Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A contemporary Icelandic saga. . .

My heart goes out to Iceland which has been so hard hit by economic woes that the country is virtually bankrupt. I had such a wonderful holiday there this summer. Some of you may have read the piece in last Saturday's Globe and Mail about the resilience of the Icelanders as demonstrated through their literature, both historical and contemporary. One of the authors quoted was Bragi Ólafsson, the author of a novel I just happened to have finished reading. The Pets, just released in a translation by Janice Balfour is published by Open Letter, a new venture out of the University of Rochester that is dedicated to publishing international literature in translation. They have a terrific blog called Three Percent (which is, on average, the low percentage of foreign literature that actually gets translated into English annually) which is chock full of news links and reviews about books and authors from around the globe. Well worth checking out.
As is The Pets, a novel about a day that goes terribly wrong for our main character Emil Halldorsson. He has just arrived home after a trip to London and is looking forward to relaxing in his apartment with all the new books, CDs and movies he has brought back (I can relate!). He puts the kettle on to brew some coffee. And then there's a knock on the door and looking out the window, Emil spies Havard Knutsson, an irritating and unwanted accquaintance from his past. Not wanting to let him in, Emil ducks under his bed and hopes that he will just go away. Havard spies the kettle boiling however, and getting no answer at the door, breaks into Emil's apartment through the window and then proceeds - much to Emil's chagrin - to not only make himself at home, but to invite everyone who subsequently telephones Emil, over to his apartment for an impromptu party. The story moves forward hour by aching-limbed hour as Emil desperately witnesses the destruction of his apartment from behind the bedskirt, along with any hopes of a romantic tryst with Greta, a beautiful woman he met on the plane. Interspersed in the narrative are flashbacks to five years previously when Emil and Havard were pet-sitting for English friends with disastrous results. This is quite a funny tale about surviving uncomfortable social situations, the hazards of talking to strangers sitting next to you on the plane and what not to do when you are responsible for looking after small animals.
It's time to read some Icelandic literature - the authors need your krona!

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