The whispering muse by Sjon

The whispering muse by Sjon

Icelandic fiction

Translator Victoria Cribb

Now I mention a lot of Sjon past in my review of from the mouth of the whale earlier in the year and had a great interview with him on the blog yesterday .So I dispense with usual bio start today .

So whispering muse ,follows quick on the heels of From the mouth I can’t blame Telegram ,There has already been five of his books translated to English by Victoria Cribb ,I met her briefly at the Iffp prize giving and she said she had done five of his books already ready for sales here but also to show the books to publishers around the world .Right this book centres on Valdimar Haraldson ,he is an oddball Icelander that has spent his life writing a seventeen volume book on the connection between fish consumption and the greatness of the Nordic people .Fisk og Kulture ,came with this on every title page .

Its our belief that the nordic race ,which has fished off the maritime coast for countless generations and thus enjoyed a staple diet of seafood ,owes its physical and intellectual prowess above all to this type of nutrition,and that the Nordic race is for this reason superior in vigour and attainments to other races that have not enjoyed such ease of access to the riches of the ocean .

As you see our Valdimar is a first class bore in a lot of ways ,any way that was in the inter war years also with so far out ideas about where the nordic folk came from ,but it’s now 1949 and he has been invited to spend some time on a Danish merchant ship by a former fan of his books .Well that is half the story and  he arrives on the ship and on the end of the first evening they all gather like you do round the ships table and start telling tales of the seafaring days ,one of this crew says he is Caneus one of argo crew from Jason Argonauts from the Greek myth ,Now I know very little on Greek myth in fact my earliest memories of Greek myths are of two things from tv the first is a French Japanese cartoon series called Ulysses 31 ,which moved greek myths to outer space .as we follow Ulysses in his quest to find his way home after he fell out with the gods for killing the Cyclops (rather like bloom in the pub with the one-eyed Irish patriot  oh wonder where Joyce got that idea from )

The other is the film Jason and the Argonauts that was often shown over holidays as I Grew up so I was vaguely aware of the character Caeneus although not in the actual film ,but if you’ ve not seen the film it is well worth seeing as it features some wonderful stop animation from Ray Harryhausen and great intro into the greek myths for people like me that maybe find the idea rather scary .

But it did lead me to read some of the myths around Jason after seeing the film .Caenus was born a women and then became a man and survived on the argo it is these tales he recalls the crew with every evening .So we see  Valdimar who is maybe in some ways the human incarnation of Douglas adams Vogon’s and one does imagine that his books fish and culture are maybe the equivalent of the Vogon poetry .So we see the bore ,start to open his eyes as he is let into the world of Greek myth but also as always with Sjon it is the fact that this is going on and it is just after the war that maybe shows the changing world around them they have cargo from the soviet bloc ,This remind me of a former colleague when I worked in Northumberland that had  been a merchant seaman and his first run after qualifying as a petty officer was to go to the north of Russia and pick some cargo of course being young and not prepared he said he end up wearing margarine to stop frost bite and in a way Valdimar is a man who is unprepared properly for life maybe a Nordic forest Gump ,no that is a bit  unfair he has intelligence is  just focused in the wrong direction ,you may say he even has a mild form of asperegers  where one is so focused on a subject it hard to pull the blinkers down some time due to the nature of aspergers   ,although this isn’t mention in the book it is just a feeling I got from the nature of my work and people I ve meet over the years  .Know from yesterday we know that Sjon was listening to Thelonious monk and rather like monk who I know very little about other than he was rather good at impro piece of jazz that where  rifts on well-known bits of music that spread out and rather like that this book is a rift on Greek myth and how travel can change people. I know  picture old Sjon with a pot full of ideas for books at home picking a few out  and sticking them in his blender of a  mind and coming out with rather wonderful cocktails or in his case novels  .It’s easy to mix genres and ideas up like a cocktail barman might but it takes skill to make the end product work so well like Sjon seems to every time  .So what is The whispering muse well its part travelogue ,part myth ,part odd couple drama with a large twist of dry humour over the top of it .I leave you with Valdimar

My neighbour says I have changed since I came home from my voyage .And I respond with the following question :

“What is the point of travelling if not to broaden your mind ?

Valdimar on his arrival home is he a new man after meeting Caeneus .


So do you have a favourite myth or character from myth ?


17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tony
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 02:57:55

    Loved it – and I also remember Ulysses 31 🙂


  2. Gavin
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 17:03:21

    Thanks, Stu. I read The Blue Fox and enjoyed it and hope this one shows up at my library soon. I tend to love the trickster characters but also have a soft spot for Athena and Chiron.


  3. Bina
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 17:34:53

    Sounds really interesting! Jo and my readamyth challenge last year made me love myths even more, but the rewritings are what fascinates me most.


  4. parrish lantern
    Aug 08, 2012 @ 18:26:29

    Loved this book and From the mouth of a whale


  5. Caroline
    Aug 09, 2012 @ 11:24:32

    I’ve only read The Blue Fox so far and liked it a great deal.
    This sounds like another really great book.
    I like it when I know what music an author is listening too.


  6. Geosi
    Aug 11, 2012 @ 14:51:46

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. All best, stu.


  7. Willa
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 06:15:42

    This one sounds really interesting Stu – i can’t believe I haven’t read anything by Sjon.


  8. Max Cairnduff
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 15:08:52

    I grew up on Greek myths. There was a copy of the Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology at home, and the Greek and Norse were my favourites. As a teenager I read the Illiad and the Odyssey, both of which I think you’d find interesting Stu.

    Ulysses 31 was a great cartoon. Also, wonderful is definitely the word for the Harryhausen animation.

    Anyway, I own a copy of this and am looking forward to it, but plant o read The Blue Fox first. My favourite chacter from myth is Patroclus, Achilles’ companion in The Illiad. A hero so brave that even though he knows he is not fated to victory he takes the field in Achilles’ armour and so inspires the Acheans to feats of glory, driving the Trojans back before him. So terrible is he that Apollo has to personally intervene, stunning him and stripping his armour from him in the middle of the field so that the Trojans are finally able to come upon him and kill him. On hearing of his friend’s death Achilles is so enraged he joins the battle, and Troy’s fate is sealed. Achilles is the hero and the greatest warrior on the field, but Patroclus is the better man willing to spend his life for love while Achilles is happier spending the lives of others.

    Achilles to be honest is a bit of a dick.


  9. anastasiakashian
    Oct 12, 2012 @ 22:24:03

    I’m doing the course on mythology at coursera with the University of Pennsylvania. It’s pretty challenging though! I think I flunked the first quizz… however, really enjoying the excuse to re-read Homer. The Odyssey’s where it’s at for me – Iliad a bit strutting & macho…
    Don’t think I’d heard of this writer before. Sounds like a must-read to me!


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August 2012


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