Hush: An Irish Princess’ Tale by Donna Jo Napoli

My poor, ignored book blog. First, I forget my Kindle AND a book on a week long trip. Then the next week my Kindle froze (one of the less awesome traits of the Gen 1 Kindle) and I had nothing to reset it with, and again, was Kindle-less. How morose I was, I couldn’t even get up the motivation to write about this unique and fascinating tale:

Hush by Donna Jo Napoli. 3346 lines, Kindle. 2008.

I think the only mistake I made in reading this book, was in the timing of it. Fresh off the bitterly disappointing Shiver, reading another young adult novel immediately afterwards was not a good choice. As a result I found myself pre-annoyed, and didn’t allow myself to become absorbed in the narrative. I actually took a break after struggling through Part One, and I am so happy I did. Upon returning to the novel, I discovered a heartbreaking, haunting tale of inner strength and survival.

It amazes me that a majority of the novel takes place on a ship. Such a limited setting had every possibility to confine progression of the novel and restrict character development. Other novels with similarly restrictive settings have slipped into boredom through the repetition of thought patterns and activities. However, I marvelled at Napoli’s skill of melding Melkorka’s physical journey with her journey of personal growth. Even repeated events, such as nightly dinners, reveal new depth to characters or provide a new perspective for Melkorka to consider, transforming her from a rather helpless and close-minded princess into a mysterious creature of quiet strength and inner peace.

What I absolutely loved about this book, I’m sure is exactly what other people might hate about it. First of all, the novel is true to the life of a slave. Melkorka is stripped completely of her family, her home, her past and future. Her fellow captives, women and children she meets along her journey, become her new family. She develops a close relationship with these unfortunate souls, only to watch them be sold off to questionnable masters and never know their fate. There is a profound sense of loss that is prevelant throughout the novel. My heart broke over and over for Melkorka.

As the reader it was very hard to cope with the number of losses Melkorka experiences. For as strongly as we hope Melkorka returns to her family and homeland, it never happens. She is separated from her spit-fire sister, Brigid, who is lost to us forever. For as much as we long to know more about Maeve and her fate, we cannot. We long for Melkorka’s freedom, but again, Napoli’s realism prevents us from experiencing this release. Many readers would find this a dissatisfying read. We want a happy ending, but it doesn’t come. It’s not a sad ending or even an unhappy ending, but readers who expect all the hanging questions to be answered or all wrongs righted probably won’t like this book. But if you are like me, and killed off all the main characters in all the stories you wrote as a child just so your readers were dissatisfied in the most satisfying way, then you will love it.

Overall, I would say this is a fantastic book. Part One was, by far, the weakest portion. In fact, I believe the novel could have completely done without Part One, or it could have been shortened significantly, even to just a few pages of exposition. The remainder of the novel was a unique gem. It’s realism coated me with viscous melancholy, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Unanswered questions and the feeling of longing enhanced my experience of the book. I felt how Melkorka must have felt, stripped of her family, her land, her identity as a princess. She will never know what happened to her family, or the friends she made along her journey. I love that my feelings mirror hers. I love that I feel very incomplete, not whole, because I these feelings are true to life and true to this experience. These feelings are Melkorka’s.

One interesting fact I would like to point out, in the author’s note at the end of the novel, Napoli mentions that in the Icelandic Saga of the People of Laxardal mentions a woman named Melkorka, who the cheif purchased from a Russian slave trader. Supposedly mute, chieftain Hoskuld overhears her speaking Gaelic with her child. Melkorka explains to the chieftain that she was an Irish Princess who was taken by a slave trader. Although Sagas are hardly factual, it was oddly comforting to me that Melkorka existed, and that Napoli gave her a past.

I would highly recommend this spectacularly engaging read.

Other Reviews:
Christy: A Good Stopping Point

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6 responses to “Hush: An Irish Princess’ Tale by Donna Jo Napoli

  1. I really enjoyed this book as well for its melancholy realism and the character arc of Melkorka. What did you think about how Napoli handled the character of Hoskuld?

    • I am conflicted about Hoskuld. I don’t think I had a good handle on him. In many ways he seems too perfect, which bothers me. He was a good leader and fair, on top of this he was kind to Melkorka during her time on his ship, and although he had faults, they were somewhat glossed over in my opinion. I wanted to dislike him because he bought Melkorka for her beauty and sex, but Melkorka didn’t hate him for that so my dislike was watered down. I also thought Napoli wrote him to love Melkorka, but she seemed unceremoniously dumped upon arrival to Iceland.

      What about you? What’s your opinion of Hoskuld’s character?

  2. Yeah, I was in conflict about Hoskuld as well. The thing is he was a good man – but only for his time. He was good relatively speaking. But he still bought Melkorka for his personal pleasure. He came to value her of course. But she was still his possession. He said something about her being the best slave he ever had, right? And that’s when she definitely shut him off.

    He did seem written as if he loved her, but there was certainly a limit to that love, if that’s what it was. But it could also be that he wanted her to show willing affection to him, because it would make him feel better about it, to pretend this was a chosen relationship, not one that was forced upon her. (Though I can’t deny that I kind of wanted it to work out for him and Melkorka. But I feel that I shouldn’t have been wanting that.)

    Napoli’s epilogue about Melkorka’s story is incomplete. I found a more complete version of the tale through other sources on the internet. In one version she later marries another man partially so that she can have property of her own. Also her son does return to Ireland.

    Sorry my response is so long, but I guess that speaks to the thought-provoking nature of the book.

    • Yea, I agree with you about wanting it to work out for Hoskuld and Melkorka, especially the part about feeling wrong for wanting that.

      Very cool about the extended epilogue. I’ll have to look up the story online as well. It’s good to know her son returned to Ireland.

      And…don’t worry about the long response. It’s hardly as long as the one I left in your blog for Sunshine :)

  3. I loved this I immediantley researched her I felt for her so much!
    I learned so much from this book! I learned there is power and strenght in silence. I mirrored her feling and wants and hopes in a miraculous way I never thought possible! I found myself conflicted as to how I should feel about Hoskuld. I hated him at first then like Melkorka I started to soften for him, althought I was always fustrated with him and his behaviors. I love how Melkorka deals with everything and has the best outlook she was strong. I liked this book because it was believable. To many stories today are gooy and sappy with impossible happy endings, well thats harsh highly unlikely endings, and the main girls are always complaining when they have nothing to whine about, Melkorka did but she chose not to, she cried for others and hoped for others. I highly recemmend this book to open minded and logical people alike.

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