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The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

In a remote Norwegian island, a sea-storm has wiped out 40 fishermen. As Maren watches the sea swallow all the men including her brother and father, the women are left to fend for themselves. As their days pass in a lull, haunted by the ghosts of those drowned in the reckless storm, the women learn to carve a life for themselves until three years later a sinister figure arrives at Vardo, uprooting their very existence. Absalom Cornet has arrived from Scotland, where he has built a kind of a reputation of burning witches. He is accompanied by his wife, Ursa, who is young as much as naïve, unware of the man she has married, and clueless about life in Vardo. 

Soon enough, Absalom demands for strict adherence to his rules. He believes Vardo to be possessed by witches, where women who roam freely, and run entire houses on their own, are untouched by god. Ursa is terrified of her husband’s authority and utterly lonely till she finds solace in Maren. Absalom’s growing power and blind belief by some women of Vardo lead to a devastating result. 

The Mercies is a feminist story of the threat women pose even when they’re just existing in their own skin, of how unchecked power and systemic oppression has led to abuse and ostracization of one gender. It’s a reflection of how rumours  and hearsay can have catastrophic results. Kiran’s writing is hauntingly beautiful; it’s visually appealing in a sense that I could smell the sea breeze, feel the force of the waves as they crash and submerge in a rhythm, and the way the women powered through despite gut-wrenching loss.

By Shumaila Taher

I am Shumaila Taher, editor and writer.
I exist in between the pages of a book.

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