Oh dear, it’s all feast or famine with me, isn’t it? If only I’d KNOWN I was going to end up having a somewhat frantic couple of work weeks (with our weekend away in the middle, the reading time of which I slightly wasted reading that blooming Paul Theroux e-book) meaning that I only really had time to work, eat, sleep and run/volunteer, and didn’t get in much reading. What reading I did was devoted to “Islamic Civilization in Thirty Lives”: I’ve submitted my review to Shiny New Books and should be sharing it on here in due course. Things have eased now and I am getting more reading time; this one was a bit of a struggle but I think worthwhile.

Halldor Laxness (tr. Magnus Magnusson) – “The Fish Can Sing”

(03 June 2017, Oxfam Books)

A weird, short novel, set in Reykjavik almost before it was developed at all – there are recognisable street names and some shops and houses, but Danish is prevalent and the majority of people seem to lead very poor lives, with a thin overclass of the gentry bobbing above them.

Alfgrimur, our anti-hero, has a simple life living with his adopted grandparents and helping out with the fishing and running their odd kind of guesthouse, until he encounters two rather alarming women and Iceland’s most famous singer. The latter is an odd character, full of fancies and possibly fantasies, but he seems to see something worth bringing out in Alfgrimur, who he thinks is related to him (but how can he be?).  I love the little snippets of saga style, with its stock phrases, something I remember from “Independent People” (the book of Laxness’ I still like the best), and the euphemisms the characters use are like kennings* in their obscurity: “Runolfr looked into the cubicle and saw how things were” (p. 97). The viewpoint shifts, so someone who is world-famous is suddenly described as having missed his opportunity to become the town bell-ringer. Less engaging is the massive debate about barbers inserted part-way through.

Will our (anti-) hero stay in the weird boarding house with its shifting yet constant characters or move towards the gentry or further? Will he find his own way? Who is he actually related to, and who paid for the cream cakes, anyway? None of these questions are answered in this infuriatingly seemingly simple novel. But why should they be?

* A kenning is …

a much-compressed form of metaphor, originally used in Anglo-Saxon and Norse poetry. In a kenning, an object is described in a two-word phrase, such as ‘whale-road’ for ‘sea’. Read more in The Poetry Archive

I have a horrible feeling that I’ve missed layer upon layer of meaning and reference, but I enjoyed it for what I took from it.


I’ve finally started Iris Murdoch’s “The Unicorn” – hooray! It’s so deliciously gothic so far and I’m looking forward to getting properly into it. Has anyone else started – or finished – this instalment of the IMReadalong yet?