The second part of our Scandinavian reading adventure is go!
1. Fish Can Sing by Halldor Laxness (Iceland)
‘Abandoned as a baby, Alfgrimur is content to spend his days as a fisherman living in the turf cottage outside Reykjavik with the elderly couple he calls grandmother and grandfather. There he shares the mid-loft with a motley bunch of eccentrics and philosophers who find refuge in the simple respect for their fellow men that is the ethos at the Brekkukot. But the narrow horizons of Alfgrimur’s idyllic childhood are challenged when he starts school and meets Iceland’s most famous singer, the mysterious Garoar Holm. Garoar encourages him to aim for the “one true note”, but how can he attain it without leaving behind the world that he loves?’
2. The Poetic Edda, edited by Carolyne Larrington (Iceland; review here)
‘After the terrible conflagration of Ragnarok, the earth rises serenely again from the ocean, and life is renewed. The Poetic Edda begins with The Seeress’s Prophecy which recounts the creation of the world, and looks forward to its destruction and rebirth. In this great collection of Norse-Icelandic mythological and heroic poetry, the exploits of gods and humans are related. The one-eyed Odin, red-bearded Thor, Loki the trickster, the lovely goddesses and the giants who are their enemies walk beside the heroic Helgi, Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer, Brynhild the shield-maiden, and the implacable Gudrun. New in this revised translation are the quest-poem The Lay of Svipdag and The Waking of Angantyr, in which a girl faces down her dead father to retrieve his sword. Comic, tragic, instructive, grandiose, witty and profound, the poems of the Edda have influenced artists from Wagner to Tolkien and a new generation of video-game and film makers.’
3. The Blue Fox by Sjon (Iceland; review here)
‘Set against the stark backdrop of the Icelandic winter, an elusive, enigmatic fox leads a hunter on a transformative quest. At the edge of the hunter’s territory, a naturalist struggles to build a life for his charge, a young woman with Down syndrome whom he had rescued from a shipwreck years before. By the end of Sjon’s slender, spellbinding fable of a novel, none of their lives will be the same. Winner of the 2005 Nordic Council Literature Prize the Nordic world’s highest literary honor “The Blue Fox “is part mystery, part fairy tale, and the perfect introduction to a mind-bending, world-class literary talent.’
4. Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson (Somewhere in Scandinavia)
‘It is spring in the valley and the Moomins are ready for adventure! Moomintroll and his friends Snufkin and Sniff find the Hobgoblin’s top hat, all shiny and new and just waiting to be taken home. They soon realize that his is no ordinary hat; it can turn anything or anyone into something else!’
5. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (Finland)
‘An elderly artist and her six-year-old grand-daughter while away a summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. As the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, whims and yearnings, a fierce yet understated love emerges – one that encompasses not only the summer inhabitants but the very island itself. Written in a clear, unsentimental style, full of brusque humour, and wisdom, The Summer Book is a profoundly life-affirming story.Tove Jansson captured much of her own life and spirit in the book, which was her favourite of her adult novels.’
6. Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland by Sarah Moss (Iceland; review here)
‘At the height of the financial crisis in 2009, Sarah Moss and her husband moved with their two small children to Iceland. From their makeshift home among the half-finished skyscrapers of Reykjavik, Moss travels to hillsides of boiling mud and volcanic craters, and the remote farms and fishing villages of the far north. She watches the northern lights and the comings and goings of migratory birds, and as the weeks and months go by, she and her family find new ways to live.’
7. The Listener by Tove Jansson (Around Scandinavia; review here)
‘In her first ever story collection, Jansson revealed the clarity of vision and light philosophical touch that were to become her hallmark. From the good listener who begins to betray the secrets confided to her, to vignettes of a city storm or the slow halting of spring, these stories are gifts of originality and depth.’
I could not resist making this entry Jansson-heavy!