In the wake of two Icelandic women being slut-shamed over the idiocy of some poorly-quarantining English football halfwits, the Grapevine has put together this selection of recommended stories to help you better understand Icelandic women as a whole.
Konan við þúsund gráður/Woman at a thousand degrees
This is, to say the least, a controversial pick. Hallgrímur Helgason was criticized heavily for this book, as it was largely based on real people that lived in Iceland. Those kinds of things seem to spark controversy and bickering within small bourgeois societies like ours, even if the story itself is fiction… well, more or less. There is a small ground for that bourgeois bickering. The main character of the book is called Herra—which actually translates to “sir” in English, but is short for Herbjörg—and she’s a stand-in for the very real Brynhildur Björnsson.
The story revolves around old lady waiting for her death, telling the readers about her colourful past, which entails nazi father, the Russian invasion of Berlin in WWII, the insane harshness of Icelandic women in early 1900 and how messed up life is was for a grandchild of a president. Oh, did I mention that she’s holding a hand grenade the whole time? Trust me, this novel is about the great Icelandic feminine spirit. And you can read your own copy here.
Kópavogskrónikan/The Chronicles of Kópavogur
The idea of a fucked up life takes on a whole new meaning when reading this novel about an absolutely lost woman trying to explain to her kids why she is so utterly messed up. To start with, she lives in Kópavogur.
What Kamilla captures here is the brutal sarcasm of Icelandic women that can castrate a man with a few words. At the same time, she doesn’t really want that, so she just drinks vodka at Catalina and explains why she let that miserable stockbroker cum all over her. Hm…perhaps I’m not explaining this very well. The essence here is that Icelandic women are hilariously funny, witty and, well, dangerously sarcastic on top of being weirdly straight forward. This book is a must-read for everyone that has had a failed relationship and suffers from low self-esteem. Or anyone who just wants to have a good laugh.
Ósjálfrátt / Absentmindedly
“Ósjálfrátt” by Auður Jónsdóttir is one of those books that can change your life. It will definitely linger with you, slowly changing your soul the more you think about it. Auður is the grandchild of Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s only Nobel Prize winner, but more importantly, she’s also the granddaughter of Auður Laxness, the wife of Halldór. She also appears as a character at the beginning of the book, which is a fiction, although Auður always writes close to her own reality.
Auður Jónsdóttir doesn’t shield herself in any way in this story, going through her own failed marriage and the terrible ordeal when she experienced the 1995 avalanche in Flateyri, in which 20 people died. The story also dives deep into the writer’s relationship with her alcoholic mother.
Besides all of this, Auður has publicly defended the poor Icelandic girls that have been slut-shamed in Iceland and the UK for visiting the aforementioned English halfwits and she wrote a detailed article about all of the stupid things she did before we invented the smartphone. And I am not exaggerating when I say, it’s insane what she was up to. You can find her account at Kjarninn and run it through google translate. Even a bad translation can’t damage that article.
Brennu-Njáls saga/ Njál’s Saga
Well, obviously not all of Njál’s Saga only the part with Hallgerður and Bergþóra.
Women in Iceland have always been strong and powerful—even the Vikings understood this.
Two of the best female characters in Icelandic literature are Hallgerður Langbrók and Bergþóra Skarphéðinsdóttir. Despite how epic they are in their own rights, they are complete side characters in this Icelandic classic. These women were nothing less than badasses and while the thick Vikings were hammering each other with rusty swords like idiots, the women were playing the political game.
This is such a big dramatic story, so, for the sake of concision, I am simplifying things here. What matters here, is that all of the women that appear in Njáls Saga end up convincing men to kill for them and being responsible for their own husbands’ deaths in one way or another.
Hallgerður plays a particularly big part in the death of her husband, Gunnar á Hliðarenda. He slaps her around earlier in the book. Instead of whimpering and falling into silence, she threatens him, telling Gunnar that she would have her revenge sooner or later. He doesn’t think much of it, being the most skilled Viking of them all, mostly because of his spear and his bow, which is notably strung with Hallgerður’s hair.
Fast forward to the end of the tale, when Gunnar is fighting dozens of men and his bowstring snaps. He asks his beloved Hallgerður for a strand of hair to save his life and she gives him only a cold stare, saying “now I will have my revenge.” Of course, Gunnar dies. Some ages ago, this was perhaps perceived as an example of how deceitful and vengeful women are. The common perception of this is pretty simple: the fucker had it coming.
It’s an amazing story, and we happen to sell copies of it, in English, here.
Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.
You can also check out our shop, loaded with books, apparel and other cool merch, that you can buy and have delivered right to your door.
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!