Genre: Historical Fiction, Lgbt, Translated (translated by Victoria Cribb)
Publication Date: 2nd June 2016 by Sceptre (first published October 22nd 2013 in Iceland)
Format: Hardcover copy sent to me for review by Sceptre Publishing via Bookbridgr
The year is 1918 and in Iceland the erupting volcano Katla can be seen colouring the sky night and day from the streets of Reykjavik. Yet life in the small capital carries on as usual, despite the natural disaster, a shortage of coal and, in the outside world, the Great War grinding on.
There, sixteen-year-old Máni Steinn lives for the new fashion – the movies. Asleep he dreams altered versions of them, their tapestry of events threaded with strands from his own life. Awake he hovers on the fringes of society. But then the Spanish flu epidemic comes ashore, killing hundreds and driving thousands into their sick beds. The shadows of existence deepen and for Máni everything changes.
This book is a short but beautiful read. It’s less than 150 pages, and every word that graces the page feels as though it has been placed there for a reason. Though I did find myself getting lost at times, particularly at the end, this book enchanted me.
I know that this is a translation, so I can’t speak about how it reads in the author’s own words (sadly, the few Icelandic words I recognise are related to volcanoes or glaciers thanks to A level geography), however this reads absolutely wonderfully. The only way I can truly describe my reading experience was that it felt as though I was in a trance. The writing just took me off somewhere else and I felt like I was part of the story. The writing, in my opinion, is what makes this book so special; the plot and characters are good but very simple, but the writing is truly beautiful.
I also adored the setting and time period of this novel (can I even call it a novel as it was so short?!). Back in 2013 I was lucky enough to visit Iceland on a school trip and ever since I have wanted to revisit. It is such a unique country and the descriptions of Reykjavik and other locations were vivid and sharp. Also, it was fascinating as it is set in 1918, yet it barely mentions the First World War, as Iceland wasn’t affected. Instead it concentrates on what was a serious event in Iceland that I knew nothing about; an outbreak of the Spanish Flu. I loved reading about something else from that period, as literature set in those years, in my experience (I could be completely wrong) does have a large focus on the war (not that it’s a bad thing!).
Including LGBT themes in this book made it even more unique, due it being set in 1918. It’s a topic that I find doesn’t usually appear in books set in the early 20th century or before. They were included with respect and without being downplayed, I thought, and it was hard to read at times due to the the treatment people had to face and the way they were forced to behave as a result.
I did get a little confused at the ending, and even though I’ve since read it multiple times to try and work it out, I’m still not entirely sure. However, we’re talking the last page, and the rest of the book definitely made up for my confusion (which quite possibly is down to me either overthinking things or confusing myself, and probably makes perfect sense to anyone else who reads it).
It’s difficult to say a lot about this book as it was so short (definitely not a bad thing at all), but everything seemed to be woven together perfectly and it was such a wonderful story. The character of Máni broke my heart, and though everything was very simply done, it was done in such a way that it spoke volumes.
Rating: 4 / 5 stars.