In his 2003 novel, writer/poet Sjón takes the reader on to a journey to provincial Iceland of the 19th century and the life of two men, Pastor Baldur and the farmer Friðrik Friðriksson. It is evident from the beginning that the pastor and the farmer share a history, one that unravels as the story goes on.
Winter is in full bloom, it’s freezing cold and avalanches happen regularly. In these dangerous conditions, Pastor Baldur decides to go hunting for fox in the white, wide open after Friðrik tells him of a rare black fox that lurks in the wild, knowing the Pastor would be entrenched by his passion for the fur.
And Pastor Baldur gets more and more obsessively involved in a sort of cat and mouse game with the fox. Is he hunting the black fox, or is the fox chasing him like a shadow? It dawns on the reader that the Pastor is not the man he seems. Out there in the harsh, unmerciful nature, where it’s only him and the fox, Baldur is thrown back to his mere existence and shows his true and natural self.
In his writings, the poet Sjón does not use conventional prose language. His words are scarce and therefore loaded with importance. Some pages consist only of a few sentences with a lot of white space, acknowledging the white open the drama is set in. Through the course of the story, the reader comes to pay more and more attention to every carefully chosen word, so as to look behind it. By throwing the reader back and forth in time, Sjón creates a mystical, harsh and tense atmosphere. And after several leaps, he tightens the knot of the story together in a compelling finale that will leave no one untouched, and will make most readers start reading this short, but fascinating, book from the beginning.
Sjón is one of Iceland’s most acclaimed writers. He was nominated for an Oscar for his lyrics of Björk’s songs in Lars von Trier’s “Dancer in the dark.” This novel, which in Icelandic means ‘Shadow-Baldur,’ very rightfully won the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize.
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