The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea
Published by Michael Joseph, 2019
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
I was instantly hooked by this richly atmospheric tale set in 1600s Iceland. We follow Rósa as she moves to a remote village to join her new husband, Jón – a relative stranger. But Rósa is not Jón’s first wife, and the locals whisper of the mysterious circumstances surrounding her predecessor’s death, with Jón having buried her alone in the dead of night. Talk of witchcraft, strange goings on, and a locked attic soon fuel Rósa’s own suspicions about her husband’s past.
Many readers will immediately pick up on the early references to Jane Eyre and Rebecca. These are very deliberate, paying homage to the gothic classics that came before, and establishing certain expectations that Lea can enjoy indulging and subverting, keeping us on our toes throughout. Several layers of mystery and an evocative setting make the whole thing a real page turner. That said, there is also meaningful and poignant commentary on the fear of being ostracised, the damage caused by secrets and lies, and the importance of perspective in understanding the truth.
Lea also goes a great job of reflecting how hard life could be at the time, with everyone existing at the mercy of the stark landscape, the brutal weather, and each other’s prejudices.
Without spoilers, the only downside for me was the inclusion of a certain trope at the book’s end. While in many respects it feels appropriate given the narrative’s historical context, it’s an outcome we’ve seen many times before, and something a little more unexpected would have been welcome.
Still, I flew through this chunky novel, and enjoyed every moment I spent in its company.