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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Höfundur Íslands

Hallgrímur Helgason

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Title: Höfundur Íslands
Author: Hallgrímur Helgason
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001
Length: 615 pages
Original in: Icelandic
Availability: Vom zweifelhaften Vergnügen, tot zu sein - Deutschland
  • Höfundur Íslands has not been translated into English yet

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Our Assessment:

A- : impressive if meandering Icelandic author-saga

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 16/3/2005 Andreas Rosenfelder
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 17/3/2005 Uwe Stolzmann
Die Welt A 18/6/2005 Rainer Moritz

  From the Reviews:
  • "Vielmehr verkörpert der Roman eine große Huldigung an die isländische Literaturgeschichte: Dort kämpfte die weltläufige Ästhetik der Moderne stets mit dem unbeugsamen Realismus der bäuerlichen Sphńre, in welcher die gesamte Kultur des Landes wurzelt." - Andreas Rosenfelder, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Eine pfiffige Fabel. Ihr Erfinder Hallgrimur Helgason (Jahrgang 1959) hat sie hübsch bösartig inszeniert, und über 150 Seiten kann man sich mit ihr vortrefflich unterhalten. Es folgen weitere 450 Seiten, ein langes Stück Wegs, das man nur übersteht, weil Grimsson, der Ich-Erzńhler, so freundlich plaudert" - Uwe Stolzmann, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Selbst wer keinerlei Interesse an Geysiren, Schafen oder Halldór Laxness hat, wird nicht anders können, als diesen großen europäischen Roman zu loben und zu preisen." - Rainer Moritz, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Höfundur Íslands -- 'The Author of Iceland' (though they opted for a considerably more complicated alternative -- Vom zweifelhaften Vergnügen, tot zu sein, i.e. 'Concerning the dubious pleasure of being dead' -- for the German translation) -- is a sprawling book. Appropriately enough, it has the heft of a Halldór Laxness' novel -- appropriately because, if not entirely a roman à clef, the life of the narrator, Einar Jóhann Grímsson, closely resembles that of Laxness.
       The dates don't quite match -- Grímsson lived 1912 to 2000, Laxness 1902 to 1998 -- but a good deal else overlaps, from their international reputations (and the Nobel prize) to their works, personal life -- and politics.
       Grímsson narrates this story, but at first he's quite uncertain of anything -- from his own identity to where he is (and where he previously was). The book begins with him waking up pretty much in the middle of nowhere (the Icelandic outback), missing his socks and his memory, and obviously pretty far from the nursing home he was living in. It takes him a while to put everything together, but eventually he realises that he's no longer in the year 2000 -- it's the early 1950s -- and that, in fact, he's a famous author who finds himself inside one of his novels, with all the (no longer entirely) familiar characters and dialogue. Eventually he also figures out that he's dead: he died in the year 2000 and woke up in this 1950s purgatory.
       The novel, one of his typical sprawling Icelandic sagas, isn't completely separate from the real world: it was set in the real world, after all, just populated with figures of his invention, whom he did with pretty much as he pleased. But the world he originally lived in also exists alongside it: a telephone call to his home wakes up his wife of that time -- and, sleeping beside her, his true self, for example.
       Grímsson is taken in by the characters he created. He's an old geezer who can't move at first (and whose body doesn't quite function normally any longer, requiring neither sleep nor food (and certainly not digesting any ...)), and they're not entirely thrilled about this, but take it (and him) pretty much for granted. Grumpy pater familias Hrólfur, who isn't adapting well to modern times, and the teenage daughter of the house, Eivís, are the central characters in the family tragedies that will follow. But Grímsson's attention and interest and actions go farther afield too. He has a lot of time on his hands, and he goes over his own life repeatedly, reexamining his one big mistake -- supporting Stalin -- and complaining about being underappreciated as an author -- despite being Iceland's first and foremost (and once making it to number 82 on a list of the 200 best living authors).
       Höfundur Íslands is a novel about Iceland and about Icelandic literature -- specifically, the state of and changes in both over the course of the second half of the twentieth century. Politics, personalities, the overwhelming smallness and isolation of the island-state and the consequences on the lives there, whether the individuals achieve international renown (like Grímsson) or practically never even venture off the family farm (like Hrólfur), are all considered -- with fairly brutal honesty. It is also an homage to the rural and traditional life, so foreign for the always cosmopolitan Grímsson, who is very much a fish out of water throughout the novel.
       Höfundur Íslands shifts from the local and domestic to the over-arching, Grímsson re-considering his mistakes (and successes) in light of what happened over the course of his life -- to the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example. His state in this novel -- dead, a tolerated presence no one really knows much what to do with -- isn't that far from his isolated life the first time around, a reminder of the failures in his personal life as well. And he's powerless, too, to stop the horrible things that happen to Eivís and Hrólfur, an author who has lost control over his characters.
       Throughout, there are amusing observations and scenes: from the magic of radio to Grímsson's annoyance at Knut Hamsun's reputation. But Höfundur Íslands is a massive book, with the ground constantly shifting beneath the reader as reality and fiction mix. On the surface it appears entirely different from Helgason's 101 ReykjavÝk, but like that book its intention is to show and comment on as much of Iceland as possible -- but whereas the earlier novel focussed only on the present, Höfundur Íslands covers more than half a century, and focusses on the very other aspect of Icelandic life, the rural-traditional, rather than the urban-modern.
       This is, in many respects, an old-fashioned novel: it takes its time, and requires some patience. But it's a rewarding, and often very enjoyable read.

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Höfundur Íslands: Reviews: Hallgrimur Helgason: Other books by Hallgrímur Helgason under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Icelandic author Hallgrímur Helgason was born in 1959.

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© 2005-2011 the complete review

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