The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Image of the front cover of the ebook version of The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. The book cover features the book title in bold and a floral pattern surrounding it. The ebook is displayed on a Amazon Kindle Paperwhite that is laid on a pastel coloured background that features small drawers. Alongside the image is a title that reads 'Review, The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave'

The Mercies is the tale of a small coastal fishing village that suffers a great tragedy, one that disrupts the entire nature of the people that live there. An almighty storm killing almost all the men and leaving the women behind to grieve, strive and ultimately aim to survive the harsh realities of their new lives. Help arrives from foreign shores, shores that are ran by patriarchies and religious zealots. What will happen to the women of Vardo? 

I first picked up this book thinking it was a dystopian novel about female empowerment, something along the lines of The Power by Naomi Alderman but in reality it's much more akin to a historical fiction novel about the oppression and persecution of women.

Set on a small island off the coast of Scotland the novel delves into the lives of several women left to fend for themselves when the majority of the men are drowned in a sudden and unexpected storm.  The novel explores the themes of loss and grief and how those emotions can power or destroy the will to  survive. 

It examines the role of gender in historical societies and how crossing the lines of gender stereotypes- even when survival is at stake- can impact on a persons social standing and reputation. In a world run by men, the women of Vardo come under great scrutiny and ultimately become victims of their gender. I won't say too much as I don't want to ruin the plot. It's comparable to The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood but The Mercies is a little bit tamer in terms of graphic violence- it is an equally uncomfortable read though.

The story is told from the point of view of several different women in the settlement. Some are new additions brought as wives by foreign men sent to 'help'. Some are veterans of the island well versed in the old ways. Some are outsiders living by their own rules. One thing unites them all- how they are treated by men. The rich tapestry of female voices unites to create a real sense of belonging, though the pace was slow and the language stilted (though appropriate for the tone of the book) I felt connected to the main characters, I understood their plight. 

It isn't a book where a lot happens, the plot is subtle and feels more like a social commentary than a dramatic novel but it provides food for thought. The characters are so well built that I find myself thinking of them every now and then and wondering how life would have continued for them. The book does have an ending, one that is quite definitive but I sometimes find myself pondering, "what would have happened if X hadn't happened or if Y had happened?" The characters really had an effect on me.

It's a great book. Not the easiest of reads due to it's uncomfortable themes and archaic style of language but I'd say it's a necessary read for the way in which it examines male dominated societies and the treatment of women. It's tragic and inspiring in equal measure.

Thanks For Reading 

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