A novel about a meltdown

After a 12-year absence from her home country, Frida Lewis returns to Iceland with her husband, Damien, a suave and sophisticated British diplomat who has just been made Ambassador to Iceland. It is summer 2008, and the global economy is headed for disaster. As the Icelandic financial system begins its downward spiral into meltdown, Frida and Damien’s marriage starts to unravel. Seeking refuge, Frida travels to a small fishing village on Iceland’s West Fjords, where a chance encounter with a stranger turns out to have greater implications than she could have foreseen. With Iceland and Britain locked in a bitter diplomatic dispute, Frida is forced to examine her marriage, her loyalties and her past, and to answer the question: What exactly constitutes betrayal?

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Unraveled: a novel about a meltdown on three devices

Book excerpt

Chapter one

Before she found the earring, there had been no cause for Frida Lowe to doubt her husband’s fidelity. It had never even occurred to her that he might be unfaithful. It wasn’t his style. Sure, he was suave, sophisticated, attractive and successful, but he wasn’t the philandering type.
Anyway, he worked too much.
They were on their way out to a party. Damien, freshly spritzed with cologne, was pacing back and forth at the foot of the stairs, waiting for his wife.
“Frida!” He called, a hint of annoyance in his voice.
“Coming!” she called out, her voice light as a girl’s. “Two minutes!”
He was always punctual; she never was. He was British; she was Icelandic. That explained it, she reasoned to herself. At least as far as she was concerned. Icelanders always did things late, or at the last minute.
Quickly she finished assembling things into her clutch. She pulled on a pair of slingback pumps, and with a critical glance at herself in the mirror – her hair was never quite right, too wispy around the temples – headed out of the bedroom.
At the top of the stairs she hesitated. The light was on in Damien’s study. He would want her to turn it off. Quickly she strode down the hall and pushed open the door. The illumination was coming from the floor lamp next to his desk.
Heading over there, a glittering object on the floor caught her eye. She bent down and picked it up. It was a woman’s earring – a clip-on, shaped like a drop, with an emerald green stone surrounded by smaller stones, set on a faux-antique background. An earring that you would most likely not wear with casual clothes, thus an earring that was not likely to belong to Kristín, their middle-aged housekeeper.
And it was not hers.
“Frida!” His voice again, clipped and irritated.
“Coming!” she called back. She slipped the earring into the pocket of her jacket and swiftly turned out the light.
“We’re already late,” Damien said irritably as she came down the stairs. She threw a cashmere shawl loosely around her shoulders and pulled on beige kid gloves that matched her tailored cream-colored skirt and jacket. Stepping outside, Damien held Frida’s elbow for support as she gingerly made her way down the steps in her heels. Jonni, the driver, waited in the Range Rover out on the street in their reserved parking spot, watching them approach. They made a stunning couple. Damien in his impeccable Armani suit, Frida in her crisp cream-colored skirt and jacket, blonde hair cascading in soft waves down her back. As always, she’d taken special care with her appearance. Damien liked for her to look nice. It made him proud.
He was unusually quiet on the drive to the party. Frida glanced at him, thoughts churning. An earring. Not hers. She put her hand in her pocket and ran her fingers over it, feeling the rough surface of the stones.
Her stomach clenched and she felt pressure in her head. How dare he!
She was taken aback by the violence of the emotion and drew a deep breath, trying to will her heart to stop pounding and her nerves to calm down.
Within minutes, they pulled up outside a stately residence on Ægissída, across from the sea. Jonni got out of the car and opened the door for Frida – something that always made her uncomfortable. For Damien it was normal, but it seemed so out of place in Iceland’s egalitarian society. Also, it made her feel like a fraud. She had left twelve years earlier as Frida Jóhannsdóttir, the scrawny, invisible kid who never invited anyone to her house, and returned as Frida Lowe, wife of Damien Lowe, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Iceland – a woman of means and stature. And now her car door was being opened by someone who could easily have been in her class in grade school, and whom she probably would have avoided and feared because that’s how she was in grade school: always avoiding everyone out of fear.
They strode up to the house and took their place by the door, tall and erect like two statues, still and perfect.



[…] I didn’t realize that Alda is a wonderful novelist as well as a writer of travel and sociological analysis. You will feel that you have come to really know Frida having shared her roller coaster ride in infatuation, marriage, alienation, and rebirth, and discovery. And you will understand, as I had not, what it was like to live in Iceland during the economic crash. I would rank Alda up with Tolstoi and Dostoievsky. Thanks for this novel, Alda, please write more.



What a terrific story! This novel depicts the financial meltdown of Iceland by focusing on the challenges within the marriage of an Icelandic woman and her British husband. I enjoyed how the anxieties produced by the worsening economic situation and the tensions within this particular relationship worked together to create such narrative suspense from start to finish. It was fascinating to learn more about the economic crisis in Iceland but through the vehicle of a fictional tale. Even people who are not particularly interested in Iceland (are there any left?) would find this story enjoyable.



[…] Without giving away the plot, this absorbing and thought-provoking novel combines the personal lives of its two central characters, Damien and Frida, with shrewd political insight into the events that led up to the banking collapse of 2008. Perched on the northern edge of Europe, Iceland found itself in the eye of the storm, its people eventually rising up against the government and bringing about a peaceful ‘pots and pans’ revolution. With intelligence and wit, the author unravels these inner and outer worlds, demonstrating the interplay between public and private events.



Unraveled is a really good read about a really bad thing. Alda Sigmundsdóttir has interwoven two unravelings: a marriage and an economy and made both more comprehensible and more moving by the presence of the other. One of the best things about this book is that by personalizing it (in the sense of making it only about a few people), Alda is able to convey much more about the Icelandic crash – the incomprehensible enormity of it, and its real impact on the ordinary lives of ordinary people – than if she’d tried to paint a broader picture.



This is a carefully crafted novel, full of suspense, atmosphere, humor, and historical reference to the economic collapse that coincides with the crumbling marriage of the protagonist. The author, Alda Sigmundsdóttir, is a great storyteller and very apt at creating convincing characters. The ending is well-executed and unexpected yet gratifying with a promise of a new life and that the heroine will follow her dreams again and continue her quest for enlightenment.

I find this work unique and cannot compare it to any other.



I liked this book for its simple way it explains how the economy in Iceland crashed after the banks failed. You would not think a book about financial problems would hold much interest to someone not involved in the problem, but the characters held my interest and now I long for more. I hope this will lead to a follow-up about the recovery of the country and Frida.



[…] Childhood struggles, places in Iceland (and London and Berlin), the spirit and politics of Iceland and the times – all completely transporting. It left me longing for an Iceland visit and to research more about the times and places. Alda writes with a true voice about heartbreak, hurt, courage and wisdom. It is those parts of the novel that feel authentic and real, those drawn either from own experiences or close observation that are the most riveting and compelling. This author has a unique perspective and expression, and I cannot wait to read more from her.


About the author

Alda Sigmundsdóttir the Author of the Little Books about Iceland

Alda Sigmundsdóttir is a writer, and occasional journalist. She runs her own independent press, Little Books Publishing, based in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Alda is the author of ten books, each of which explores an aspect of Icelandic culture or society. Her two latest books, The Little Book of the Icelanders at Christmas and The Little Book of Days in Iceland, are about the Icelanders’ enthusiasm for the Yuletide season, and Iceland’s special seasonal events and holidays, respectively. Alda is active on social media, and may be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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