Thursday, July 1, 2021

Northernmost by Peter Geye

by Peter Geye
Published August 2020 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In 1897, Odd Einar Eide returns home from a near-death experience in the Arctic only to discover his own funeral underway. His wife, Inger, stunned to see him alive, is slow to warm back up to him, having spent many sleepless nights convinced she had lost both him and their daughter, Thea, who traveled to America two years earlier but has yet to send even a single letter back to them in Hammerfest, their small Norwegian town at the top of the earth.

More than a century later, Greta Nansen has finally begun to admit to herself that her marriage is over. Desperately unhappy and unfulfilled, she makes the decision to follow her husband from their home in Minnesota to Oslo, where he has traveled for work, to end it once and for all. But on impulse, she diverts her travels to Hammerfest: the town of her ancestors, the town where her great-great-grandmother Thea was born—and for some reason never returned to. Braiding together two remarkable stories of love and survival, Northernmost wades into the darkest recesses of the human heart and celebrates the remarkable ability of humans to endure nearly unimaginable trials.

My Thoughts:
Peter Geye quickly became one of my favorite authors when I read his debut work, Safe From The Sea; it was, by far and away my favorite book of 2011. In 2012, I read the first book in his Eide family series, The Lighthouse Road. The series continued in 2016 with Wintering. In Northernmost we have what would appear to be the end of the family's story, traveling back to the first Odd Einar Eide and the ordeal that made him a Norwegian folk hero. 

We sing of winter wonderlands but it's more often the harshest of environments and nobody captures that better than Peter Geye, both the brutality and the beauty of winter. He gives us the joy of a child laughing as snow flakes land on her face and her awe as a great lake freezes enough to walk out onto it. But we can also vividly hear the wind blowing through the gaps in a cabin's walls and understand how that unrelenting sound could make a person made. In Northernmost, we see winter in all of its forms - the tamed version where we have vehicles that are able to traverse easily along snowy roads and the untamed where Odd Einar fights for his life against both beast and nature above the Arctic Circle. 

Geye is equally as good writing about family relationships - between fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, our ancestors and ourselves. His books are always an exploration of those relationships - Odd and Inger, Greta and Frans, Greta and her father, Gus - as well as our relationship with the family that came before us. His characters are almost always complex and interesting. 

Kirkus Reviews says that Geye's choice to pair Greta's quiet struggle to find happiness and her own life against Odd's fight for survival is chancy but that "Geye maintains an elegant counterpoint between the two narratives so that the novel is equally satisfying whether it’s situated in the past or present." I'm afraid I was not as equally satisfied. I was far more drawn to Odd and Inger's storyline than I was to Greta's, perhaps because I couldn't summon empathy for Greta. She had married a man she wasn't sure she loved and stayed with him for 20 years; she was every bit as much to blame for the failure of their marriage as her husband. And Stig, the man Greta falls for when she travels to Norway felt too much like a set piece. 

I can't tell you how much this disappointed me because I had such high hopes for this book. Even a lesser book by Geye still has a lot to offer, though. His writing here is often poetic, there are some marvelous passages here and quotes to keep, and I love the way Geye uses words that challenge me (palimpsest, for example). Now I'll just look forward to Geye's next novel!


  1. This sounds a riveting story. I also like the two time lines and settings.

  2. I've read all of his books except for this one, which I was oddly declined for when the review copies came out. I like the way he tells a story and yes, the brutality of the setting usually takes center stage which for me, is so immersive since I've never experienced winters like the ones he writes about. Too bad this one disappointed though.

  3. I'm sad to hear this was disappointing. I've enjoyed Geye's work before.