Friday, 23 April 2010


I have read one Icelandic novel, and it's supposed to be the main one. It's called Independent People, and it's by Halldor Laxness (Nobel, 1955).

It's brilliant, basically, but there's more, and you will be thrilled to hear it. The protagonist crofter Bjartus is self-destructively determined to accept no help from anyone, to survive and endure on his own terms. And you sort of have to endure in early twentieth century Iceland, bacause it's hard, cold country, and if you don't fight for every inch, you get no inches. All kinds of things go wrong. It's not depressing, somehow, it's actually grimly comic quite often, but it's nightmarish for Bjartus and family. And then, halfway through the book, the litany of woes having reached what feels like it must be a crescendo, you turn the page and read, VOLUME II, Part 1, HARD TIMES. Wow, you think.

Bjartus's fellow Icelanders make a fortune during the Great War because their scarce produce is now worth a ton more than it was. They all think the world has changed, buy property and things, and then reality returns and they are all screwed, because Iceland is a cold, small, hard country. Ring any bells?

Here's a cheery bit:
In its own way misery, no less than revelry, is varied in form and worthy of note wherever there lurks a spark of life in the world, and these children who for some mysterious reason were still alive on the moors had experienced many of its noteworthy phenomena, not only during festivals, but between festivals as well. It is always very instructive to lose one's mother in the first sunshine of the hay-making; and when father goes away after one's eldest brother's disappearance, then that too is a special kind of experience, a new type of misery, quite the same as in revelry, where people are said to draw an enormous distinction between song and dance. A little loss borrows its power from the greater loss, and so, after their father's departure, their motherlessness came like a creditor clamouring its demand upon memory; few like father, none like mother; and in the depths of winter the children see once more in imagination that summer day when their mother was laid out on a bier in the lamb-house, among the toadstools at noon, and still the sun went on shining.

1 comment:

Claire said...

Iceland is a jaw dropping place.I've been twice and if I won the lotto in the morning I'd buy a place there. The landscape,their respect for their environment and history their quality of life and the general laid back atmosphere makes it a "must see".Many workers in Reykjavic go for a dip in one of the many heated pools before work ,even when its -8.
I remember being told that Iceland has the highest number of books per capita in the World.They also have a Christmas traditional called Christmas Cat which is a Santa type creature who goes about eating naughty children.
Yes its cold and yes its hard but the payoff is a beautiful well cared for clean environment full of very calm and funny people.