From the mouth of the Whale by Sjon

From the mouth of the whale by Sjon

Icelandic fiction

Translator Victoria Cribb

Sjon is an icelandic writer his full name is Sigurjon Birgir Sigurosson ,he started as a poet in the late 1970’s ,during 80’s he work closely with the icelandic band Sugarcubes in their early days and is himself involved in the local music scene  and has worked with Bjork since she left the sugarcubes on a number of projects .He has written seven novels this was his latest novel ,I first notice him a couple of years ago when some fellow bloggers reviewed his novel The blue fox .At moment these are his only two books to be translated in to english lets hope more get done .

Jonas drew diagrams from worm showing how the fish lay in the sea ,wielding its tusk like a lance ,and a comparison of these with the royal specimen convinced worm that it was a Narwhal skull with a tusk and nothing more .And so that day in the museum wormianum the Unicorn’s fate was sealed :a year after his meeting with Jonas Palmason .Ole Worm published a epoch-making article on the similarity between Narwhal tusks and Unicorn horns .

Jonas helps Ole Worm

So His latest book to be translated into english is From the mouth of the whale it is set in 1635 ,maybe just before the age of enlightenment but this is part of this books story the change from myths and legends to real science is facing the world and maybe via this simple guy .At the centre of the novel is the life of Jonas Palmason ,Jonas is a daydreams ,a bit of vagrant and has had really bad luck.He seen at the start  eating weird  things like ravens head .Nature is a recurring theme in this book from the title to Jonas only friend a purple sandpiper .He spends time with Ole worm a scientist of sorts He does this while in exile .I feel what we see is the progression of Jonas He starts of as a man stuck in tradition of magic and myths of Iceland ,he learnt via dead creatures how bodies worked and became a sort of healer using nature  ,then in the middle section we see him connecting with science ,like a description of a unicorn horn that isn’t but a narwhal horn having seen one years ago in a museum  I remember reading there was a roaring trade in deceiving people it  was a real unicorn horn,he shows how Ole worm worked out it would need to be a surreal horse of gigantic size that could wear such a horn on its head . Then  in the end examing the world anew seeing  all the wonderful creatures .We also see the woes of some Basque whalers that have arrived to whale the icelandic waters .


This book is strange gem wonderfully dynamic poetic prose ,a wonderfully  quirky lead character and a cast of odd people and creatures ,a feel like it could have been written 300 years ago but also with a lightness of humour at times .I could picture this tale being told by a beard chap by fire light as we all gather round there are certain passages in this book you just want speak out loud to feel the word on your lips .As I read I was reminded one programmes I loved as a kid was Noggin the nog the peter Firmin animated series ,in that we saw account dragons , talking birds and ships .as it was based on Nordic sagas this book had the same feel  as from the mouth did .Victoria Cribb has worked wonder on the translation which has kept a certain poetic tone and also not lost what is the sagaic feel of the book (in my opinion not reading icelandic but one feels it must have )

19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The shadow Independent foreign fictionprize shortlist 2012 « Winstonsdad's Blog
  2. Trackback: The shadow Independent foreign fictionprize shortlist 2012 « Winstonsdad's Blog
  3. markbooks
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 18:56:23

    I like this book even more now you’ve linked it to Noggin The Nog! Fantastic video!


  4. parrish lantern
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 20:34:52

    this was my favourite & that never changed, others got close, but this held on.


  5. Lisa Hill
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 00:56:25

    Spot on, Stu, and I love the pictures!


  6. Tony
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 02:05:12

    This one is probably the front-runner at the moment; however, I have a sneaking suspicion that I may change my mind a little the more time passes…


  7. Max Cairnduff
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 10:15:43

    I have The Blue Fox at home but unread presently, and this on my radar. Nice review Stu, I like how you bring out the retention of a lyrical quality to it.

    The few sagas I’ve read were marvellous. I should read more of them, but then I should read more of so many things.


  8. Trackback: Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2012 (Shadow Jury combined reviews) « ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
  9. Sarah
    Apr 23, 2012 @ 19:00:04

    I’m enjoying the Noggin the Nog link, too. My Dad used to read them to me when I was little.

    Stu, have you read The Pets by Bragi Olafsson? He also has a Sugarcubes connection. Obviously a very literary band, although as far as I am aware Bjork hasn’t written a novel… yet.


    • winstonsdad
      Apr 23, 2012 @ 20:05:59

      I ve not thanks Sarah will try that ,not sure if she has if she has wouldn’t suprise me she is very clever ,I loved noggin as a kid something different about it than other tv series it seemed more adult ,all the best stu


  10. Max Cairnduff
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 10:07:02

    Stu, if you do try a saga I’d suggest starting with The Story of Burnt Njal (has a few different titltes but googling Njal should find it) or Egil’s Saga, both of which are pretty good. Njal is exceptional.


  11. Trackback: Shadow iffp reviews « Winstonsdad's Blog
  12. Trackback: The whispering muse by Sjon « Winstonsdad's Blog

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April 2012


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