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Reviews of The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting

The Bell in the Lake

Sister Bells Trilogy #1

by Lars Mytting

The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting X
The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 400 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2022, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Book Summary

The engrossing epic novel - a #1 bestseller in Norway - of a young woman whose fate plays out against her village's mystical church bells.

As long as people could remember, the stave church's bells had rung over the isolated village of Butangen, Norway. Cast in memory of conjoined twins, the bells are said to ring on their own in times of danger. In 1879, young pastor Kai Schweigaard moves to the village, where young Astrid Hekne yearns for a modern life. She sees a way out on the arm of the new pastor, who needs a tie to the community to cull favor for his plan for the old stave church, with its pagan deity effigies and supernatural bells. When the pastor makes a deal that brings an outsider, a sophisticated German architect, into their world, the village and Astrid are caught between past and future, as dark forces come into play.

Lars Mytting, bestselling author of Norwegian Wood, brings his deep knowledge of history, carpentry, fishing, and stave churches to this compelling historical novel, an international bestseller sold in 12 countries. With its broad-canvas narrative about the intersection of religion, superstition, and duty, The Bell in the Lake is an irresistible story of ancient times and modern challenges, by a powerful international voice.

The Girls Who Shared a Skin

THE BIRTH WAS HARD. THE HARDEST EVER PERHAPS, and that in a village where many births might compete for that title. The mother was large, but not until the third day of her confinement did they realise she was carrying twins. The details of the delivery, how long the screams reverberated in the log farmhouse, or how the womenfolk actually got the babies out – all this was forgotten. Too ghastly to be told, too ugly to be remembered. The mother tore and bled to death and her name vanished from history. For ever remembered, however, were the twins and their deformity. They were joined from the hip down. But that was all. They breathed, cried, and were lively.

Their parents were from the Hekne farm and the girls were baptised Halfrid and Gunhild Hekne. They grew, laughed a lot, and were never a bother, but a joy. To each other, to their father, to their siblings, to the village. The Hekne twins were put before the loom early, and sat for long days, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

Lars Mytting, bestselling author of Norwegian Wood, brings his deep knowledge of history, carpentry, fishing, and stave churches to this compelling historical novel, an international bestseller sold in 12 countries. With its broad-canvas narrative about the intersection of religion, superstition, and duty, The Bell in the Lake is an irresistible story of ancient times and modern challenges, by a powerful international voice.

Discussion Questions
  1. What do you think the legend of Halfrid and Gunhild Hekne and their mother who died in childbirth meant to the townspeople of Butangen?
  2. In what ways are the settings of Butangen and Dresden different? How are they similar?
  3. How do the social norms and ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about The Bell in the Lake.
You can see the full discussion here.


At what moments did you feel the characters were most challenged individually and collectively?
Each character was challenged many times in this story. Clearly to me Astrid's challenge was her pregnancy & impending birth. Gerhard, who loved Astrid, was challenged by his professional life & leaving her to do his ... - marganna

How do Kai Schweigaard and Gerhard Schonauer each view the local stave church?
Kai sees it as a hindrance to his work as a priest and Gerhard sees it as a beautiful work of art and history. - Navy Mom

How do languages and their limitations play out in the story?
Speaking various languages always causes complications and misunderstanding. It really was amazing that Astrid, fairly uneducated, and Gerhard, who seemed to catch on to Norwegian overnight, so quickly learned to communicate (the magic of ... - judyw

How do the social norms and etiquette of the times influence the characters and their decisions? How are norms upheld, and how are they subverted?
I agree with Molly Mae. Also, Astrid went against the norm when she chose to go to Kristiania to have her babies at the Birthing Institute instead of using the local midwife. As a new Pastor, Kai often tried to move the cultural norms. He changed ... - Patricia Ann

How does the environment factor into the local folklore of Butangen and villager perceptions of the outside world?
The environment - harsh - dark - cold - has kept the villagers isolated from the changing world. They have few visitors & therefore little knowledge of changes coming to their world. The author wrote beautifully about that area of the world ... - marganna

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Mytting constructs his novel around compelling dichotomies. Cutting-edge medical procedures versus limited village practices, Christianity versus superstition and male action versus female passivity are pairs of concepts the author gently dissects and subverts. As much as I enjoyed the book's themes, unique location and blend of genres, I did feel that the central love triangle led the plot into rather melodramatic territory. Still, in atmosphere, The Bell in the Lake is reminiscent of Danish author Carsten Jensen's We, the Drowned, another enthralling epic that combines history and legend in an inviting Scandinavian setting and one of my favorite novels...continued

Full Review (723 words).

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(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

The Guardian (UK)
[E]vocative…a beautiful example of modern Norwegian folklore.

Foreword Reviews
Its magic pure and its mysteries primordial, Lars Mytting's novel The Bell in the Lake is a tour de force set in the untamed wilds of Norway...Both heartbreaking and awe-inspiring, The Bell in the Lake is an unforgettable novel that celebrates untamed faith.

Booklist
Mytting has created something beautiful, a perfect evocation of a place and a culture, a melding of old Norse tradition with the encroaching modern world…every element of the setting and those who inhabit it is crafted with consummate skill. This first in a trilogy will have readers eagerly awaiting the next by this accomplished author.

Historical Novels Review
[B]eautiful… Mytting's novel was based on local stories, but it is his evoking of the parsonage interior, the turn of the seasons and their physical impress on man and beast that give this book its vividness.

Kirkus Reviews
The book's great strength...is its depiction of remote village life: It's a tiny world a world away from any other. Mytting hits rather heavily on some of the book's other themes...but, all in all, his first novel to appear in English is a major triumph. A mesmerizing if occasionally heavy-handed book about architecture, fate, legend, and faith.

Reader Reviews

RebeccaR

An Unexpected Wow!
I doubt that this book's cover design or pre-publication descriptions would have caught my eye or enticed me into reading the book. Hmmm, "exquisitely atmospheric" I mumbled to myself. Even as I read the first few pages I wondered if I was ...   Read More
Margotp

Historical fiction at its best
I absolutely loved this epic tale of three people—a fierce young woman, her local Protestant pastor, and a young German artist and architect student. Set in frigid central Norway, the novel centers around the magical powers of the stave church’s “...   Read More
Katherine Pond

The Stave Church Represents So Very Much
Received a copy of this book to discuss on BookBrowse. Although the human story revolves around three young people and their interactions, the true story is about tradition and modernity. One of the characters is Kai Schweigaard, the newly ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Stave Churches

Heddal Stave Church in Norway It's no secret that Lars Mytting loves trees. He wrote a novel titled The Sixteen Trees of the Somme (2017), and is known for his international bestseller Norwegian Wood (2015), a nonfiction guide to sources of firewood that gives instructions on how to chop, stack and cure wood for burning. With The Bell in the Lake, he continues with the subject of wood as material by delving into Norway's architectural history, specifically its famous stave churches.

While stone cathedrals were constructed elsewhere in the Middle Ages, in parts of northern Europe wood was the building material of choice. More than 1,000 stave churches were assembled in Norway, mostly in the 12th to 14th centuries. The name refers to the type of timber framing used...

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