Under the Glacier by Halldór Laxness

Under the Glacier by Halldór Laxness

Icelandic fiction

Original title – Kristnihald undir Jökli

Translator – Magnus Maagnusson

Source – personal copy

I have featured a number of Icelandic writers of the years. But had yet to feature their Nobel-winning writer Laxness won the prize in 1955. Even though I have six of his books on my shelves so I decided it was about time and I choose this one of the six I had as it seemed different from the others. Laxness wrote for nearly 60 years this is a later book he called a visionary novel. He is best known for Independent people he wrote in various styles over the years. There was a film made of his book.

The bishop handed me a dog-eared scrap of paper that could hardly have come through the post; it looked as if it had been carried from farm to farm and shuffled from pocket to pocket through many districts. Nonethe less, the letter evinced a mental attitude, if you could call it that, which has more to it than meet the ye and which expresses the logic of the place where it belongs but has little validity anywhere else , perhaps, the bishop rattled on while I ran my eye over the letter: And then he’s said to have allowed anglers and foreigners to knock then he’s said to have allowed angler and foreigners to knock up some monstrosity of a building pratically on top of the church – tell him from me to have it pulled down at once!

The Embi sees the letter that lead to his task.

The book follows the sending of a young emissary from the Bishop of Iceland to the pastor of Snaefells Glacier as there have been reports that pastor Jon has been a strange course. The Bishop tells the young man of the glacier and its connection to the Verne book and it has an entrance to the centre of the earth. He wants to find out what is going on he tells the young man just blend in talk with the locals about the weather and gently find out what is going on. So from then on our unnamed emissary is called the Embi he arrives at the glacier finds a church not just run down but also nailed shut by order of the Pastor. He starts to talk to the locals as he discovers how they view what is going on. Why has Jon start being a sort of odd job man and they feel the glacier is now the centre of the world we know it. There is a feel of them all become like a bunch of new-age hippies. While the Embi get to the bottom of what has happened, will he see the truth through the lies he was told to listen to both by the Bishop as he said in the lies he may see more than the little titbits of truth there is a lot of mystery in this book there is a sense of something looming behind the enigmatic Pastor Jon and his wife as the Embi unpicks everything bit by bit?

It’s appropriate here to make a long story short.

Yopur emissary, however, doesn’t wish to delay giving a summary of the tales thart have lived here in this past of the land since time immemorial about a mysteryious women: sometimes gthis woman, sometimes a multide. Sometimes this women has taken the form of somerather disagreeable luggage. Tumi jonsen has now started to tell the icelandic sags in a style that consists principally of casting doubt on the story being told, making no efforts to describe things, skating past the main points, excusing the main characters for performing deeds thart will live as long as the world endures, erasing their faces if possible but wiping them clean, just in case. Therefore it never becomes a story, at best just a subject for a poem. The women carry on with their scrubbing. This was a long morning.

The locals are changing the facts

This is one of those books that has you laughing in one bit as this bizarre outland of Iceland and it locals with there views from the Pastor and his clerk then we start pondering what is going on in the glacier. The style of the book is in reports and dialogue of the interviews he does with locals. As the dead bodies, aren’t getting buried and the talk about being the centre of the world what is happening? What I loved was the collection of local oddballs he meets as he tries to discover what is going on for the Bishop. As Susan Sontag says this book could be sci-fi at times, comic or as Laxness called it visionary novel it is one of those books that has so much more it seems that some of the things that happened in the book are partly based on the actual pastor in the first half of the twentieth century. We view one of those strange community that is cut off from the rest of the world. Have you read any books from Laxness ?

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Feb 01, 2021 @ 22:16:39

    Not yet, Stu… like you with your collection, I ‘ve had it sitting on the TBR for a while.

    Reply

  2. TravellinPenguin
    Feb 02, 2021 @ 04:24:12

    It sounds lots of fun. I do like oddball characters in a book. Not always in real life though. 😃

    Reply

  3. Annabel (AnnaBookBel)
    Feb 02, 2021 @ 13:41:20

    We read this in our book group many years ago. We totally disagreed with Susan Sontag’s assertion that it is the funniest book ever! Funny peculiar yes, but funny ha ha we didn’t think so. It wasn’t a hit, but did provoke a great discussion!

    Reply

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Feb 02, 2021 @ 16:16:25

    I have a copy of this somewhere, and keep meaning to get started on it. It does sound very individual!

    Reply

  5. Liz Dexter
    Feb 06, 2021 @ 16:39:37

    I have read this and struggled with it, but I loved Independent People as I felt it read like a saga (and I’m very fond of the sagas, having studied them at university). So I thought it was really funny in places, but saga-funny rather than actually funny (dark, ironic …). I was disappointed I didn’t get on better with this one, though.

    Reply

  6. Trackback: That was the month that was Feb 2021 | Winstonsdad's Blog

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