From the mouth of the whale by Sjon
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 )