The Blue Maiden

Grove. May 2024. 240p. ISBN 9780802162809. $26. F
Beata and her older sister Ulrika live on the Swedish island of Berggrund in 1825. A nearby island called the Blue Maiden, thought to be the home of the Devil, is an ever-present source of potential evil in their lives. Beata and Ulrika’s father, Silas, is Berggrund’s priest; their mother died when Beata was born. The girls run wild on the island, learning its secrets, while their father incessantly prays and repents for deeds that he keeps secret. Ulrika is capable, solitary, hard-working, while Beata is dreamy, clumsy, scattered. When an older man inherits a farm on the island, the girls believe that Silas is envisioning him as a husband for Ulrika, but the man chooses to marry 16-year-old Beata instead. Now, as a married woman, Beata is plagued by dreams and hallucinations and has several miscarriages. Ulrika comes to help with the household chores, until Beata produces a son. When he is old enough, Beata takes him to the Blue Maiden, where she literally finds her center. Through mysterious and musical prose, Noyes (Goodnight, Beautiful Women) delves into the folklore, paternalism, and superstition that keep women in their place, tied to the unforgiving religious beliefs of the time.
VERDICT A captivating Nordic gothic about a search for self.
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