I recently posted a book review of Indridason’s newest book on the English market, Voices. I originally found Indridason’s work in the library and was attracted to the novel because he is Icelandic and I had never read anything of this genre from a Scandinavian writer. That first book was Jar City and now I keep my eye open for new releases on a regular basis.
The major theme for his books are the loneliness and isolation that people face and how these affect relationships with others, especially family.
Climate wise, Iceland can be a harsh place to live and Arnauldur uses the weather to echo the relationships people have with each other and the isolation that people feel. Weather is a reason for all the isolation that people in the northern climates feel, too — especially in earlier times when transportation was unreliable or it consisted of the sole of the foot on the ground.
As I state in the review, when the winter comes to these northern areas, the nights get longer and the temperature drops and travel is not something one does lightly or on a whim. At least, this is my experience, having lived in the interior of Alaska.
This sense of loneliness and isolation gets into the soul or DNA of people and it is very difficult to break out of it. It becomes painful to talk about what one is feeling or doing — it’s like your own voice sounds strange to you. To show any kind of emotion causes fear that cuts to one’s heart. Oddly enough, it seems like this is a trait common to Norwegians (speaking from the experience of having grown up in an American-Norwegian community where some of my cousins didn’t speak English until they started first grade). And this is what Arnaudlur’s books are about: dealing with that isolation.
Erlendur, for instance is a man who has to deal with his past. When he was a teen, he and his brother were caught in a blizzard and even though they were holding on to each other, his brother’s hand slipped out of his for a moment and was lost to the elements forever. His body was never found. Erlendur has been dealing with this all his life, blaming himself, seeing his brother in dreams, wondering what ever happened to him.
Erlendur’s daughter knows nothing of this. He has never told her, except when she was in a coma in the hospital when he thought she couldn’t hear him. Granted, Erlendur and his daughter, Eva Lind have been estranged, but to know nothing about this boy who would have been her uncle had he lived? Erlendur keeps it inside because it is too painful and because he doesn’t know what his feelings are, but mostly because it is private. It’s the old Scandinavian isolation thing going on.
You can see it in much of the Scandinavian arts. Edvard Munch’s most famous painting — the Scream — illustrates this excellently. A figure in the mid-ground of the painting is holding his hands to both sides of his head and the mouth is a wide-open circular shape that is emitting a silent scream. In the background are two figures who appear to hear nothing and the sea is calm with the boats floating on the water. Everything is fine, except that someone is silently screaming in terror or frustration or anger and no one can hear that scream.
Arnaulder is writing about this problem of isolation and relationship — especially between family. He is also dealing with the past and how it shapes our present. I think he is trying to show that openness and truth are key to building relationships and mending broken ones. I think he is also showing us that these traits or qualities can also help us to change the course of the path down which the past has led us.
If I continue, I will just be repeating what I have written in the review, so I will just say read the review and then find the book at your local library and read it. I do think you’ll like it.