Reading Too Much Into The Icelandic Book Prize Nominees —

Reading Too Much Into The Icelandic Book Prize Nominees

Reading Too Much Into The Icelandic Book Prize Nominees

Published January 14, 2020

Valur Grettisson
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Adobe Stock

It’s that time of the year, when writers and scholars fight to the death—in the poetic sense, of course. Yes, the nominees for the Icelandic Book Prize have been announced, including 15 writers in three categories, who will now compete for the prestigious honour and a one million ISK cash price.

The Reykjavík Grapevine parsed the nominees to predict what is likely to win and determine what we think actually should win.

The poetry possibility

First off, when looking at the Icelandic literary scene this year one quickly notices one important detail: There have never been as many poetry books published in Iceland.

That said, there is only one poetry book nominated on the list in the Novel category, which is ‘Dimmumót’ by Steinunn Sigurðardóttir, a veteran writer who also won the prize in 1995 with her novel ‘Hjartastaður.’ She is a strong contestant and could win again as a representative of the poetry scene, although the statistics are not on her side when it comes to an author winning the award more than once. Only two writers have achieved that feat since 1989.

Bragi could win…

But there are notable heavyweight champions in the Novel category. Bragi Ólafsson has a book in the race called ‘Staða pundsins’.The book is, like most of Bragi’s novels, a little bit incoherent and slow, but brilliant in its own unique style. Bragi is very well respected, but has never won the prize. Our money is on him.

“If you win some small fortune based on our insights, please donate 10% of the winnings to the Grapevine.”

That said, our heart is with Bergþóra Snæbjörnsdóttir. She is relatively new in the scene, having released her first poetry book last year, ‘Flóridaljóðin’ (‘Florida-Poems’), which was nominated but didn’t win. Her new book, a novel called ‘Svínshöfuð’ (‘Pig’s Head’), is a unique tale of immigrants experiencing the harshness of Icelandic culture and weather.

But hold on

There are two more writers in the race, both brilliant. First off, Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir is nominated for her short story collection ‘Aðferðir til þess að lifa af’ (‘Methods of surviving’). Guðrún Eva is just otherworldly when it comes to writing, having gone from magical realism to just odd realism. She’s one of those writers that makes you feel like you’ve been touched by something special.

As well, Sölvi Björn Sigurðsson is nominated for his novel ‘Selta — Apókrýfa úr ævi landlæknis.’ I feel truly sorry for the brave soul who will try to translate this title, but the first word would be ‘Salinity’ if that helps. Both of these writers are incredibly capable, but to be blunt, the buzz is not there. That said, anything could happen.

The first immigrant to win?

What’s really enjoyable about the book prize is that it has a special category for children’s books. Five writers are nominated in the category, one of whom, Hildur Knútsdóttir, has won the prize before. She is now nominated for her young adult novel ‘Nornin’ (‘The Witch’).

The buzz, however, is around Lani Yamamoto’s book, ‘Egill spámaður’ (‘Egill The Prophet’). Lani’s nomination is unique in the sense that she doesn’t speak Icelandic, or, at least, not in interviews. So if she wins, she will be the first immigrant to claim the prize. Our money, as well as our heart, is with Lani, and it’s truly refreshing to have a voice like hers in the race.

The nightmare group

Now to the heavy stuff: Five writers are nominated in the non-fiction category. In this group, we have a former member of parliament, Ólína Kjerúlf Þorvarðardóttir, who wrote about the history of ancient medicine in Iceland. We also have a veteran cultural journalist and director, Páll Baldvin Baldvinsson, who wrote about Iceland’s history of fishing herring. Icelanders are suckers for fish, as you probably know, so we’s place our betsy on this book.

That said, there has been a lot of buzz about the biography of the legendary writer Jakobína Sigurðardóttir, which was written by her own daughter, Sigríður Kristín Þorgrímsdóttir.

In our opinion, this is the hardest category of them all and there is no way of telling how this will go. If we had to choose between two nominations and flip a coin for it, we would say Jakobína or the herring history.

Well, there you have it, all of the nominations. The award ceremony will be held at the presidential residence Bessastaðir at the end of January. We don’t take bets, but if you win some small fortune based on our insights, please donate 10% of the winnings to the Grapevine. If you lose, please don’t mention our part in it.

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