An Interview with the shadow IFFP winner Sjon

1. In both From the Mouth of the Whale and The Whispering Muse there is a seafaring feel do you sail or have a connection to the sea ?

Being born on island means that from an early age you are very aware of the sea. Throughout history things and people have come floating to your shores and the only way out was over the sea. So, I think sailing, swimming, and sinking will always be a part of the stories told on an island. As well as the great depths teeming with strange beings and everything the sea has swallowed.

2. Myth plays a big part in your fiction. What is your favourite myth ?

In general, I like the mischievous gods: the tricksters. So, Loki’s stories are a favourite: especially the one where he helps the Aesir (the principle members of the pantheon of Norse gods) to get out of the deal they made with a giant about building the fortress walls around Asgard. The gods promise the giant the Sun, the Moon and the hand of the fertility goddess Freyja as a reward if he finishes the job in time. When they realize too late that the giant will be able to do it they look to Loki for help. So, Loki transforms himself into a gray mare and lures the giant’s work horse away. Without his horse the giant can’t finish the walls. Later Loki has an affair with the horse, which results in the birth of Odin’s eight legged horse Sleipnir. Sleipnir, is the Nordic Pegasus, who can easily transport us across the borders of the many worlds that make up our universe …

3 .You’ve been connected to music. As I’ve read your books I feel a rhythm. Do you listen to music as you write? If so, what music?

Each of my novels has a special form and style, a new challenge for me to meet, so I listen to different kinds of music while writing them. I usually try to find something that in one way or another fits the theme or the mood of the novel, either by contrasting with it or by complementing it. With From the Mouth of the Whale it was two particular pieces by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt: Alina and Spiegel am Spiegel; with The Blue Fox it was Schubert’s string quartets and with The Whispering Muse it was Theolonius Monk.

4. We all loved Victoria’s translations. How closely did you work with her ?

And I love them as well! How close she wants me to be depends on the work. Sometimes I get many emails with questions about my intention with this phrase or that, or what outside source I am alluding to in one scene or another. Then sometimes she just asks me to read it over when the work is done. I trust her 100% and am always at her service if needed.

5. Which writers have influenced you ?

Samuel Beckett, Karen Blixen, Jorge Luis Borges, Mikhail Bulgakov, André Breton, Leonora Carrington … To name some of Bs and one of the Cs …

6. As much as your books are historic, are we meant to read a modern context into them ?

Yes, you are!

7 .Which of your books are not yet translated. Should we keep an eye out for any when they come out ?

This year I am finishing the third volume of a trilogy I have been working on since the early 90s. It tells the story of a man in Reykjavik who is telling an eager but sceptical listener the story of how he came into being as the result of the rendez-vous between a Jewish man fleeing the concentration camps and a chamber maid in a guesthouse in northern Germany in the middle of WWII. That he believes himself to have been fashioned from a lump of clay taken from the remains of the Golem of Prague is just one of the threads in the novel. There is also a corrupt stamp-collector, a gender confused archangel, a self-mutilating swimming pool attendant, a government official who believes half of the Icelandic population are descended from werewolves, a girl with four fathers, and many more characters with their own stories and occupations. Yes, I hope you will be on the lookout for those three …

8. For the person that has not read you, can tell them what to expect from you in one sentence ?

The smell of a puffin stew cooking over camp fire flickering in the shadows of gallows built on the ruins of a great library.

9. What’s the literary scene like at home and are there any writers from your
country we should read?

It is quite robust, thank you. Of our contemporary authors, I recommend Kristín Ómarsdóttir. Her novel Children in Reindeer Woods has just been published by Open Letter Books in the US. And for the deceased ones, I recommend our Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness. I am especially fond of his turn of the 20th century novel The Fish Can Sing.

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15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tony
    Aug 07, 2012 @ 05:30:43

    Wonderful! How did you manage this coup?!

    I can’t wait for more of Sjón’s work to make it into English (I especially like the sound of this trilogy…). I’m hoping to get a copy of ‘Children in Reindeer Woods’ in the post soon, and I’m also waiting for a library copy of ‘Independent People’ – it’s good to know that my choices have the Sjón seal of approval :)

    Reply

  2. sakura
    Aug 07, 2012 @ 11:28:52

    Lovely interview Stu. I still haven’t read any of Sjón’s work but they are on my wishlist to hopefully read soon. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about his books from lots of very different readers – always a good sign!

    Reply

  3. Seamus Duggan
    Aug 07, 2012 @ 12:21:15

    Tony’s recent review and now this are certainly giving Sjón a prominent place in my TBR list. And Laxness too. I have read nothing newer than the sagas from Iceland, I think.

    Reply

  4. parrish
    Aug 07, 2012 @ 12:34:08

    Great coup, and complete with knowledge of more of this writers work to appear soon, means I’ll have to get to my copy of Blue Fox sooner rather than later.

    Reply

  5. Trackback: The whispering muse by Sjon « Winstonsdad's Blog
  6. parrish lantern
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 18:28:22

    would also be interested in knowing, is any of Sjon’s poetry going to appear in a collection?

    Reply

  7. bythefirelight
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 16:17:40

    Great interview. Great to see you branching out into something new. Keep up the good work!

    Reply

  8. Max Cairnduff
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 15:10:39

    Lovely interview Stu. The question about music I thought got a particularly interesting answer. That’s some serious list of influences too.

    This: “The smell of a puffin stew cooking over camp fire flickering in the shadows of gallows built on the ruins of a great library.” This is beautiful.

    Reply

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