Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Place Of The Heart by Steinunn Sigurdardottir

Place Of The Heart by Steinunn Sigurdardottir
First published in Icelandic as Hjartastadur in Iceland by Mal og menning in 1995. English language translation by Philip Roughton published in America by AmazonCrossing in 2014.

One of my WorldReads from Iceland and my Book Of The Month for May 2018

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £8.53 (audio CD)
Wordery : from £8.99 (PB)
Waterstones : unavailable
Amazon : from $1.36 / £1.00 (ebook)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Single mother Harpa has always been a misfit. Her physical appearance is unique among Icelanders: so small she self-deprecatingly refers to herself as a dwarf, so dark-skinned she doubts her genetic link to her father, so strange she nearly believed the children who mistook her for a mythical creature of the forest. Even as an adult, she struggles to make sense of her place in the world.

So when she sees how her teenage daughter, Edda, has suffered since the death of her best friend, Harpa sees no choice but to tear her away from her dangerous social scene in the city. She enlists the help of a friend and loads her reprobate daughter and their belongings into a pickup truck, setting out on a road trip to Iceland’s bucolic eastern fjords.

As they drive through the starkly beautiful landscape, winding around volcanic peaks, battling fierce windstorms, and forging ahead to a verdant valley, their personal vulnerabilities feel somehow less dangerous. The natural world, with all its contrasts, offers Harpa solace and the chance to reflect on her past in order to open her heart.

The second contender so far for May's Book of the Month, Place Of The Heart is a very different novel to A Spoke In The Wheel, and I loved its gorgeous descriptions of Icelandic landscapes. Harpa, her daughter Edda and their friend, Heidur, drive across the south of Iceland on a route that Dave and I partially took during our Icelandic holiday several years ago now. Having seen the astounding countryside up close myself, I was captivated by Sigurdardottir's descriptions and explanations of what I had seen. I was also captivated by her story of these three women trying to get themselves to Harpa's homeland without practically murdering each other on the way.

Place Of The Heart is the third of a trio of dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship books I have recently read (after Craving and Ponti) and it is my favourite of the three. Harpa narrates her own story and I appreciated her sense of humour. As a mother, she is consumed with worry over her teenage daughter's delinquency, but she takes a wry view of how they have come to this situation. Self-depreciating and occasionally whimsical, Harpa imagines conversations with her own now-deceased mother and agonises over having left her father in Reykjavik in order to rescue her daughter. She also has to come to terms with a family secret that has always been in the background.

This review is starting to make Place Of The Heart sound a depressing novel, but I didn't find that to be the case at all. Edda's outbursts are shocking, but amusing just the same. Heidur and the Aunts are wonderful creations too. I don't think this novel will appeal to everyone, but if you like lots of description and intriguing characters then this might be a good fit.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Steinunn Sigurdardottir / Contemporary fiction / Books from Iceland


  1. I’ve never heard of this book, but Iceland is a fascinating place. I really want to go there someday. I love books about dysfunctional relationships and books with lots of description, so I might have to read this one. Great review!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. Thanks Aj!
      Iceland is an incredible place and this novel captures it beautifully :-)