An immersive story about the lives of a close Norwegian family as they cope with growing-up, ageing, work, tragedy and the vicissitudes of the weather on their sparse life. Contemplative and humane. You will put the book down feeling like a family member and have an odd longing to visit the island.
The story, translated from Norwegian, follows fisherman/farmer Hans Barroy and his family over a number of years. Hans lives with his father (Martin), wife (Maria), daughter (Ingrid) and sister (Barbro) on the eponymous isle of Barroy.
I was unsure what to expect when starting this book and suspected that the bucolic existence could be marred by some form of violent tragedy. This isn’t that type of book, however, but I soon fell into the peaks and troughs of their lives.
Jacobsen writing is thoughtful and peaceful, I very much enjoyed the state of calm that I felt when reading. At first nothing much seems to happen but then I realised that plenty happens but it is simply the narrative that takes away some of the sharp edges of events, both good and bad. You feel the happiness and suffering of the Barroys, but not in a shocking, melodramatic way.
The island and the sea are important parts of the book. The island is under a kilometre from north to south and half a kilometre from east to west. The seasons and the tides are massively important to the Barroys. The sea brings treasure but also ‘fragments of distant lives, testament to opulence, laxity, loss and carelessness, and misfortune which has befallen people they have never heard of and will never meet.’
The joy of the environment is obvious, as are its dangers
Jacobsen will sometimes focus on small or odd experiences. For example, when Ingrid is taught why the ‘carding’ (cleaning) of Eider-down is important, or when a cat is carried away by an eagle.
The language of the Barroys is translated into a colloquial English which, in part, reads like Yorkshire dialect. The meaning is never lost though.
The characters are thoroughly believable, all with their own particular strengths and foibles. Ingrid starts in the book as an infant and, in some respects, grows into the most important and strong character in the book. She is a survivor, it is a lifestyle that makes no allowance for the feint-hearted.
This is a book that takes you on a journey of years and engenders moods and an odd form of nostalgia in the reader. A book I would thoroughly recommend.