Maren and Ursa are two of the main characters and are two completely different and fully developed people. The relationship that develops between them is so tenderly and sensitively written.
I really enjoyed The Mercies so much. This is an atmospheric historical novel, the feeling of creeping tension is cleverly written and never lets up throughout the entire story. I couldn’t put this novel down, I was so wrapped up in the story of these women and their desire to survive and thrive on their remote island.
Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops by Shaun Bythell
Who doesn't adore bookstores? We have all visited a bookstore at least once in our lives, for various reasons and with a variety of individuals. This book is for everyone because after reading it, you will be able to identify a friend or yourself in those you read about in it. The author, who runs a bookstore, has put his heart into this book with years of experience and anecdotes from his life while working in a bookstore.
Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop in Wigton, Scotland's largest second-hand bookshop. Prior to this book he is the author of two books published by Profile Books: The Diary of a Bookseller (2017) and Confession of a Bookseller 2019. This time, back with another entertaining and funny third novel in the bookstore series, a short and straightforward read that can be finished in a day.
If you, like me, enjoy sitting in a bookstore and observing the customers, this book is for you. The book may not be for everyone because it is a dry comedy, and some may find it a touch egotistical and caustic, but if you can take humour with your chin up, you should absolutely read it.
Bythell has drawn inspiration from his favourite writers, such as Roy Harley Lewis, who stated in the Introduction section of David & Charles, 1978, that "the role played by antiquarian books in the world trade is, financially, quite insignificant." If you continue reading, you will encounter many more quotations, or paragraphs by other notable authors. The work is thoroughly researched and written, with clear prose.
This is the ideal stocking filler for all of your book-loving friends and family this holiday season. So, if you haven't read the book yet, go to your local bookstore and consider buying it there instead of ordering from Amazon. Support your local bookstores since they are treasured in our community.