In the Month of the Midnight Sun by Cecilia Ecback

in-the-month-of-the-midnight-sun

Rating: ★★★★☆

In the settlement on Blackåsen Mountain, one of the natives has slaughtered three of the settlers.  The reason behind this act is unknown, and he hasn’t spoken since being found at the scene, neither protesting his innocence nor offering any explanation.

In Stockholm, the Minister asks his adopted son, Magnus, a geologist, to investigate the crime and to interview the perpetrator, as well as to survey Blackåsen Mountain, rich in iron deposits.  As he leaves, he is given a third task – to take his sister-in-law and the Minister’s youngest daughter, Lovisa, with him on the journey north as punishment for an unspecified transgression.  The two journey north, yet when they arrive, they find the settlers reluctant to talk, their behaviour strangely threatening.

Set in 1856, In the Month of the Midnight Sun is told from three alternating viewpoints: Magnus, Lovisa and Biija – one of the natives to the region, who has left her tribe and come to Blackåsen, their traditional winter camp, following the death of her husband.  They form a somewhat unexpected alliance, as they seek to solve the mystery around the murders, whilst also mapping the iron rich mountain.

Of the three main characters in the novel, it is the two women, Lovisa and Biija that I liked the most.  Magnus I found to be a little frustrating, and very much of his time, in that he seems to rather futilely hope that Lovisa will somehow miraculously start to behave as (society believes) a young woman should.  He continuously underestimates her, even when she proves to be more observant of the village and its inhabitants than he is.

you don’t respect women… You look down on us.

Lovisa isn’t immediately likeable, however, and is presented as a confused young woman, outcast by her father for an (initially) unnamed transgression.  She comes across as both troubled and troublesome, and it’s apparent that she is perceived as being difficult by her family.

I misbehave, face repercussions, but something or someone saves me, time after time.

Proud, privileged, attention seeking and something of a petty larcenist (despite her well to do background) she initially comes across as being quite unlikeable, yet Lovisa has her own strengths, and I found myself warming to her as the novel progressed.  Under previously inexperienced hardships, her pride manifests itself as a determination to succeed, and I admired her perseverance.

Biija is quite different to Lovisa.  Part of the Sami tribe, her nomadic nature means that she has little concern for material possessions.  She is quiet and observant, and understands more of what is going on than Magnus and Lovisa.  Through Biija, the reader is able to explore the theme of two separate cultures integrating, and the inevitable fallout this brings, as Christianity has little time for older, alternative belief systems.  I loved her descriptive names for those around her, such as Bear (Magnus), which I found to be both humorous and accurate.

In the Month of the Midnight Sun is clearly well researched, yet Ecbäck doesn’t use this to overwhelm the reader with details.  She has successfully struck the balance between using her knowledge to subtly enhance the story without resorting to information dumps.  I loved her taut prose which successfully evokes the wilderness around Blackåsen Mountain.  I loved the observation that man seeks to dominate nature, and the personification of nature as a person being mistreated:

People are not supposed to look at mountains the way Bear does.  He strips it, embarrasses it.

Whilst ostensibly about a murder mystery, In the Month of the Midnight Sun has much more going on, and is a complex novel that encompasses many themes.  Somewhat reminiscent of Burial Rites, In the Month of the Midnight Sun is an involved and thought-provoking novel which I thoroughly enjoyed.

In the Month of the Midnight Sun is available to buy now.  Many thanks to Veronique Norton at Hodder & Stoughton for providing a copy for review.

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