I tried this audiobook earlier as I was curious to read more about Iceland, but got too confused and quit. I did something I rarely do, I read some reader reviewers on Amazon and got the gist of what was confusing me and tried it again a few months later. This week, it made sense.
Pauline/Sister Johanna reveals her story in an often confusing narrative told in back-and-forth switches in time from her student days in Paris to later in her life and to even later in her life. Her personal story is entwined with the stories of her investigation into tales of abuse in a Catholic School in Iceland. An emotionally blackmailing priest, a headmaster with problems, children who are being abused, and a church hierarchy wanting to hide it all away combine with the dark winter days and gloomy weather of Iceland and the gloomy emotional landscape of her early Paris years to make this story a fascinating, if somewhat dark, read. [Note: Abuse is a topic in the book, but there are no descriptions of the abuse and there is no sex. It is all just there in the background, it is not a focus.] The gloom is enlivened by a dog named after a Beatle and a car named after a Savior.
This story had such promise I took the time to sort it out and try it again–that should be all I need to say! Olafsson can really spin a tale. I do wish, though, that for the sake of the reader he’d take on just a tiny bit of conventional style and put in a date or a place when he switches back and forth in time. This is confusing enough in print, but in the audio, it was often truly frustrating until I got the hang of his storytelling style, by which time in my first attempt, I was hopelessly lost.
In spite of the confusion, this book more than lives up to its hype. The audio was beautifully done by Jane Copeland whose voice was perfect for the story’s atmosphere. I will definitely look for more of Olafsson’s work.
The Sacrament: A Novel by Olaf Olafsson
For A Nonfiction Book Set in Iceland, see:
Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss