The Sacrament

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Dec 2019

Member Reviews

I couldn't get into this dark and dreary book. I have a lot of friends that enjoyed it enough that I may return to it in the future and give it another try!
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From Goodreads review: There are questions below about this book, and one is: A lesbian nun investigates Catholic Church child abuse, written in the first person by a male author, set in Iceland and France, does it work?

My answer is: sort of. The part that worked for me was the storyline about Sister Johanna's past and her present day life. Her struggle with her sexuality when she was younger and her decision to become a nun were very good and hearing about her great love for her roommate in Paris were the best parts of this book. There is a second question or actually I think 2 questions below concerning the timeline in the book and the storyline about the investigation of the priest in Iceland. This is where it was very convoluted for me. Never are there the times stated so I found it quite difficult to place the time when Johanna was first in Iceland or was it 20 years later? This is not fleshed out well At All in my opinion.
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This is a  novel of longing and memory, beautifully written.  Sister Joanna’s story is told from various time frames, as a young student in France, a nun asked to investigate possible abuse at a church school in Iceland, a return trip at the request of a former student, and as an aging sister living a comfortable, simple life back in France.
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While I tend to avoid overtly religious novels, I specifically chose this one because I do enjoy the torture that is Scandanavian novels and I was curious about what the mystery of the nun’s past could be. I was not disappointed, and the story only confirmed my antipathy towards the Catholic Church. As dark as this one is, I would highly recommend it to others and can see it spurring some fascinating discussions.
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Very well written / translated, this Icelandic mystery is slow moving and leaves you not knowing much until the end. You're left wondering when these stories are taking place, how everything fits together, and even what the mystery is. It's fantastic though, and I definitely recommend it. The landscape almost serves as its own character, its so beautifully written.
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I finished Olaf Olafsson’s atmospheric new novel “The Sacrament” well over a week ago and can’t stop thinking about it. In beautiful but spare prose, Olafsson tells the story of French nun Sister Johanna, whose investigation of a claim of sexual abuse at a Catholic school in Iceland ends when the accused perpetrator, Father August Frans, falls to his death from the church’s bell tower—a fall witnessed by one of the school’s young pupils. Decades later, Sister Johanna is living in semi-retirement in a convent in the Loire Valley when she is summoned back to Iceland: the child has now grown up and wants to unburden himself of his memories, plunging Sister Johanna into her own difficult memories of her earlier investigation—and of Halla, the Icelandic woman whom she has never forgotten. Moving back and forth between Paris, the Loire Valley and Iceland and toggling between three timelines, “The Sacrament” is a haunting meditation on sin, forgiveness and, ultimately, grace.

I loved everything about this book; my only regret is that I read it during the busy Christmas season when I never had time to really sink into it like I wanted. Do yourself a favor and pick this book up when you have the time to really immerse yourself in it—but do pick it up. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Collins Publishers for providing me with an ARC of this title in return for my honest review. It was the first Olaf Olafsson book I’ve read but it certainly won’t be the last.
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The Sacrament is a well written book about a tough subject. 
It’s a slow burning mystery, and it flips between Iceland and France. The story follows Sister Johanna as she returns to Iceland to investigate allegations reported in an anonymous letter of sexual abuse at the Catholic school. This in an amazing story, beautifully written with perfect descriptions of the scenery, and the character's actions and thoughts. I would love to read more from the author.  Fabulous book. I would like to thank Netgalley, the publisher and the author for providing me with an advance reader copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion of this book. 
#TheSacrament #NetGalley
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Harrowing and compelling.  This book packs a punch!  I love any story that highlights the fallibility of human memory.  Really glad I read it!  Thanks, NetGalley!
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The Sacrament is the story of Sister Johanna. In the late 1980s, Sister Johanna was sent to Iceland to investigate a letter alleging sexual misconduct at the church school.. 2 decades later Sister Johanna is called back to Iceland with another letter stating that she was not told all back then.

The story is told at different stages of Johanna's life. Three times are interspersed throughout the novel. We learn about Johanna when she was Pauline studying at the Sorbonne and learning Icelandic from her roommate Halla. Then there is the original investigation, where we learn what has gone on in Iceland. Finally, we go with Johanna on a trip from her convent to Paris and then finally back to Iceland. 

This is a story of personal growth and manipulation as well as the path to find and tell the truth through major obstacles. I found this novel engrossing and could not put it down.
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This book was so disappointing.  The plot blurb sounded amazing! I couldn't wait to read this!

The book was boring.  It was so hard to follow.  The characters were not likable or easy to identify with at all.  I always try to find something good about books I don't like, but it's just not possible with this one.

Maybe this book isn't for me.
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I really enjoyed this Icelandic mystery. I thought this was going to be a Nordic noir kind of book, but it really didn't have that feel to me. There aren't any grisly murders or oppressive winters, and although the subject of child abuse comes up, it's not described and not done in any sort of gratuitous way. It's handled very well, and I'm really happy about that because I did not want to read anything like that. I like a good Nordic noir, but I wasn't disappointed with what this turned out to be.  

This is more of a slow-burning mystery, and it flips between France and Iceland. I loved Sister Johanna, especially the relationship she has with her dog, and I thought the story itself was pretty fascinating. The book juggles three time frames, so it was a bit confusing at times, but it wasn't enough to make me dislike the book or get so lost that I didn't know what was going on. 

Very well written, and I'd definitely read more from this author in the future. 


A super big thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me a free copy in exchange for an honest review!! :)
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Such a pleasure to read!  A beautifully written story on a delicate topic:  abuse in the Church.  

Thanks to the publisher and to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this title.
#TheSacrament #NetGalley
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3.5 Dark and bleak, is this story of a young woman who struggles with a sexual orientation condemned by the Catholic Church. Going back and forth in time and alternating between Paris and Iceland, the story takes the reader inside the abuse accusations in the church. A nun herself now, she is tasked with the responsibility of investigating the abuse accusations arising out of a boys Catholic school in Iceland and their priest. Silence, a most potent motif is a result of sins kept hidden, of boys and their parents who are afraid to speak. The end result was unexpected, and surprising.

I liked this, sometimes it is all in the atmosphere, and this book has it in spades. The story had a authentic feel, the cold, brooding landscape, a scandal that has hit churches hard all over the world. It all fit together. Plus, I was reading while sitting in front of my picture window, while the sky darkened, the sun set and it seemed like I could imagine the story happening just as it did. 

Not quite the happy holiday story I should be reading, but it did fit the melancholy I am prone to as the sun stays hidden so often in winter months.

ARC from Edelweiss.
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It was OK. It wasn't exactly all that riveting, though--kind of slow-paced.

I received an advance copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Intense Nordic drama!

A boy locked in a school's broom closet views something strange out of the window.
A Catholic nun whose locked away her own secrets, including the reasons for her not quite belonging despite her best efforts. Her sense of humor, her attachment to her dog George Harrison and her rose garden don't quite still her heart. The persuasive church hierarchy who don't want to know. Cardinal Raffin, a sly holder of Sister Joanna Marie's life from before. He thinks that sending a nun with secrets can be controlled to investigate a school where abuse charges have been made. That this will suffice.
Sister Joanna is sent not once but twice, in her forties and then twenty years later to investigate complaints about the church school. 
The major part of the novel, is set in Reykjavík, Iceland. How Sister Joanna comes to speak Icelandic is another story that we glimpse as Joanna recalls her time at the Sorbonne as she waits in Paris for her evening flight. Later we come to know more details.
I felt like I was constantly in an ice storm reading this, not quite knowing which way was up, but aware of danger. The clues are just beyond reach, almost. I often felt overwhelmed by Joanna's powerlessness in the face of the church hierarchy. I felt the weight of her secrets. I lived the consequences of both her indecisions and her decisions.
The ending was a surprise and yet not really. The story looks at the interweaving of the past and present, of how small vacillations, even non action can effect the future. That I am forced to reflect on all that goes on long after I finished reading further commends this story by Olafsson to me. At its heart it is dark and yet the light enters, just in rather different ways.
I must say I like the cover, the brooding church with all that space around it, slightly menacing, a shadow on the landscape.

A HarperCollins ARC via NetGalley
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I often think of a mystery as a form of verbal patchwork quilt, with scraps of clues and characters and plot forming the patterns -- which can vary from the randomness of a silk-and-velvet crazy quilt to the structure of the calico wedding-ring template.

One of the delightful surprises of quilting is the beauty that can result in from re-combining the simplest of materials. It was just so in the case of Cold Fear by Olaf Olafsson. A nun's memories from two earlier periods of her life, pieced alongside her humble duties of the present, created an astonishing amount of suspense and tension.

The settings -- Paris and Reykjavik, in the 1960s, 1980s and sometime in the 21st Century -- were lovingly rendered. The characters' struggles with their idea of God were portrayed so matter-of-factly that they became mere background for their actions -- this was no religious tract.

