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The Sea Road [Paperback]

Margaret Elphinstone
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

7 Aug 2001
A haunting, compelling historical novel, The Sea Road is a daring re-telling of the 11th-century Viking exploration of the North Atlantic from the viewpoint of one extraordinary woman. Gudrid lives at the remote edge of the known world, in a starkly beautiful landscape where the sea is the only connection to the shores beyond. It is a world where the old Norse gods are still invoked, even as Christianity gains favour, where the spirits of the dead roam the vast northern ice-fields, tormenting the living, and Viking explorers plunder foreign shores. Taking the accidental discovery of North America as its focal point, Gudrid's narrative describes a multi-layered voyage into the unknown, all recounted with astonishing immediacy and rich atmospheric detail.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (7 Aug 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841951765
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841951768
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 313,609 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


* a gripping historical novel...written with considerable style. The Bookseller * the author cleverly interweaves Gutrin's discourse with her innermost thoughts ... the Sea Road will appeal to historian, environmentalists, anthropologists and just ordinary cruising seamen. Cruising * The Sea Road offers a new take on the remarkable early seafaring adventures of the Norwegians, and on the spread of Christianity in the pagan north, and is all the more rewarding for that. The Scotsman * Forget Richard Branson, the audacious female traveller Gudrid of Iceland is the original explorer's explorer ... Elphinstone has written a fine tribute to a woman whose tale is as warm and inviting as a hot spring on a clear winter day. The Times

From the Back Cover

"Elphinstone has written a fine tribute to a woman whose tale is as warm and inviting as a hot spring on a clear winter day." The Times

At the edge of the vast ice-fields that dominate her homeland, Gudrid grows up motherless in the male-dominated culture of the Vikings. Her only female influence comes from her devoted foster mother Halldis, a witch, who quickly senses Gudrid's own powerful gifts.

Through her father's friendships, Gudrid becomes inextricably entwined with the family credited with mapping out the sea road to 'Vinland' (North America) - centuries before Columbus ever set sail. This historic voyage is the first leg of an inspiring journey, both physical and spiritual, which takes her beyond the boundaries of the known world.

Elphinstone's feel for character, period and landscape is as spellbinding as her ability to examine issues of universal interest. Astonishingly accurate, historically and archaeologically, Margaret Elphinstone has researched her material meticulously - blending flawlessly this historical fact with flights of wild, extraordinary fancy.

