Halldor Laxness in L.A. Times
On the occasion of the rerelease of The Fish Can Sing, Richard Raynor’s monthly Paperback Writers column features a nice overview of Iceland’s best-known writer, Halldor Laxness:
This 1957 novel is narrated by the orphan Alfgrimur Hansson, who tells, in a meandering way, of his relationship with the mysterious Gardar Holm, who has left Reykjavik and achieved worldwide fame as an opera singer. “We were born and bred each on his own side of the same churchyard and have always been called close kinsmen, and many people have confused us and some have even taken the one for the other,” Alfgrimur observes. Throughout the novel, Laxness dangles the possibility that Gardar might be Alfgrimur’s phantasm, a double who is by turns glamorous, brilliant and fraudulent. “In his suitcases, which were of good quality and fairly new, were found bricks wrapped in straw and nothing else.”
That image, like many in the novel, is quietly haunting and visionary; Laxness habitually combines the magical and the mundane, writing with grace and a quiet humor that takes awhile to notice but, once detected, feels ever present. Alfgrimur can’t quite decide whether he really wants to leave Iceland and become a star like Gardar or stay at home and be a lump fisherman. Only for the truly Northern soul would this seem a dilemma.
It’s worth noting that Rayner also mentions the rereleases of Handke’s The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (FSG) and Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles (Penguin) in the same column.
The L.A. Times has been a great paper for international lit coverage for years. Steve Wasserman was a fantastic book review editor, and David Ulin has been a more than admirable replacement. Susan Reynolds’s columns have always been insightful and the freelance reviewers like Tom McGonigle and Laurel Maury who have written for the Times are fantastic.
There’s no real point to this paragraph of praise, it just seems that we so frequently bitch about review sections, rather than highlighting the things papers do well.
On a sidenote, I breathed a huge sigh of relief last Friday when, minutes after posting the Missing Soluch review complaining about the lack of review coverage, I received the NY Times Books Update with its Islamic focus, and found that Missing Soluch again was overlooked.