First off, I can’t believe that I managed to leave Hallgrimur Helgason off of yesterday’s list of contemporary Icelandic authors. His novel 101 Reykjavik was published a few years back by Scribner, and was also made into a movie. The book of his that always sounded most interested to me though is The Author of Iceland. Here’s a description Daniel Mandel once sent me:
The Author of Iceland, winner of the 2001 Icelandic Literature Prize, is about a writer named Einar Grimsson, who is a character based on the great Icelandic writer Halldor Laxness. The novel begins with Einar in old age, who one day wakes up to discover he is now living in one of his own novels. Grimsson slowly becomes younger as the novel progresses, and his life is explored in reverse—falling in love, embracing Stalinist ideologies, and trying to make good on the mistakes of his own life. But Grimsson can’t change fate, and soon realizes that he is trapped in his own novel, and fiction is no different than life.
Rounding out my week of posts about Iceland, here’s the article I wrote for Publishing Perspectives on the Festival and the recent interest in Icelandic fiction:
Although Iceland has had some very notable cultural exports — Halldor Laxness, Bjork, and Sigur Ros among them — last fall’s spectacular economic collapse probably brought more attention to this island nation than any other event in its modern history. One year later, the financial sector may still be recovering, but its literary scene is thriving.
“Our goal is to get people to have a crush on Iceland and Icelandic literature.” That’s how Agla Magnúsdóttir — the director of the Icelandic Literature Fund, and one of the organizers of the Reykjavik International Literary Festival — described last week’s series of readings, interviews, and other cultural events.
Dozens of writers from both Iceland and abroad participated in the festival, including Gyrðir Elíasson, Kristín Ómarsdóttir, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Steinar Bragi, Thor Vilhjálmsson (all from Iceland), Naja Marie Aidt (Denmark), Michael Ondaatje (Canada), David Sedaris (U.S.), Jesse Ball (U.S.), Henning Ahrens (Germany), and Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Kenya).
The events were very well attended, which shouldn’t be that surprising, considering there’s been increased sales of Icelandic fiction in the domestic market. Most publishers figured that in a time of great economic upheaval, self-help and nonfiction would dominate the best-seller lists, but instead, it seems that most Icelandic readers are looking for an escape. According to Úa Matthíasdóttir of Forlagið-Iceland’s largest trade publisher — there was a surge in sales for fiction last Christmas that went against conventional wisdom.
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .