Translated by Victoria Cribb


Book 14 of my #20booksofsummer21

Time is whizzing by and I’m not sure if I’m going to get through all the 20 books on my list. I wish I’d counted the three “extra” books I read earlier in the summer! (Though that would mean going back and writing reviews.)

Set in Reykjavik in 1918, this one is a short (hurray!), intense novel. The narrative focuses around 16-year-old gay orphan Mani Steinn, at a time of immense change for Iceland, with the arrival of the so-called Spanish Flu, the recognition of Icelandic independence by Denmark at the end of World War I and the eruption of the huge Katla volcano.

Mani is something of an outsider, a people-watcher who spends his time hustling for sex and watching silent movies, but who is later recruited by a doctor to help with the casualties.

Reykjavik has, for the first time, assumed a form that reflects his inner life: a fact he would not confide to anyone.

Mani should seem a hopeless character: he’s alone in the world, poor, uneducated and illiterate. But his life is full of moments that transcend these bare facts.

Although Mani’s sexual encounters are with men, he is captivated by a slightly older girl, the mysterious, motorcycle-riding Sola G, who brings some colour to his life, representing the freedom offered by the silver screen, and the possibility of invention, or re-invention.

There are echoes of our own, present-day early reactions to a new pandemic in the initial responses of the authorities to the outbreak of disease:

… there is no cause to resort to drastic and costly preventative measures, since the mortality rate must be regarded as within acceptable limits. … The Icelandic Board of Health merely urges the public to take precautions similar to those they would take for the seasonal grippe that does the rounds every year…

Although Moonstone is much-loved by many, I didn’t really get on with the concentrated, elliptical prose and the confusingly folkloric elements – it wasn’t for me, but given the length I had no excuse not to make it to the end!

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  1. Icelandic books can be so difficult! I think I can only cope with Laxness because I’ve read a lot of the sagas, and I note I have an Icelandic trilogy in my Pile of books to read when I’ve got the other ones in the series, when I collected book 2 in the series in about 2016 … !

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      1. Suddenly remembered I hadn’t replied to this: Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s Heaven and Hell trilogy, it was on a separate pile in my TBR because I originally found only volume 2, then 3 but really should be read soon! The problem I have with Icelandic books is that they translate horrible noir crime and while I have a stronger stomach for Icelandic than other stuff, due to reading all the sagas, i’d like some non-icky ones!


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