From Norway to Smuttynose Island

A number of years ago, my brother and his now-wife had summer jobs on Star Island off the coast of New Hampshire. Geoff led nature walks on a neighboring island, Smuttynose, which, although part of the same group of islands, is actually part of Maine. Smuttynose is mostly known for two things: there is a microbrewed beer named after it, and there were a pair of grisly murders there in the late 19th century. My most recent read continues a new theme for me, apparently, i.e. Orange Prize nominees based on real-life 19th Century murders. This one is The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve which was shortlisted in 1998. A great deal of the book also takes place before the murders in Norway, from which the murdered women immigrated, and thus the book is doing double duty as my Norway read for the Around the World Challenge.

Here is my Goodreads review:
The Weight of WaterThe Weight of Water by Anita Shreve

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Weight of Water, Anita Shreve tells a story of pain, jealousy, and passion. Her characters and their closest relationships–with siblings, with partners–are trapped in isolated and claustrophobic spaces. Shreve tells the story of the murders of two Norwegian immigrant women on Smuttynose Island off the coast of New Hampshire in the late 19th century. She explores the 19th Century events in the context of a contemporary photographer’s trip to the island to capture the location for a magazine story about the killings. The photographer travels to the island in a small sailboat with her husband, daughter, brother-in-law and his girlfriend. In the course of her research for the photo-shoot, she happens upon a previously unknown document, a letter from the one woman in the family who survived the killings. Shreve alternates sections of this letter, which describes what led up to the murders and what happened on the night they occurred, with the main structure of the book which moves fluidly between the interactions among the family of the photographer and the details of the history of the murder as it was revealed in the trial. In this way, Shreve allows the painful unfolding of events in the two different eras to play out alongside one another.

The book is well-written, with effective pacing and moving detail, but the writing is not, in the end, remarkable. I enjoyed the book, I’m glad to have read it and would recommend it, but it never took my breath away. If three and a half stars were an option, that would be my true rating.

July to October Goals:

  • Orange July 1 2 3
  • Around the World: Africa: 1, 2 Asia 1 South America 1 2 3 4 5 6 Other countries 1 2 3 4
  • 1001 Books 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
  • Nobel: July Aug Sept
  • Pulitzer: July Aug Sept
  • Great Africa Reads: July Aug Sept

About Beth Parks Aronson

I am Associate Professor of Psychology at Lamar University. Previously, I was a psychologist in private practice in Jenkintown, PA where I specialized in anxiety disorders and working with people living with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. I am a little addicted to good literature. Ok, a lot addicted.
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