As you may know, I’m actively trying to read more authors from other countries. I’ve also recently developed a bit of a fascination with Iceland for a book I’m attempting to write. So this winner of the Icelandic Literary Prize seemed like a good place to start.
Set in 1918 as the erupting volcano Katla can be seen colouring the sky night and day from the streets of Reykjavik, but life in the small capital carries on as usual, despite the volcano and the Great War grinding on.
Sixteen-year-old loner Máni Steinn lives for the movies and has regular encounters with gentlemen of a particular persuasion that make sure he has the pocket money he needs to view them. But then the Spanish flu epidemic comes ashore, killing hundreds and driving thousands into their sick beds.
For Máni everything changes.
This is more of a novella, a very quick read that captures Iceland at a moment of profound transformation. It wastes not a word and starts with Mani on his knees before one of his gentlemen – it is honest and descriptive, not for the under 15’s. But it is not lurid or titillating. It is the story of a misfit, struggling to find his place in a country where life and death are too close. And at a time when judgement is based on who you are not what you do.
I enjoyed this, but I did feel it was missing certain elements. Reykjavik really could have been anywhere, there was little sense of anything Icelandic. Many countries are ultimately the same as their neighbours and it is only the times that make the difference so that’s ok. But there wasn’t enough of Mani’s hopes and fears, there was too much tell and not enough dialogue. All these things are only minor complaints though, they don’t do much to spoil the book.
The ending though was not good, it was rushed and weird. Weird I like, rushed I do not.
NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews