Review: The Greenlanders


The Greenlanders
The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very strange thing happened after reading this book. I googled it, thinking surely some geek/scholar had a field day fact-checking this massive tome of historical fiction. I was very interested in seeing exactly how much of this medieval Norse world was based on archaeological fact, and how much creative discretion the author took in creating a dramatic narrative. Nothing. Nada, not a blip. How unfortunate that I may be one of the few people who read and absorbed this wonderful book.

I’ll admit, I read it in two big chunks. Yes, the book is only 600 pages, which is long for me. However, there are two interrelated aspects of the book that make it hard to digest. First, the formatting a bit odd: three books with no chapter breaks, only paragraph after paragraph, with scene changes and time lapses built right into the text. Second, the book is very information dense, with vocabulary words and hundreds of people, places, and things to keep track of with the aid of only a very paltry appendix of maps and family trees. I believe that what she was going for was very similar to what Michael Crichton did with Eaters of the Dead: It feels as if she took a real manuscript and challenged herself as a writer to imitate that style.

That aside, I loved reading this book! Not nearly as much as A Thousand Acres, but I really loved it. Part of my literary fascination comes with understanding how people used to live. As a schoolkid I hated history, but as an adult, I’ve found the right books and subjects and opened up whole worlds. This is as close as I believe I will ever come to travelling in a time machine!

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