Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Iceland: Butterflies in November, by Audur Ava Olafsdottir

It's not difficult to find Icelandic crime novels - they seem to go along with the whole Scandinavian crime noir scene that is very popular right now and helps fill out the shelves of our library system. I knew though, that Iceland is a very literary nation and I wanted to see what else I could find. (Literary festivals in Iceland feature prominently in the works of David Mitchell, who I suspect may have attended a few as a speaker himself).

This book is narrated in the first person and the narrator does not appear to be named (I might have missed it somewhere, but she is only referred to as "she" on the back cover blurb so I suspect not). She has been dumped by her husband and her lover, hits a goose with her car, killing it (and subsequently cooking it), and acquires responsibility for her pregnant best friend's deaf son, after her friend is hospitalised.

There is one bright note - she wins the lottery. Now spectacularly rich, she takes the boy, Tumi, on a road trip across the country. Despite her never having wanted children, she bonds surprisingly well with the deaf boy. Along the way, passages in italics hint at a secret in her past.

The book is described as "blackly comic". I didn't find it comic in a "laugh out loud" sort of way, more "wry smile" territory - but also tender and sensitive. A very enjoyable read which also gave some of the flavour of Iceland in November and December, when the sun barely lifts above the horizon (but one can still go swimming, in hot pools).

Butterflies in November was translated from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon and published by Pushkin Press in 2013.

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