Place of the Heart by acclaimed Icelandic author, Steinunn Sigurðardóttir, is the product of a clear love for the author’s homeland, particularly the stunning and rugged Icelandic landscape as well as the author’s interest in detailing the dysfunctional and emotionally abusive relationship between a mother and daughter.
Originally published in Icelandic in 1995, Place of the Heart was translated into English in 2014. The novel garnered the prestigious Icelandic Literature Prize shortly after it was first published.
Set in the East Fjords of Iceland, the novel contrasts the relationship between Harpa and her teenage daughter, Edda, who has been involved with the wrong crowd. With the help of her childhood friend, Harpa’s mission is to pull Edda away from the pressures of the city and embark on a road trip of the East Fjords, despite much pushback from Edda. The journey allows Harpa to reflect on her own relationship with her dead mother, with whom we are introduced through conversations between the two.
The author’s love of writing poetry is very evident while reading the novel. According to her biography, after graduating from university, Steinunn had already published two volumes of poetry. This of course can be seen as either a positive or a negative thing, depending on one’s preferences when reading a lengthy novel with poetic elements.
I found Place of the Heart to be a slow and difficult read. It was challenging to know which character was speaking or what was simply an inner dialogue as a result of lack of quotation marks. The author used far too many unnecessary descriptions, which cluttered the book and took away from what the characters were saying. Sometimes, I would be so lost, I wouldn’t know what point the author was trying to make.
I very much wanted to enjoy the novel, but I found the lack of punctuation and the overuse of descriptive language to be a deterrent from enjoying it fully.
I found the plot to be interesting, since dysfunctional family relationships are relatable for most readers, and Steinunn’s background in studying psychology certainly contributed to the success of capturing the relationship between Harpa and Edda. Also, the description of the Icelandic landscape brought me back to my travels and has inspired me to revisit some of these places on my next trip to Iceland.
I would recommend Place of the Heart if you wish to undertake a challenging novel and enjoy artistic and poetic writing, coupled with descriptions of beautiful Iceland. However, if you’re looking for an easy, light read, this novel is not recommended.
Place of the Heart is available on Amazon Crossing.