Heart of Man (my translation; original titel Hjarta mannsins), the final part in Jón Kalman Stefánssons trilogy, centers on The Boys attempts to make the crucial choices of youth. Love and the future is at stake, while the people he has com to care about are forced into alliances they had never thought of. Life in the small Icelandic town is changing.
The mood and the tempo carries on from the previous installment, but here I’m used to them, which makes for better reading. Heart of Man is also the most complex of the three, plotwise, something that I find refreshing.
The end is at the same time terrible and terrific. While one part of me states that this is how all stories should end, simply because it is how the do end, another part finds the final scenes a bit contrived and improbable. In my humble opinion the book should have ended a few pages earlier, with much the same result, but with a greater impact.
I managed to finish the third draft of the “sequel” to my novel Brother soul, sister flame today. Now there’s just the editing and the polishing and then off to a paid critic. I’m nervous (when am I not?), partly because the last few weeks with not even reaching the finals in the Swedish Selmapriset and the ever ongoing difference of opinion between me and the vast majority of the writing community (which seems to favour assembly-made entertainment rather than artistic attempts), have pushed my self-confidence to a record low: I simply cannot produce relevant texts; partly also because this new book will, in the eyes of many mainstream readers and writers, be virtually unreadable. Well, I think it will prove a small step forward for the fantasy genre.
I will probably publish it using my prize from last years Indie Book Awards. Now there’s a confidence-booster!
My expectations were set a bit too high after Jón Kalman Stefánssons Heaven and hell, the first book about The Boy. That was such a marvel of literary triumph that I simply lack words. The Sorrow of Angels (my translation), the second volume, is a bit longer, it lacks the precise touch of part one and fails to hold me as firmly. It is, still, a very good book, where we follow The Boy and the Mail-man Jens on their dangerous journey across the Icelandic highlands, through an endless, and probably very symbolic, snow-storm. That is all. But Stefánssons magic relationship with words and his fearless confrontations with the greatest of philosophical questions, lifts the relatively thin story to unexpected heights. I started on part three at once.
Now, I admit that I have something of a love-hate relationship with fantasy, but this thought just struck me when I read about an aspiring authors high fantasy plot: Isn’t it peculiar that so many fantasy writers tend to create worlds where everything is, from their own political point of view, alright? Worlds where the good usually wins in the end; worlds where men and women are equal; where homosexuality is perfectly normal; where the colour of your skin is irrelevant. Granted, there are other issues with these worlds: tyrants, evil supernatural entities, monsters and so on, but socially they seem to be ordered just like the writer would like our world to be organized. And since the good guys usually wins in the end … well, it all turns out alright.
Fantasy is sometimes accused of being nothing more than escapism, and when I read about worlds constructed this way I can’t stop myself from agreeing. Instead of using fantasy to put a light on real issues (such as sexism, homophobia, racism and so on) some writers choose to simply ignore them and behave as if they are not real. The logic seems to be: If I write a book where the colour of someones skin doesn’t matter, then I will add to the normalization process, that is: help build a better world, where skincolour actually is irrelevant. Maybe it works that way, I’m not convinced.
In my eyes racism is a very real problem and fantasy (like any other art) should deal with it, not ignore it. The books should be about racism, sexism and homophobia, not about worlds where these things don’t exist. Just a thought.
The story told in Anders Björkelids Förbundsbryterskan is extremely standard fantasy: two kids on a mission to save the world, faces obstacles of the fantastic kind. If that was all this book was I would’ve been hard in my criticism, but Björkelids language is aeons more precise and effective than the average fantasy writer’s. Very few scenes are prolonged just for effect, everything leads forward (or connects backwards). Where almost every other fantasy writer tries to hide his or her lack of imagination behind veritable avalanches of words (yes, Mr Martin, Mr Jordan (or Mr Sanderson) and Mr Erikson, I’m talking about you) Björkelid simply admits that his story isn’t very unique and then sets out to do the very best he can. Which is pretty good.
There are no speculative sex scenes, no gory violence just to chock. There is, however, an imagination that makes me think of Pan’s Labyrinth. And there is a stylistic presence, awareness, that is all but non-existant in other fantasy. My favourite episode is the legend of Dådna and her journey to the underworld. It’s so well written that I automatically compare it to Torgny Lindgren. Read this book, if just for those few pages.
Sharon Boltons A Dark and Twisted Tide is a crime novel. Wow! My second, if you don’t count The Adventures and stuff of Mr. Holmes, Monsieur Poirot and Miss Marple. My experience is therefore thin. My liking is, if possible, even thinner. As is the story.
The cliché-carpet, however, is thick and flourishing. The dialogues are contrived and stupid – police people explaining to each other what they really, really should know. There are few surprises and very little suspense. The killer is … an utter surprise, however, not because you couldn’t expect it (after all, every single person mentioned in the book is closely connected to the plot, as it is in real life (not)), but because he/she hasn’t showed even a touch of his/her psychotic nature before it is suddenly revealed that he/she is a severely disturbed killer.
The language is every-day certified: no difficult words, no creative solutions, no uncomfortably long and complicated sentences, nothing that might bother the average brain. Thus, it is boring, predictable and a good lesson in how it shouldn’t be done. And yet: it sells. It’s popular. Which says a lot about the value of popularity.
No! No, I say!
Ondska, by Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl, is an experimenting book about a love triangle in modern day Iceland, told against the background of World War 2 and the massacre of jews in Lithuania. Agnes, granddaughter of the nazi-sympathizers who murdered her jewish great grandparents, is writing an essay on right wing extremism. She lives with Omar and falls in love with the neo-nazi who is her primary source.
An interesting and sometimes provocative novel. On occasion the experiment fails and results in less entertaining parts, but in general it’s a consistent and inspired work of prose. Recommended!