Margaret Elphinstone

The Sea Road #01

The Sea Road

Book Details

Published by Canongate 2000

This book has been published in Canada (Toronto: McArthur and Co. 2000, 2nd ed. 2001) 244 pp.

It was translated into German by Marion Balkenhol as
Der Weg Nach Vinland (Germany: Econ Ullstein List Verlag 2001) 336 pp.

It was translated into Danish by Lene Gulløv as Søvejen
(Copenhagen: Lindhardt and Ringhof 2001) 254 pp.

It was translated into Portuguese by Alice Silva Santos as
O Caminho Maritimo (Lisbon: Lyon 2003) 254 pp.


Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award for 2001

The Sea Road appears in '100 Best Scottish Books of All Time' produced by List Magazine

Jonathan Falla has this to say about the book

The Sea Road is a short, terse novel. An excellent example of ‘less is more’. The prose is often luminous, and the whole a most satisfying read’


A haunting and compelling historical novel, The Sea Road is an ambitious re-telling of the Viking exploration of the North Atlantic from the viewpoint of one extraordinary woman.

Taking the accidental discovery of North America as its focal point, what emerges is a multi-layered voyage into the unknown – the personal, geographical and the spiritual – all recounted with wonderfully rich, atmospheric detail.

Elphinstone's feel for character, period and landscape is as spellbinding as her ability to describe issues of universal interest and in The Sea Road she has produced a historical novel of outstanding quality.


Magnus Magnusson

Gudrid of Iceland was the farthest travelled woman in the world during the Viking Age, from Iceland and Norway to Greenland and North America and then to Rome. She gave birth to the first European child born in North America and for a thousand years she has deserved a saga in her own right.

Margaret Elphinstone has made good the omission at last – and how well she has done it!

Ron Kirke, Times Literary Supplement, 22/12/00

The Sea Road describes with great vividness the routines, the discomforts and the occasional glories of life on a longship, ashore in Iceland and its dependencies, Greenland and Vinland. There is a pleasant scene when the monk delights Gudrid – who is illiterate, of course – by showing her an illuminated bible.

Alex O’Connell, The Times 4/10/00

Forget Richard Branson, the audacious female traveller Gudrid of Iceland is the original explorer’s explorer … Elphinstone has written a fine tribute to a woman whose tale is as warm and inviting as a hot spring on a clear winter day.

Simon Hall, The Herald 21/10/00

… One of the many beauties of this novel is the way in which Elphinstone puts flesh on old saga bones. While much of the dialogue is fittingly laconic, there are delightful passages of lyrical prose which describe isolated pockets of beauty among the frozen desolation of Greenland … Every other page, it seems, is gilded with erudite detail, bringing the saga templates to life … As well as capitalising on the narrative verve of the sagas, Elphinstone has intellectualised her source material deeply … The result is a novel which is wonderfully rich in ideas of real philosophical depth.

My feeling is that our writers of late have over-indulged in gritty, modern, urban Scotland. It’s a refreshing delight to read a novel of such extremely high calibre which interweaves mythical, magical, and historical dimensions in ways which are reminiscent of the Scottish Renaissance literature of the twenties and thirties. Elphinstone is a worthy successor to writes like Linklater and Mackay Brown, developing their themes in the new century with a voice which is distinctively her own. Never before has the Norse past been put to such evocative and compelling use in our literature.

Historical Novel Society

So many historical novels are peopled with modern thinkers in period costume, but not The Sea Road. All the characters are completely of their time and their era is absolutely convincing. Their thoughts and actions have such a ring of truth that a keen sense of realism is maintained throughout.

Peter Donaldson, The Bookseller 16/6/00

… a gripping historical novel … The Sea Road is firmly founded on the old Icelandic sagas and written with considerable style.

Paul Dale, The List, 5/10/00

Gudrid is a great guide and her storytelling skills are second to none. Her Viking men are almost superhuman, her landscapes pure and her understanding of the ultimate sense of ambition that powers every generation is often startling. Forget Seamus Heaney’s new adaptation of Beowulf, this is much more fun.

Joan Clark, The Globe and Mail (Toronto) 9/12/00

Elphinstone is a canny, graceful writer whose prose is as clear and clean as Greenland air… This is historical fiction at its best, and the quality of Elphinstone’s prose shines from every page.

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