The Eye of the Reindeer: Snow, Sanity and the Search for Self…

5

eye-of-the-reindeer

We readers know that it is super important to make sure you have the right book for the holiday season.  Something that won’t be over too quickly, that will take you on a journey (even if you have to stay at home) and will plunge you right into a new and unexpected world.  Today’s book does all of those things and more in an epic journey toward freedom of body and self, spanning more than 30 years.  We received The Eye of the Reindeer by Eva Weaver from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Shortly after her thirteenth birthday, Ritva is sent away to Seili, an island in the far north of Finland. A former leper colony, Seili is now home to ‘hopeless cases’ – to women the doctors call mad. But Ritva knows she doesn’t belong there. As biting winter follows biting winter, she longs to be near to her sister, and wonders why her father ever allowed her to be taken to this desolate place.

Hope arrives in the form of Martta, a headstrong girl who becomes Ritva’s only friend. Martta is a Sami, from the north. All through her childhood, Ritva’s mother told her wonderful Sami legends and tales – of Vaja the reindeer, the stolen sealskin, of a sacred drum hidden long ago. When Ritva and Martta decide to make their escape, this is where they will head.

So begins an odyssey over frozen sea and land towards a place where healing and forgiveness can grow. This is a story about friendship, about seeing the world through a different perspective, and the stories and tales that can make up a life.

Wowsers, what an epic!  I had absolutely no idea when I started reading this book that it would span such a long time period and feature an unbelievable journey, both in foot miles and in growth of characters.  Ritva is a young woman in 1913 when she is shipped off to Seili, an asylum set on an island in the freezing north, and home to women that have been deemed (correctly or incorrectly) difficult cases.  The daughter of a pastor, Ritva has long experienced strange dreams and visions, and it is only when she meets Martta, a young Sami woman imprisoned with her, that she discovers that her dreams may be related to legends of the Northern Sami people.  After a daring escape, Ritva and Martta are caught up in a journey toward physical freedom from Seili, and the emotional journey of dealing with family history, sexuality and who they really want to be.

The book is broken into a number of parts that correspond with certain legs of the journeys that the girls – and then later on, women – take.  The story begins with Ritva’s time on Seili and we are given certain glimpses into her past and the reasons why her father may have had her committed in the first place.  This family mystery continues throughout much of the book until it is brought to a shocking, yet satisfying conclusion about two-thirds of the way through.    After this, Ritva tries to carve out a place for herself to belong and untangle the pressures of expectation and desire that have weighed her down.

I haven’t read a book like this in quite a long time, if ever.  The Eye of the Reindeer is totally focused on Ritva as she faces incredible challenges throughout her life.  The pace is quite slow, despite the fact that the story begins in Ritva’s adolescence and ends after her middle age, and yet I found each section totally absorbing while I was reading it.  I think my favourite part of the book was Ritva and Martta’s escape from Seili, their unconventional modes of transport and the suspense of potential recapture set against such a hostile environment.  The setting in Scandinavia and the lands at the top of the world was so well described as to almost be a character in itself and I was fascinated by the details relating to the indigenous people of this region – the Sami – and their way of life.  The author leaves some notes after the story is finished about the Sami and their current predicament for those who wish to find out more.

This book certainly won’t be for everyone, given the depth in which it explores difficult subjects like abuse, abandonment and betrayal, and the slow unfolding of the narrative, and certainly isn’t one that, had I known in advance how hefty the story would feel, I would probably have ever picked up.  The atmosphere is quite tense in some parts and particularly gloomy in others, but for the most part there is an undercurrent of hope and determination that spurred me on to find out how Ritva’s story might end.  Overall though, I am so happy to have read Ritva’s story and was completely absorbed in her life as it unfolded.

If you have a space in your schedule in the next few months which could be filled with a vast, sprawling landscape and a young woman slowly picking her way towards truth over the course of an incredible life, then I would definitely recommend you have a go at The Eye of the Reindeer.

Plus, the author has a rhyming first and surname.

That’s always a bonus.

Until next time,

Bruce

ARC Read-it-if Review: Oblivion…

3

Morning all! Today’s offering is a new release YA contemporary that has a bit of crazy, a bit of amnesia and a bit of romance bundled into a chunky bit of story.  I speak, of course, of Oblivion by Sasha Dawn.  I received a digital copy of this title from Netgalley via the publisher in return for an honest review – thanks!

