Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss: Non-fiction November

I read very little non-fiction but when I do it tends to be books about moving to new locations or travel writing, so Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss fits in with a list of similar books.

Sarah Moss, a novelist and lecturer, decides to move her young family to Iceland when she decides that they need a change. When in Iceland they have to battle the cold, the steep cost of food and lack of fresh fruit and vegetables, the lack of second hand items – even used cars, finding a school and nursery for their small children, the long weekends with nothing to do and dangerous driving.

But alongside all of these troubles is the description of the powerful landscape and numerous stories from locals about a large number of different cultural, historical and political moments in Iceland’s near and past history. Earlier in the year I read A Year of Living Danishly which does a similar thing but Moss is far more in touch with the Icelandic community as she has a job as a lecturer so her interviews are with local people whereas Helen Russell, as a journalist, sought out experts.

The family move in a year in which Iceland was in the news for all the wrong reasons, the collapse of the economy and the ash cloud which stopped flights in Europe for several weeks. Moss marvels at the calmness of the Icelandic people and their fierce proudness which means that they disguise the effects of the growing prices and growing unemployment.

This book was an easy read, the factual parts and statistics sit alongside anecdotes of her toddler refusing to go out in the care and her shock at Iceland’s lax childcare and road safety. My only criticism would be that the book is slightly repetitive, I know that she is trying to show her frustration or fascination with certain aspects of life but I did feel we could have lost 50 pages.


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