From Iceland — The world can be changed through fiction

The world can be changed through fiction

Published November 6, 2008

Author Guðrún Eva Mínevrudóttir on making "The Maker" and other stories

The world can be changed through fiction
Photo by
Jói Kjartans

Author Guðrún Eva Mínevrudóttir on making "The Maker" and other stories

At 32-years of age, Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir is already the author of six novels in addition to volumes of short stories and other works. Her latest novel, Skaparinn (e. The Maker), is a tale of two persons who share their misery for a few days in a series of complicated events. A Grapevine journalist met with Guðrún Eva at her home in Reykjavík to discuss her new book, her work ethics and the author’s role in society.

With six novels under the belt, I guess people talk about you as an experienced writer rather than a promising one?
“Yes, I’m not referred to as promising anymore. It has been 10 years since I released my first book and I have gained much experience. I don’t want to belittle my older works but I’d say when I wrote Yosoy [2005] I finally nailed it, and since then I feel I have full control over the novel form.”

When it comes to the novel’s form, is it important to write a novel that is traditional and accessible?
Sometimes it’s hard for me to figure out if I’m writing a traditional book or something out of the ordinary, but I want to get through to people and have them read my books. My last two books, Yosoy and Skaparinn, are both suspense novels and Skaparinn is even more accessible since it has only two main characters. We should still not forget that novels, like the name suggests, are supposed to deliver something new so originality is part of the whole game.

What about social commentary? Is it necessary to have opinions on political matters?
I think it’s important for authors to have an opinion, but it should not be an obligation. When I was younger I was more political but then I came to certain crossroads and felt that I somehow had to choose between fiction and real matters. Don’t misunderstand me. I do want to change the world but I want to do it through fiction. I have tremendous faith in fiction. It is a force that can change the world because it places people in other people’s steps.

In her new novel she puts herself, and the reader, in the steps of 40 year old lonely but sympathetic creator of life size silicon dolls. Is it harder for you to get into the mind of men rather than women?
“Laxness was often praised for his ability to adopt the women’s mindset. I guess he just didn’t think of it at all. Men and women are just people and their feelings are more similar than many make of it. Some matters are more technical though. Like with age. People of a certain age would not do and think certain things because it never touched their generation,” she says and implies that writing a novel can require some scientific methods. “I call it surgery. After I finish first draft, the editor [Valur Antonsson] and me examine some details and I do some patch-work to strengthen the characters,” says Guðrún Eva and points out she takes suggestions particularly well.

How did you come up with the idea of Skaparinn?
“I had already laid down the grids of the main woman character that is basically a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Then I saw a magazine article about a company called “Real Dolls” that manufactures silicon dolls for lonely people. I was reading the magazine at café in Paris and accidentally spilled tea over it so I had to take it home. I read the article and became fascinated because it was hard to imagine that there are people in this world who have lost all faith in relations with humans and buy these dolls instead,” she says and points out that the dolls seem to have a greater purpose than fulfilling sexual needs. The other main character in the book is the doll maker, and by a chance the two characters end up spending a few days together. The plot is full of misunderstanding and has many humorous elements despite dealing with serious subjects. “Part of the suspense in the story is to see how these characters react to the strange circumstances I lay upon them.”

Is that something you do a lot, to put ordinary people into strange situations?
I have heard people describe Skaparinn in that way. At least it has more ordinary characters than Yosoy, which was filled with strange people. You can still do a lot with regular people, like looking at their reactions. Describing the reactions of a normal person, like the female character in Skaparinn, when the world collapses over her was a challenge. Many people I’ve met have strong opinions on this matter. Some say the character is too casual about it while others say she over-reacts.

Is the doll supposed to represent?
One of the characters in the book, the teenage girl, has anorexia. How did you inform yourself about the disorder?

“Dealing with this subject is like walking on glass. There are many clichés and many ways to make it insincere and unreal. I browsed the Internet a lot. These girls have webcams and you can watch them talk about their feelings on Youtube. It can be quite disturbing,” she says and adds an explanation on why an anorexic character was fitted to the story. “The story deals with the body a lot. Women of life and blood are compared to the dolls made by the creator and that puts much focus on the body. I felt like these anorexic girls were always looking for something pure. They are obsessed with being as little alive as possible, like death is the purest form of being.”

How do you go about when you write a story that has to resonate with readers in time and space. Are you afraid that some of the contemporary details will age badly?
I don’t want the material to be dated. There are not a lot of details in Skaparinn that will become obsolete. But I am not necessarily trying to tread lightly. I just think such details are irrelevant to the story. The books I have been writing for the last few years are supposed to deal our common human existence, not everyday triviality.

Do you have any upcoming projects?
“I’m always working on something. I have ideas for two different novels. I would also like to adopt one of them for the theatre and in addition I have an idea for another play I hope to write someday. I’m on a leave from writing till the end of this year though. I’ve been working hard and it can be exhausting,” says Guðrún Eva and tells me about how drained she was after finishing Yosoy. “I got pneumonia twice after finishing that book. It was horrible.”


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