A book I love was recommended – not by me, for our book club which I’m glad to say continues to meet through the good offices of Zoom. A friend went to Iceland a little while ago, lucky her, and I recommended places to go, and also some books to read. I didn’t recommend travel guides but fiction which I’ve enjoyed written by Icelandic authors which gives a wonderful insight into the country. My friend bought the first Icelandic novel I had read, and then recommended ti to the book club. I do hope they like it but I must wait until Wednesday to fins out!
The book is ‘The Flatey Enigma’ by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, and although it was written in 2003, it’s set in 1960. It is about an ancient and very valuable book – valuable culturally more than in worth, although that would be significant! The story starts with the discovery of a dead body on remote island in a remote part of the country. The victim had obviously been abandoned on the island somehow, not washed overboard from a boat or stranded himself, so his death is treated as murder. At first no-one knows who he is, but it’s soon discovered that he was an eminent Danish professor, interested in the old book.
It’s a great murder mystery but the most wonderful part about it is the insight into the way of life on the remote part of the country where the inhabitants make a living by farming, fishing and eider down. Their simple but sustainable life is brought to life through the eyes of the young lawyer sent to investigate what at first appears to be an accidental death, and bring the body back to Reykjavik. He struggles with some of the food the villagers ear, sea mammals, seabirds and their eggs, fish, often preserved through ‘pickling’ in whey, drying salting, curing… I think some vegetarians might struggle with the descriptions, but it is so interesting to see how the community kept themselves healthy, and more than that, alive.
I knew it was a great story and I knew I had really enjoyed it last time I read it and found it very interesting, however I had forgotten how well written it was. Of course it was originally written in Icelandic and has been translated, and great credit to the translator. Brian FitzGibbon. It such a cleanly written book – if that makes sense; there is no clutter of extra unnecessary words and yet the descriptions of the characters, the scenery, the events and the action is vivid and easily imagined. I’ve been to Iceland now, but the first time I read it I hadn’t, and when I visited it seemed almost familiar.
I now look forward to rereading his other books which I have. I wonder what my book club will think?