By the time I was part way through The Blue Fox, strong feelings of dread presaged every page turn. After setting the book down for a few hours, I returned to the story only to find that my assumptions – about man and beast at the edge of the inhabitable world – were completely misguided. Things in this cheeky little story were not half as bleak as I thought. I don’t read a lot of mystery novels, so I was excited by how completely Reykjavík-born author Sjón had controlled my perception of his characters.
The Blue Fox is largely a parable told in two parts with a mystery sandwiched in between and a brief epistolary epilogue. Hunting, disability, and the corruption of the human soul feature prominently. Though the subject matter does not make for easy reading, Sjón (pronounced “she-own”) makes his craft look easy. His writing, and the work of translator Victoria Cribb, is workmanlike. The poetic construction that features so prominently in the story is never overwrought. Yet the jagged use of past and present tense gives the writing the sense of building to a crescendo, peaking and falling like caps in windblown snow.
Set in the Icelandic countryside circa 1883, this book was never going to be much of a help in navigating my upcoming venture to modern Reykjavík. But what does The Blue Fox do that reflects Islandic psychology?
While the book is noted for its spirit of national folklore, Sjón’s synthesis of gritty mystery and magical-realism seems an especially good introduction to a country that is remarkably open to belief in supernatural phenomena. Perhaps this is not as surprising as it sounds given Icelanders’ generational reliance on books to make it through the bitter winters.
Not a bad place to begin a literary themed gap year in just a few weeks.
This post is the first in a series of books selected based on my upcoming travels. You can see my travel/reading itinerary here. Next up: The South by Colm Tóibín.