Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida


It wasn’t a book I’d heard of, but when I saw that title I just had to pick it up. When I saw the cover I had to open it. And the concept – one woman’s journey to the northern lights in search of her roots – ensured that the book came home.

It turned out to be book with a certain pedigree – a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime on my side of the Atlantic, and a New York Times Notable Book on the other. And definitely a book worth reading.

Clarissa is twenty-eight and living in New York with her fiance, who she has known since childhood, when her father dies. She has already lost her mother, who disappeared when she was fourteen. And then there is a another loss. Going through her father’s desk Clarissa finds her birth certificate, and discovers a different man is named as her father.

How do you deal with something like that? Clarissa abandons her fiance and travels to Helsinki and then further north into Lapland, in search of her family history and long-held secrets.

Vendela Vida tells her story in sparse, elegant prose, and creates lovely pictures of the places Clarissa travels through with just a few lines. But the real journey is an emotional one, as Clarissa breaks away from her roots to stare into the future alone.

A few things that happened didn’t quite ring true, but I was able to let them go, because they served the story well. And because Clarissa was such a vivid character. Though not always sympathetic. Her grief and sense of loss hit hard, she was clearly driven, but she was also selfish and thoughtless. A believable, fallible human being.

How could she put aside the memory of a man who raised her as his own so easily? How could she abandon without one word a fiance who had done all he could support her, simply because he hadn’t shared a secret that he felt wasn’t hers to tell?

‘And when I would hear people say that you can’t start over, that you cannot escape the past, I would think. You can. You must.’

I’m not sure if that’s a happy or a sad ending. I’m expected to be happy that Clarissa is looking forward into the future, but I have to feel sad that she feels she has to shed her past to do that. What do you think?

I think that maybe the greatest strength of this book is that it leaves enough space have that kind of thought …

I am reading ….. lots of books!

Tidying up yesterday, I was a litle more thorough than usual. And I put all of the books that I was reading in one pile. I was started to find that there were nine of them. Maybe a little excessive, but I need a choice. Some books have to be read slowly, with intervals between chapters to ponder. And I need to be able to pick up the right book for the right mood – or the right degree of concentration.

Here’s just a little about each of the nine:

I’m reading Georgette Heyer for the Classics Circuit. I had intended to read a regency novel, but I found a selection of her crime books on offer (3 for £5!) and they called me much louder. I picked No Wind of Blame to read first and I am loving it. A wonderful golden age mystery. And I’ll be posting about it on Thursday.

I have only just discovered Salley Vickers and I am smitten. Isn’t it lovely to find a new author with a backlist to explore?! Mr Golightly’s Holiday is both charming and clever, and definitely a book to be read slowly and savoured.

The first six Bloomsbury Group novels have been on my shelf for a while now. Even though I own two of them in Virago editions. I try not to be a completist, but sometimes I just can’t help it. I kept meaning to pick one up, but I couldn’t decide, and they were all books that I felt had to be read at just the right moment. But this week, after seeing a copy of Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker in the library I just had to pull out my copy and start reading. I am pleased to be able to confirm that this book is a gem!

Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida caught my eye in the library on Saturday. The concept and the opening were so engaging that I brought it home and started to read straight away. I’ll finish it tonight and so I’ll save my thoughts for tomorrow.

The Old Curiosity Shop is this years Dickens. I’m progressing slowly and steadily, which I find to be the best way to read Dickens.

The Virago Modern Classics group on Good Reads has been reading Elizabeth Taylor in February. I picked up A Game of Hide and Seek and I am loving it, but I think it’s more of a summer book and so I am going to put it on hold for a while. And March is Rosamond Lehmann month, so I have picked up The Weather in the Streets instead.

Daphne Du Maurier writes warmly of Love In The Sun by her friend Leo Walmesley. A few chapters in I can see why. A semi autobiographical story of a young couple who set up home together in Cornwall, it is simple, honest, and quite lovely. I suspect that I will be campaigning for it to be reissued very soon!

A Grain of Sand by Erma Harvey Jones is a memoir of growing up in Cornwall between the wars. I hadn’t intended to bring it home just yet, but when I read the first page I just had to. It captures both the magic and the reality of Cornwall just perfectly.

Helen Simonson’s debut novel Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand arrived from Bloomsbury a few weeks ago. It’s a lovely book, another to be read slowly and savoured, but I’m nearly done. And I shall miss the Major when he goes.

And that’s it. Each a great book in it’s own way.

So now tell me, how many books are you reading? Do you like to have a choice on hand, or do you prefer to focus on one book at a time?