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Summary

A Richard & Judy Book Club pick summer 2021
The Sunday Times Bestseller and BBC Radio 2 Book Club Pick 2020

The storm comes in like a finger snap....

1617. The sea around the remote Norwegian island of Vardø is thrown into a vicious storm. A young woman, Maren, watches as the men of the island, out fishing, perish in an instant.

Vardø is now a place of women.

Eighteen months later, a sinister figure arrives. Absalom Cornet has been summoned to bring the women of the island to heel. With him travels his young wife, Ursa. In her new home, and in Maren, Ursa encounters something she has never seen before: independent women. But where Ursa finds happiness, even love, Absalom sees only a place flooded with a terrible evil, one he must root out at all costs....

For listeners of Circe and The Handmaid’s Tale, Kiran Millwood Hargrave's The Mercies is a story about how suspicion can twist its way through a community, and about a love that could prove as dangerous as it is powerful.

©2020 Kiran Millwood Hargrave (P)2020 Macmillan Publishers International Ltd

Critic reviews

"Beautiful and chilling." (Madeline Miller, author of Circe)

"Took my breath away." (Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring)

What listeners say about The Mercies

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Transported back 400 years to Vardo

A slow and sensitive account of women and men of the past. How beliefs, so absurd, could bring about the senseless torture and death of innocence.

The narrator was wonderful and has a brilliant knack for accents. Wonderful performance.

12 people found this helpful

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Scandinavian magic

Started this book because it took my fancy off the back of Stacey Halls- The Familiars, it covers some similar themes, witch-hunts in the 1600’s and persecution of women trying to do their best in difficult circumstances. What drew me in was the idea of an entire Scandinavian island devoid of men due to a horrific storm, how the women coped in such a desperately sad situation in a hostile environment. It is only when the male characters start appearing do things start deteriorating and the small society starts collapsing inward with fingers being pointed. A wonderfully descriptive tale with a beautiful relationships between women made this an incredible listen. Jesse Buckley who narrates deserves a medal for her accents and atmospheric delivery, wonderful winter to spring read!

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Fabulous

The writing (and narration), transported me to another time and another country. I saw their lives, understood their motivations, lived inside their heads. The absolute cruelty and brutality of the men pitted against the women's realities. The collision of the women in their own doom. It is a superb piece of writing and narration and I couldn't stop listening. The narrator uses enough accent to bring the women's names and the places alive, the research is impeccable. I loved it.

8 people found this helpful

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Mesmerizing

The tale is beautifully told. The narrator masters the Norwegian prononciation of place names and characters which is crucial.

6 people found this helpful

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Hauntingly beautiful story.

Fell in love with book. Wonderful read. Read it. very special book. nuances and nothing I didn't like. I will read it again. A real gem.

4 people found this helpful

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Wonderfully descriptive

I loved this book. The story is powerful and gripping and the narrator tells it brilliantly.
At first I found it hard to get my head around the pronunciation of the names and places but I soon had my ear in and the names were tripping through my head between the times I listened.

4 people found this helpful

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Fascinating

As a Norwegian I found this book very interesting and all credit to the narrator for making a real effort to pronounce Norwegian names and words!
A grim bit of history made in to a good fictional story.

3 people found this helpful

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Kiran is a master story teller

From the first words it was gripping and vivid, the characters coming alive. Not characters in a novel, but real identifiable women, no matter that they lived 400 years ago. They were so real, i was worried about what was going to happen to Ursa when I wasn't listening - that is something that has never happened to me before! Beautifully read as well. This is one of those stories that will stay with me because I felt it so deeply and cared.

3 people found this helpful

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For most of this book nothing happens

35/40 chapters are observational. There are 5 chapters where an actual story takes place at the end. I would've abandoned it after the first 5 if it were not my book club selection. Frustrating because the story at the end was compelling but rushed and no real lead up to the events.

2 people found this helpful

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Atmospheric story set in 17th century Norway

There’s no doubt that The Mercies has real atmosphere with its dramatic opening scenes and the sense of folklore and traditions handed down through generations that runs through it. The author really conveys the hardships of living in such an inhospitable environment. The daily tasks carried out by the women of the community are described in detail: butchering reindeer meat, baking bread, foraging for herbs or birds’ eggs, preparing and sowing skins into garments. Following the loss of the men of the village, Vardø becomes a community of women forced to fend for themselves in ways some consider ‘ungodly’.

If you’re looking for male characters with any admirable qualities you’re going to be disappointed, the exception perhaps being the captain of the ship that brings Ursa to Vardø. In particular, Ursa’s husband, Absalom Cornet, is cruel, brutal and unfeeling, convinced he is doing God’s work by rooting out witches. His fanaticism is chiefly directed at the Sami people, such as Maren’s sister-in-law Diinna, but it doesn’t take much persuading for some members of the community to turn on any of those who are different or whose ways they don’t understand.

After the drama of the opening chapters, I found the pace of the book lagged a little as the focus moves to charting the gradual development of the relationship between Maren and Ursa from dependence, to trust, to friendship and affection. Indeed, it’s only in the last quarter of the book that the events leading up to the witch trials are introduced. When they are, there are some truly chilling scenes.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Jessie Buckley. I thought her narration was excellent and, although I’m no expert, her pronunciation of the Norwegian names sounded convincing to me. On the other hand, because many of the women in the village had names that sounded similar, I did find it a challenge to remember who was who on occasions. Perhaps this is a case where it would have been easier if I’d seen the names written down.

I can see why The Mercies has received such critical acclaim even if I couldn’t quite share the same overwhelming enthusiasm myself.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Needles
  • 08-07-21

"Clawth"

"Clawth"
That's how the narrator Jessie Buckley pronounces the word cloth. Which seems insignificant, except when it's uttered about every 30 seconds. The narrator's weird mis-pronounciations and "Norwegian" accent only make this rather turgid book more unenjoyable.
The subject of witch trials in a wildly remote part of Scandinavia is darkly fascinating but I think there’s deeper understanding of this to be gained from the Zumthor/Bourgeois installation at the site of the trials than from this novel. To say there are a number of plot-holes is putting it mildly, overall this just feels turgid, and after not much happening for the first 150 pages, it then lurches awkwardly towards an ending that feels both lazy and melodramatic.