Miss Iceland by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir – ⭐⭐
Two stars, largely due to general confusion throughout. I feel like I have to think more about this one and see if things come to make sense… or if this is just a confusing jumble.
Expected Release: June 16, 2020
Recommended: not really
Stay away if you want a point to the story, if you want clear reactions and reasons for things, if you want more than rambling conversations. Take it on if you have a group of people to discuss it with, maybe with one who’s from Iceland, or if you want to have a kind of literary puzzle to decipher.
Iceland in the 1960s. Hekla is a budding female novelist who was born in the remote district of Dalir. After packing her few belongings, including James Joyces’s Ulysses and a Remington typewriter, she heads for Reykjavik with a manuscript buried in her bags. There, she intends to become a writer. Sharing an apartment with her childhood and queer friend Jón John, Hekla comes to learn that she will have to stand alone in a small male dominated community that would rather see her win a pageant than be a professional artist. As the two friends find themselves increasingly on the outside, their bond shapes and strengthens them artistically in the most moving of ways.
I went into this with and entirely different expectation of what I would find, which jarred me a bit in the first few pages. Going through this, my overall impression is that the writing itself is beautiful despite being quite sparse, and I felt like it really reflected the mood and reality of Iceland. (I went to Iceland, and specifically Reykjavik, last December, so I was able to link places and issues they were talking about with my experience.) That more than anything is what kept me going through it: it was just somehow lovely in the words themselves. This is getting two stars because I feel that a critical aspect of this is just out of reach from what I read, but perhaps with discussion around it, that remaining piece would fall into place. I could see this being a favorite book for others, particularly perhaps with a book club or buddy reads.
As a story though? I’m totally lost. It was told primarily through conversations, sometimes in lengths of speaking that were so long I forgot who was talking or why. One technical difficulty with that were issues with punctuation that sometimes obscured who was actually speaking or what they were saying versus thinking – hopefully that’s just an ARC issue, but when it interferes with my understanding of the book, I feel the need to call it out.
The characters’ stories all felt unconnected to each other. Hekla was the only constant link, and it felt more like each individual talking about themselves, through the medium of Hekla to the reader. Strange moments were sprinkled in as well, such as when Hekla and Jon John are talking about his difficulties with men and women, and in the middle there’s a rare line of description: “Two dogs start fighting in the alley.” I feel like it should mean something, it should matter that there’s this uncommon moment of description, but I have no idea what it would mean. They were not fighting; they were in agreement. If you figure it out, let me know
This is one of those stories where it’s about the characters and their mindsets, rather than about a particular plot or conflict. In fact, I have a hard time pointing out a conflict. I even have a hard time pointing out the ending, besides that it was the last few pages. Why was that the last few pages – I have no idea. I read between the lines and flipped back to review the scene details, thought if it was referencing something earlier in the story, but I can’t even piece the bare bones of what happened, let alone the significance. I really wish I had someone to discuss this book with, as I feel that would help me coalesce some meaning from it, some significance. I feel like it’s there, but I’m just missing it.
Thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.