Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Blue Fox - Sjon

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I don't know why I've always wanted to go to Iceland. Perhaps simply because it's remote and still contains wilderness in a world where that which is wild seems to be ever increasingly distant. My love affair with the island only increased upon at last visiting it, and I was excited to receive and read this book.

Being I think the second book of Iceland written by an Icelandic writer I've consumed post-visiting, and perhaps it was coincidence but both stories rooted themselves in the same era of Iceland's history, in the same manner of community. I don't know that you need to be familiar with Iceland's history to ground yourself within this story, but it doesn't hurt.

A pastor hunts a fox. The fox may or may not be a truth. A woman is buried.

And the book ends.

Did the story end? It didn't feel like it. The conclusion felt like a small cheat, to be honest. The language used is sparse and precise, painting with a few deft strokes a landscape both personal and political, topographical and mythic, across which fox and pastor traverse. But it's thin. So thin. It was almost like reading a ghost book: all the while I was enjoying those sentences and paragraphs, and the deeper story criss-crossing the twinned streams, and all the while I could see so much more this story could have been. As if the writer was a bird just skimming the top of the water, the story doesn't leave shallow water.

In doing a quick google to find the above links I saw many a review for the book on all manner of high-circulation and well regarded publications, all positive. This book has won an award. Perhaps the fault lies with me, and choosing to read it on a 40+ degree day while in a hospital room with no underwear on and the flow constantly interrupted by nurses asking me if I had all my teeth.

It's a wonderful piece of writing. It's a good story.

I just felt it could have been so much more.

As an aside: The two female characters in the story die. One dies off the page, we never see her alive, and she is well and truly painted as 'other'. The other dies on the page. Twice. In fact she doesn't just die, she's destroyed. And is also well and truly 'other'. There are no other female characters.

Getting pretty fed up of encountering this in fiction.

Verdict: Beautiful but thin.


  1. Have you read Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow? That's the closest 'bridge' between Icelandic/nordic/Scandinavian and typical 'western' writing that I've found so far. God that sounds so naff... there was (is) a lot of history about male, female and non-gender specific in the past. And something to learn for everyone from all of them. But Icelandic stories... there needs to be preparation. There needs to be moments of reckoning. Of silence. Of acceptance. Icelandic stories are really difficult, not just for womenfolk, but for the entire nation, historically, culturally, emotionally... ach. Too many thoughts to jam into one comment. Bjork says it best "I thought I could organise freedom. How Scandinavian of me".

  2. I didn't really make any kind of point or ask a question, did I. I'm terrible at comments, I apologise.

  3. Heh, you make me chuckle, Kat. The point I see you making is that for Icelandic narratives, or Scandanavian narratives, there is history and culture to take into account, as should be considered when reading a story stemming from any culture for which I'm on the outside.

    And you're right, I can't stereotype Icelandic literature based on the two books I've read recently - having browsed the book shops in Reykjavik I'm aware of how much more is out there.

    But for me, I'm just tired of seeing women in fiction destroyed, or rendered into a metaphor and othered, no matter what the source of the narrative. I see it too much, especially when the author is male. It's a generalisation, but something too common.