The Sacrament – Olaf Olafsson

sacramentA quiet, intriguing story set in Reykjavik, The Sacrament is more about the catharsis of its protagonist than the investigation of sexual abuse allegations.

The story follows Sister Johanna as she returns to Iceland to probe allegations reported in an anonymous letter of sexual abuse at the Catholic school. Sister Johanna is chosen to go to Reykjavik because she speaks Icelandic. We follow her from her time when she was just Pauline, a young college student in Paris, to her mysterious, inconclusive investigation in Iceland.

The non-linear sequence of events of Sister Johanna’s life gave me some difficulty, but this style afforded an interesting insight into her psyche. Her sexuality caused her to have an existential crisis, for which she joined the sisterhood, running away from it instead of confronting it, and also suffering the bullying of a superior. The story is compelling with both halves of the story: the sexual abuse investigation contrasted with Sister Johanna’s ambiguous motives. Redemption is the theme here, but redemption at what cost?

The writing is beautiful and concise, and often the bleakness of inner turmoil or the beauty of self-discovery is reflected in the descriptions of the landscape. A deep story with an interesting twist. Many thanks to Netgalley for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

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