This book has been on quite a few blogs for a while and highly recommended, so when I needed another non Jane Austen choice for our holiday in August, this seemed an interesting book to go with.
It is only 100 pages long and I read it in a day. Written by Sjon from Iceland (he writes lyrics for Bjork), it is set in the Icelandic wilderness in 1883. We are told two juxtaposed stories that become invariably linked as the tale comes together. The first follows Baldur Skuggason, a priest, hunting for the valuable Blue Fox in the snowy wastelands. Then we follow Fridrik B. Fridriksson a few days earlier, a naturalist who knows the priest. Fridrik had come back to his parents home 17 years earlier, to sell it and move on. But after rescuing Abba, a girl with Downs Syndrome, who had been shackled to a ship that had run aground, he had stayed and she had stayed with him. The last part revisits the Priest and the fox. All of them are bound together.
As I said, this is a quick read, which makes the depth of its imagery and meaning a skillful achievement. Some pages contain only a paragraph or even a sentence. It suits the rhythm of the book without being pretentious at all. Lyrical and poetic, but never difficult to read, you realise quickly that this book is special. Called a fable, and 'part-mystery, part fairy-tale' this book operates on lots of levels, some of which are incredibly moving (I was gulping back tears at one point during my lunch break at work so as not to embarress myself), and some of which are truly beautiful. It is also funny, no more so than when the Priest is enraptured by a cods head he has to eat. I want to read it again to enjoy the subtleties I missed the first time around.
The book has not suffered in translation as far as I can tell, Victoria Cribb deserves a mention for a translation that maintains its humour and warmth. The only thing that non-Icelandic readers will miss out on are some of the significant references to traditional stories and myths, as I did. It was, however, fun and interesting to find out some of them while reading about the book afterwards.
A beautiful book, full of intelligent passages and magical moments, memorable and moving. A good choice for book groups also. I am looking forward to discussing it on holiday later this year.
You can read an interview with Sjon about his book The Blue Fox on Me And My Big Mouth