Translated from the Icelandic by Brian Fitzgibbon
“When a person finally understands what matters, he has often started to ail and hasn’t long to go.”
Having never read this author before, I had no preconceived notions as to what I was about to read. What I discovered was a quirky, thoughtful little book rife with an almost poetic feel and imagery.
The protagonist, Dómhildur, has parents who are in the funeral business. So it would seem that her family welcome people to the world, and also, they usher them out of it.
Dómhildur is very close in age to her sister, and they are so similar in physical appearance that they are often mistaken for each other. Her sister, a meteorologist, warns her that a storm is imminent over Christmas. Dómhildur, who has no children or family of her own, always elects to work over Christmas – because babies are born no matter the season.
Dómhildur, is a midwife or ljósmóðir (mother of light). She comes from a long family history of midwifery, the most recent being her grandaunt, with whom she shares a name. Now, Dómhildur is living in her late grandaunt’s apartment amongst all of her aunt’s possessions. Though it has been 4 years since her grandaunt passed away, she has done nothing to erase her presence. Her clothes share space in the closet with her great aunt’s clothes. The outdated wallpapers and furnishings are just as they were when the elder Dómhildur lived there. Most importantly though, are the unpublished manuscripts written by her grandaunt. Meandering, disjointed chapters that reflect on how everything in life is connected. How humans fit into the animal world and their relationship with animals. How man is fragile, yet he is destroying the planet.
The importance of light and darkness is a running theme throughout the story. Light being a scarce commodity in Iceland in winter. During the month of December Iceland gets only about three hours of daylight per day.
I feel I must warn potential readers that this storyline is not a linear one. The narrative goes off in tangents much as Dómhildur‘s grandaunt’s stories would digress. Overall, an odd, though thought-provoking short novel with a strong environmental message.
3.5 stars rounded up for NetGalley and Amazon – rounded down for Goodreads where the stars denote different values.
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Pushkin Press via NetGalley UK.
ISBN: 9781782277675 – 192 pages
Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir is a prize-winning novelist, an Icelandic professor of art history, playwright and poet. She also writes lyrics for the Icelandic performance pop band Milkywhale.
Auður Ava’s novels have been translated into over 25 languages, and they include Butterflies in November and Hotel Silence, also published by Pushkin Press. Hotel Silence won the Nordic Council Literature Prize, the Icelandic Literary Prize, and was chosen Best Icelandic Novel in 2016 by booksellers in Iceland. Auður Ava lives in Reykjavik, Iceland
Good review, Lynne. You described and analyzed things really well.
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