If there’s one dominant theme running through Edvard Hirifjell’s life it’s undoubtedly “blanks”: the gaping memory blanks that have always pockmarked his early-childhood recollections and now, unexpectedly, the solid timber blanks from which the highest-quality shotgun stocks are carved.
For 20-something years Edvard has known only a quiet, semi-reclusive existence on a potato farm in an agricultural hamlet near Lillehammer in southern Norway.
When not tending the crop with his bestefar (grandfather) Sverre he fills his meagre free time with photography and fishing. He has few friends but is not particularly lonely.
Theirs is a typical rural lifestyle in all but one respect: Edvard is an orphan, having lost his parents in an unsolved incident almost 2000 kilometres removed from their property at Saksum when he was just a toddler.
When his home circumstances change suddenly Edvard begins a journey of yearning that stretches first to the wind-lashed Shetland Islands and then to the battlefields of northern France.
In treeless Shetland he unearths a clue that tantalises with its potential to explain the mystery of his father and mother’s deaths and at the same time raises the possibility of a family inheritance intertwined with a fabled stand of 16 centuries-old walnut trees warped by World War I combat into a near-priceless resource.
The young man who leaves behind the paddocks and sheds of Saksum to search for crucial pointers in Shetland soon finds himself heading due south, with the remnant woods of Authuille in the Somme as his ultimate destination.
Weaving together the carefully researched details of actual events and locations with an engaging imagined plot, this novel is rich with the history of two world wars and the intimacies of Nordic culture both in Norway itself and across the scattered former Viking settlements of modern-day Scotland’s most remote island group.
– Rosalea Ryan