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Latest Review: "The Little Horse" by Torvald Steen

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by P. T. Smith on Torvald Steen’s The Little Horse, translated by James Anderson and published by Seagull Books.

Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:

The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered on his own property for overdue political debts and ambitious/vengeful rivals, the book breaks down the five days. The structure provides clarity and directness, which Steen slowly unravels by traveling through Snorre’s memories and into the path of the lives intersecting his, of those who loved him, who hated him, and who killed him. The Little Horse shows just how much richness there is in dramatic irony. That we know Snorre’s end and he is ignorant is not single note. We can snicker, find fault and reason to mourn, but at its deepest expression, the dramatic irony is fate, death, and Steen shows it hovering over all of us. In the midst of this, Steen doesn’t abandon the ripe entertainment in a story of love, fatherhood, spies, betrayals, manipulation, revenge, and assassins attacking a man who has secret tunnels on his property and a son who kills on his orders in eleventh-century Iceland. It is a saga itself and Anderson’s translation accomplishes the difficult task of creating not just the descriptions of a historical time, but prose that has the stiffness of an older world, while still tumbling gently, never forgetting that Iceland is a land of beauty.

If historical fiction is straightforward, convinced of its own solidity, that the historical side coheres without the cracks of fiction, particularly the fractured narratives of post-modernity, then there is nothing to trust, naïveté or deception are in play. Done carelessly, plain facts mixed with the overwriting of a historical person to create the whole of a plot- and character-focused novel, leaves a thin fiction, easily undone by any inaccuracies and its leap over what is not and cannot be known.

For the rest of the review, go here.

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