Saturday, June 6, 2020

Review: Miss Iceland

Miss Iceland Miss Iceland by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hekla is a writer living in Iceland in the 1960s but because she is a woman, everyone around her keeps trying to tuck her back into more traditional roles of wife and mother. She is beautiful and pursued relentlessly by men who want her to compete to be Miss Iceland with somewhat questionable promises. The other key characters are her father, who is obsessed with volcanoes so much so that she is named after one and their conversations and gifts tend to revolve around whichever volcano is currently active; her close friend who is not straight and gets seasick, leaving him without a lot of options for work or relationships; her other close friend who has her own writing muse but is trapped in a basement apartment (no sun, no room) as a housewife and seems destined to be the mother of many children, close together.

Hekla has kept her writing life a secret and manages to do so even after moving in with her boyfriend who fancies himself a writer, a poet, and joins the other self-declared poets to have coffee and be seen writing in the cafes. In this way the author manages to capture the creative spirit of people living in Iceland but with a somewhat mocking way of revealing how people see themselves vs. where the true talent lies.

After reading Icelandic literature for a year, I'm still drawn back to it - it's a place I still haven't visited and want to, but I learn more about it in every book set there. This one has a lot about the culture of Reykjavik in the 1960s, where whale carving would take place down the block from a bookstore. The post-war years play a role, for instance did you know that an entire island was created by a volcano around the same time JFK was assassinated? There are a lot of place names and it's clearly translated by a British-English speaker because of some of the word choices, but all these things just work together to make it feel more Icelandic, of a certain time and place.

This video is a nice little summary of Icelandic literature featuring several authors I've read and liked, and they do a good job explaining why literature is so important there, and what it is that fuels their creativity. They are all speaking English; I would like to learn Icelandic!

I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher through NetGalley. It comes out June 16, 2020. The author teaches art at the University of Iceland, writes song lyrics for a band, and has won several awards for her fiction and plays.

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