If you want the joy of reading a piece of Icelandic literature without the hassle of learning Icelandic, then these two novels, now translated into English, are a great place to start.
Halldór Laxness – Wayward Heroes
When ‘Wayward Heroes’ (‘Gerpla’, in Icelandic) was first published in 1952, three years before Laxness received the Nobel Prize in Literature, it caused quite a commotion. Critics saw the book as poking fun at Iceland’s most prized possession: the Icelandic Sagas, the founding stones of the Icelandic identity. The book borrows the form of the sagas and follows oath-brothers Thorgeir and Thormod in their misadventures, taking part in Viking raids and seducing women across Europe while avoiding the new and ludicrous doctrines of the cult of Christianity—which seems to be cropping up everywhere around them. It’s a raucously funny tale with darkly comic depictions of slapstick violence, but beneath the humour is a commentary about the cost of pride and the post-war culture’s obsession with the “heroic” principles of violent domination. The new translation published in 2016 marks the first time ‘Gerpla’ has been translated directly into English from the original Icelandic.
Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir – The Creator
‘The Creator’ is filled with damaged people. There is Sveinn, an isolated and lonely maker of high-quality sex dolls that he sells to other lonely men for companionship and sexual release. His simple life becomes complicated after a chance encounter with Lóa, a mother of two on the brink of a nervous breakdown due, in part, to her daughter Margrét’s frightening anorexia and social phobia. In a misguided spurt of motherly love Lóa steals one of Sveinn’s sex dolls, intending to use it to help her daughter overcome her revulsion of all things physical by providing her with an unobtrusive companionship. The theft leads to a further mingling of their two lives, expertly captured by Guðrún Eva through a split-perspective narrative that brings to the forefront, sometimes humorously and sometimes tragically, the incomprehension of human interactions.
If these books have got you in the mood for more Icelandic literature, then check out Grapevine’s guide to the Icelandic book store.