For those of us who read advance readers copies (where the formatting wasn't complete), some of the shifts in the alternating time lines weren't well-delineated. I trust that will be corrected in the published version. Even with that challenge, this was a lovely book. Thanks to NetGalley for the chance to read and review it.
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Sister Joanna has been called up from her quiet retirement at a convent in France and sent back to Iceland where she conducted an investigation at the request of the Vatican 30 years before.  This is a subtle novel that winds around the central mystery of her earlier investigation.  Yes, you know a priest jumped from the bell tower of a church and yes you know a child saw it from the closet he had been locked in but how does it all relate.  This spreads over three time frames- Sister Joanna's early days in Paris before she entered the convent, the initial investigation and her return to Iceland today.  You, like me, might guess what she was investigating even though it's. not spelled out til fairly late in the novel.  Other parts, however, will remain a mystery. There's an interesting plot line involving Joanna's love for her room mate Hella.  It's nicely atmospheric re Iceland (made me want to visit again).  Thanks to the publisher for the ARC. A very good read.
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The style of writing was hard to follow - with different time frames melting into each other with no warning.  There were times I wasn't completely sure exactly when the action was taking place - present day or twenty years ago.  I liked Sister Johanna - she was a troubled character and I felt she'd been sad all her life.

The narrative was confusing at times and it wasn't until the very end of the book that everything was made clear. There was a shocking twist I didn't see coming.  And I felt like saying 'Bravo Sister Johanna!'
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In his new novel The Sacrament, Olaf Olafsson grabs his readers’ attention by briefly telling how a young boy comes to be locked in an Icelandic Catholic school broom closet.  Standing on an overturned bucket to peer out the window, he imagines he is seeing Batman take flight from the church tower to save him.  Instead, the black-clad figure plummets to the ground.

Set in France and Iceland, The Sacrament shifts between three time periods all focusing on the central character whose birth name was Pauline but who becomes Sister Johanna.  Through memories and alternating chapters, readers learn why Pauline decided to study theology at Paris’ famed Sorbonne and ended up rooming with and learning Icelandic from her roommate Halla.  Eventually forced apart, the two go their separate ways, Pauline taking her vows and adopting the name Sister Johanna and Halla returning to Iceland.  Although Halla plays a larger role in the novel than teaching Pauline Icelandic, it is largely Sister Johanna’s Icelandic knowledge that makes the rest of the story possible.

The majority of the novel alternates between two trips Sister Johanna is called upon to make to Iceland-- first in her early 40s and second twenty years later. Her initial assignment is to investigate allegations of physical and sexual abuse in a Catholic school.  Later she is called back because one of the witnesses has decided to tell what he withheld twenty years earlier.  

Although the external plot line centers on the opening investigation and later return and on the Catholic’s handling of the allegations in the 1980s and 2000s, the internal plot is equally as important,
 if not more so, as Pauline and Sister Johanna struggle with personal demons from teen years through quickly approaching old age.

While these observations may make The Sacrament sound overly heavy and serious, it has its tender and humorous moments , two of them involving Sister Johanna’s beloved stray dog  George Harrison and her mostly lighthearted friendship with young Páll, the Icelandic Bishop’s assistant assigned to chauffeur her around in an old car he has named Jesus.

The Sacrament is well worth reading on all plot levels although the time shifts are confusing until the reader realizes that the majority of chapters alternate between Sister Johanna’s first and second trips to Iceland.  A date at the beginning of each chapter would have alleviated any temporary confusion.

My thanks to HarperCollins and NetGalley for providing an Advance Reader Copy of Olafsson’s latest novel.
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Pauline's interior life plays out over many years in this new novel by Olaf Olafsson. While studying at the Sorbonne and living in a Catholic hostel, Pauline's path crosses with a priest who finds ways to intimidate and humiliate the young student. She follows his command and moves to another hostel, losing a meaningful friendship with an Icelandic student. These events changed Pauline's life.

Years later, when the student, who is now a nun living in Paris, gets a request to travel to Iceland and investigate an accusation made about a school's headmaster, the priest, now a Cardinal, enters once again into her serene life and rattles Sister Johanna to her core. The story is from Johanna's POV during flashbacks to her years as a student, a young nun, and now in her later years. Cardinal Raffin continues to have a hold over the peace-loving Johanna, so she follows his orders even as they are both older, and Johanna has little to lose.

And so we follow the nun's ordeal in Iceland and her longing for her quiet life back in Paris with her rose garden and her lovable mutt, George Harrison. It would be hard to imagine how one could take these factors and create a suspense novel, but that is what OO has done. I had to read to the end, follow Johanna, and hope that she landed back to where she would be happy and with peace of mind. Catholics hold sacraments as the sacred rituals of organized religion. It is often the authority figures who think nothing of the souls they vowed to protect. The story can be sad but not altogether surprising. The author handled the sheep gently and dealt with the shepherds in a manner they deserved.

Thank you, Olaf Olafsson, NetGalley, and Ecco for this ARC (December 3rd).
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