In Oblivion we meet Callie (short for Calliope), a teen girl with an odd little problem.  Callie has been diagnosed with graphomania, an involuntary compulsion to write, since she was found alone in an abandoned apartment feverishly scrawling the words “I killed him” all over the walls, the floor and herself.  Callie also has no memory of the night she was found or the time immediately before it, and this poses something of a problem for her, as well as others, because her memories of that time may just solve the mystery of the disappearance of her father and a young girl, Hannah, who have been missing since then.  With her mother in a psychiatric hospital and Callie living with a foster family, she’s having a tough time trying to fit in at her new school and keep a hold over her compulsion to write.  As the anniversary of the disappearances comes closer, Callie begins to remember more and more about the events leading up to her inital episode and all memories seem to point to some very sinister happenings.  With the support of new beau John, old beau Elijah and nearly-real sister Lindsey, Callie will have to face some very difficult times if she is to uncover the mystery of why she writes.

oblivion

Read it if:

* you like a book that has plenty of plot and a slow reveal to keep you wanting more

* you’re a fan of romance and love polygons in your YA fiction

* you can’t go past a sinister mystery involving amnesia, flashbacks and the masterful wielding of a red ball point pen

Okay, let me start with what I didn’t like about Oblivion.  Regular readers of this blog will know that I can not accurately be described as a fan of romance in YA.  This book had a lot of romance.  And insta-love.  And not so much a love triangle as a love rectangle (or square. Or possibly a rhombus).  Now, I don’t mind a bit of romance if it’s integral to the plot or it’s a bit quirky or it serves some other essential service in the story.  The romance elements in this book did none of those.  And they took up a lot of the book.  Along with the romance bits were a lot of normal-teen-problem bits with Callie’s group of friends drinking and engaging in random sexual activities.  And then there was even a bit about a big school dance.  I really couldn’t see the point of any of these bits, or the enormous amount of ink spent on them and in a book this long (and boy was it long!) dispensible plot points are just plain irritating and grounds for not finishing the book.

If I had not been in a situation in which I was largely immobile for about three hours, I probably would have abandoned the book because of the excessive length caused by random stuff that just didn’t need to be included.  As it was, I actually read this book in one sitting (which probably exacerbated the annoyances I felt about excessive length caused by random stuff that didn’t need to be included).

The other thing I really didn’t like about this book (and this might just be a personal quirk, so feel free to scoff at this criticism if you like) but the young male psychiatrist that Callie visits regarding her graphomania seems to me to sail very close to the wind of impropriety and unacknowledged counter-transference.  No actual immapropriate behaviour is mentioned, but there’s definitely something a tad unprofessional going on there.  As I said, this may be a personal quirk, but it seems that in lots of YA, psychiatrists are either portrayed as woefully ineffective and patronising, or just a little bit too interested in their patients (if you know what I mean *wink*) and this is a personal pet peeve.

Let us imagine however, that by some judicious stroke of luck, a copy of this book sans romantic bits and general teen fluff happened to land on my shelf.  If this were the case, I would give this book five stars.  If I discount the bits that I felt dragged the plot back, there’s not much to complain about with Oblivion.  In fact, it’s really rather good.  The premise is exciting and original, the mystery is complex and twisty and there’s lots of different elements – Callie’s mother, her flashbacks, where the girl Hannah fits in – that are woven together to form a very well-formed narrative.  It was interesting finding out about Callie’s graphomania and the circumstances in which it manifested.  It was fun trying to piece together Callie’s fragments of memory to try and solve the puzzle before the end of the story.  There were some really tricky red-herrings thrown in that added an extra layer to the puzzle of why Callie’s mother was locked away.

So overall, I did enjoy this book and there was plenty in it to keep me turning pages.  If, like me, you aren’t a fan of the (in my opinion) completely irrelevant romance and love polygon sections I would suggest skipping them as they come up, because it would be a shame to miss out on the intriguing mystery elements that Dawn has created here because of a bit of irritating filler material.

Oblivion is released on May 27th 2014.

Until next time,

Bruce

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