cover image The Blue Maiden

The Blue Maiden

Anna Noyes. Grove, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8021-6280-9

Noyes’s bracing debut novel (after the collection Goodnight, Beautiful Women) portrays a troubled 19th-century Nordic family descended from a woman who survived a witch hunt. Near the isolated and windswept Berggrund Island lies its smaller sister island, the Blue Maiden, which is uninhabited and rumored to harbor demon spirits. One day in 1675, after months of passionate preaching by the priest of Berggrund, 27 of the island’s 32 women are accused of witchcraft and executed. Of the accused, only pregnant Signe is spared, despite wanting to “stay linked” to the others on their way to have their throats cut. The story then jumps to 1825 and Signe’s descendants Ulrika, 10, and Bea, six. Bea anticipates the return of their dead mother, Angelique, who Bea believes will summon her by tapping on the window with dirty fingers. Meanwhile, Ulrika seeks to distance herself from the memory of their mother and from their preacher father, whose love is often smothering. Noyes shows with incisive and imagistic prose how the specter of the eerie, ever-changing Blue Maiden hangs over the residents of Berggrund like a pall as the sisters come of age to face horrifying tragedies. Noyes evokes Shirley Jackson in this inspired and memorable gothic tale. (May)