Margaret Elphinstone teaches writing at the University of Strathclyde and has recently won a Scottish Arts Council award. She has lived all over Scotland, from Galway to Shetland and has traveled widely in Iceland, Greenland and the USA.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lunch with a Viking 16 Feb 2004
If you could have lunch with anyone from the Viking world, who would you choose? Well, I reckon Gudrid Thorbjornsdottir would make a good choice (as well as being a less dangerous option than some other potential candidates): the farthest travelled woman in the world during the Viking age, she was daughter-in-law to Eirik the Red of Greenland, and a member of the Viking expedition which made a failed attempt to settle Newfoundland in the eleventh century.
Elphinstone has clearly done her research carefully, and conveys a colourful picture of the day-to-day life of the Viking communities in Iceland and Greenland. However, this is the least of the book's pleasures.
Predominantly, this novel is a triumph of voice: Elphinstone's Gudrid is a marvellous storyteller, and completely convincing as a character. Although always a fast-moving tale, the book is constructed with great care: what we are given is Gudrid's first-person narrative as transcribed by Icelandic monk Agnar, whose own not uninteresting life story is tantalisingly hinted at in his own pre-amble and summing-up, and in Gudrid's asides to him while telling her own story. Gudrid's story is intercut with short italicised passages describing what she chooses to omit; and this device works to telling effect.
Both a ripping yarn and a careful character study, this is a book which should please a wide audience. It isn't entirely uncharted fictional water: there is Jane Smiley's excellent "The Greenlanders", and Canadian writer Joan Clark's "Eiriksdottir". However, Elphinstone's book is different in mood; and the choice of Gudrid as the central figure is felicitous. A breath of fresh air in modern Scottish writing, which still tends all too often towards urban grimness.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Viking Sagas Brought To Life 5 Feb 2003
Anyone who has read any of the Icelandic sagas knows that they are often pretty dry reading, a virtual recitation of events. Margaret Elphinstone has clothed the bare bones of the Greenland and Vinland sagas with flesh and blood. Her central character is Gudrid, the first European woman to give birth in North America. Being a woman, albeit a most remarkable one, she is given short shrift in the sagas themselves. I read the two sagas after reading The Sea Road, and, although the source material runs to but a few dozen pages, I was amazed to find all the central events of the novel there--Gudrid's childhood in Iceland, life in Erik the Red's Greenland colony, the voyage to Vinland, and Gudrid's late-life pilgrimage to Rome (which provides the framing for the narrative). Elphinstone weaves the many peculiar events of the sagas--some accepted as historically accurate, some plainly unbelievable--into a whole and beautiful cloth. Being a woman's story, The Sea Road will appeal strongly to women, but there is enough blood-and-guts adventure to make the red-blooded viking enthusiast happy.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By Sensible Cat VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Centuries before Columbus, Vikings possibly reached North America and gained a tentative foothold in Newfoundland, although the native inhabitants frustrated hopes of a permanent settlement.
Through the eyes of the Gudrid, who sailed first from Iceland to Greenland, and thence to the New World, we are given a vivid insight into a frequently misunderstood culture at a time of crucial change. As Christianity extends its influence and it becomes politic to convert, the power of pagan Gods wanes slowly in these distant lands. Elphinstone gives a detailed picture of day to day survival in this harsh climate, and the rich oral and religious traditions of its people, enhanced by her haunting literary style and a deep feeling for landscape and the ways in which it shapes a culture.
By framing Gudrid's life story as a narrative dictated to a monk of Icelandic origin in Rome, Elphinstone is able to draw contrasts between the syncretism of Viking faith and the more rigid doctrines of early mediaeval Christendom. In addition, compelling questions are raised concerning the very nature of storytelling, as a civilisation based on oral tradition confronts literacy.
A remarkable novel, which deserves to be better known.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, absorbing, moving. 4 Feb 2002
This historical novel stands head and shoulders above all the others set in the Viking era that I have read. Margaret Elphinstone's sensitive and intelligent writing makes this more than just a story about Vikings.
The characters are full, rounded and beleivable. The detail of time and place can make you feel you were there; one incidental description of a gentian closing it's petals as a woman's shadow falls across it, is the sort of attention to detail that marks a skilled story teller.
The history is right, the sources are identifiable and her understanding of Viking age society is clear. But you don't need to be a history buff for this book to appeal; it is a beautifully written story of a strong woman in a man's world.
Buy it, read it, read it again.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great viking history classic! 9 Feb 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book truly shows the origins of Historical Viking fiction by demonstrating how any good historical novel doesn't just focus on the events featured but on the people those events effect.

In this case it was the life and travels of a young Icelandic womam called Gudrid and the transformation and dramatic shift her life takes as she grows up in Iceland where Christianity still vyes with the beliefs of the Nordic Gods, to then set sail with her father in the hope of meeting up with an old friend who left many years before, in the newest found lands of Greenland. From there she finds herself fated to marry several times after tragic deaths before the biggest challenge awaits her with her soon to be future and lifelong merchant husband, the journey to and settling over Vinland (North America). A land that is so foreign it has dangers that not even the old gods can protect them from

It is a remarably captivating book depsite the way it is narrated through several persepctives and reveals the life of nordic people in such magnificance and beauty you couldn't ever think of them as being related to those that raided and invaded Englands costs only a few hundred years ago when the story is set.

Definitely a classic to look into for any viking fiction fans.
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