The Ship In The Hill: A Novel, by William L. Sullivan
More than a decade ago I wrote a play where a love story between historians involved with biblical archaeology alternated with the story itself, which involved a young man seeking the return of his family inheritance during a jubilee year during the reign of the wicked King Ahab. As someone who enjoys reading about the history of Norway , this book was appealing to me because it focused on a somewhat obscure but important woman. And truly, that is the main hook of this novel. Do you want to read a novel with interlocking plot lines about women who try to find respect and honor and authority as well as romantic love that goes between the viking age and the period just before Norway won its independence in 1905? If that is the case, there is a lot that you will find to be enjoyable here. The feminism of the novel is more than a little heavy-handed, enough to detract from its enjoyment for me, but the story itself is worthy of interest even with the heathen spellcraft and gender issues being far more than I wanted to see of those undesirable elements.
The novel itself goes back and forth between two plots. In one plot a young woman who happens to be a doctor tries to navigate the complicated politics of a ship burial in Norway in the midst of political disagreement where she faces a great deal of heavy-handed sexist behavior while also having an awkward romance with one of the local diggers, who happens to be more than meets the eye. In the other a young woman forced to marry against her will raises up a child and then a grandchild who ends up uniting Norway and marrying a stubborn princess after meeting her impossible challenge. The portrayal of the women here is really over the top, and it material detracts from the enjoyment of the novel for readers who do not have a particularly feminist perspective. The novel has all the raw material for a compelling story, but the author focuses too much on gender politics and not enough on the demands of plot, which is a shame because this could have been a good novel had the author been more subtle about the political agenda of the work. Let this be a lesson for future writers dealing with the same themes.
After all, merely having interesting subject material does not make for a good novel. This novel has political intrigue, a strong pro-Norwegian perspective, a fondness for Norse religion, a high degree of respect for the worth of women, and the ability to write interesting chapters when taken individually. Yet this novel falls flat for a few reasons, namely immensely flat characterization, a certain playing fast and loose with history, and the book’s offensive politics. In looking at this book, I would have preferred a more restrained and more sober nonfiction book to this particular novel, and that sort of mixed to adverse thought, that the material could have been handled better in a different genre or especially by better and more competent hands means that this is not a novel I can recommend, or one that I will look fondly upon, but there is certainly an audience for this sort of book. It just doesn’t happen to include me.
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