Skip to main content

Frankfurter Buchmesse 2011 Challenge: Englar Alheimsins

The Icelandic book I read this month and had planned to review for the challenge was Eftirmáli Regndropanna by Einar Már Guðmundsson, but as it turns out, it doesn’t seem to have been translated into German (I was convinced it had been, but I can’t confirm it). As it is too late in the month to find another book to review, I am instead reviewing another book by Einar that I read several years ago: Englar Alheimsins, which was translated into English as Angels of the Universe (by the late, brilliant Bernard Scudder and published in 1995 and again in 1997) and into German as Engel des Universums (by Angelika Gundlach and published in 1998). It is his best known and most popular book to date, and has been included on the literature curriculum in Icelandic schools. It earned the author the Nordic Council's Literature Prize in 1995.

The story has been filmed (the author writing the script) and I can recommend the film, although not for people who only enjoy happy endings.

The narrator, Páll, tells the story of his life from birth to death, from a normal childhood to life as an adult with mental illness who spends long periods of time locked up in a psychiatric ward.

This is a brilliantly written book with a narrator who is open and honest about his problems and has been hailed as a very realistic portrait of mental illness. It isn’t all about being ill and unable to function – Páll also discusses his attempts to have a normal life and tells the stories of some of his friends and the book is in part a criticism of the attitudes towards the mentally ill and how they are treated. This is by no means a piece of mis-lit, however, as the narration is too upbeat for that and there are moments of humour, some of them absurd and others tragi-comic, but also poingnant moments when one wants to reach out to the narrator and give him a comforting pat on the back. Einar writes with respect and love for his character, which is no surprise, as he wrote the book in memory of his deceased brother, who suffered from mental illness much like the narrator, and it is fact a novelisation of his life, although of course Einar takes poetic licence and changes things to suit the story.

Anyone who wants to sample some of the best of modern Icelandic literary fiction could do worse that start with this book. If you want to start with something more upbeat, check this space in late December for my review of next month’s Buchmesse Challenge book: 101 Reykjavík by Hallgrímur Helgason.
4+ stars.

Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed in this review are drawn from a longer article/review I wrote many years ago (in Icelandic) that never got published.


Eva said…
This sounds quite interesting to me! I've got Independent People out from the library right now, and maybe I'll get Angels of the Universe as a follow-up. :)

Popular posts from this blog

Book 40: The Martian by Andy Weir, audiobook read by Wil Wheaton

Note : This will be a general scattershot discussion about my thoughts on the book and the movie, and not a cohesive review. When movies are based on books I am interested in reading but haven't yet read, I generally wait to read the book until I have seen the movie, but when a movie is made based on a book I have already read, I try to abstain from rereading the book until I have seen the movie. The reason is simple: I am one of those people who can be reduced to near-incoherent rage when a movie severely alters the perfectly good story line of a beloved book, changes the ending beyond recognition or adds unnecessarily to the story ( The Hobbit , anyone?) without any apparent reason. I don't mind omissions of unnecessary parts so much (I did not, for example, become enraged to find Tom Bombadil missing from The Lord of the Rings ), because one expects that - movies based on books would be TV-series long if they tried to include everything, so the material must be pared down

List love: 10 recommended stories with cross-dressing characters

This trope is almost as old as literature, what with Achilles, Hercules and Athena all cross-dressing in the Greek myths, Thor and Odin disguising themselves as women in the Norse myths, and Arjuna doing the same in the Mahabaratha. In modern times it is most common in romance novels, especially historicals in which a heroine often spends part of the book disguised as a boy, the hero sometimes falling for her while thinking she is a boy. Occasionally a hero will cross-dress, using a female disguise to avoid recognition or to gain access to someplace where he would never be able to go as a man. However, the trope isn’t just found in romances, as may be seen in the list below, in which I recommend stories with a variety of cross-dressing characters. Unfortunately I was only able to dredge up from the depths of my memory two book-length stories I had read in which men cross-dress, so this is mostly a list of women dressed as men. Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb. One of the interwove

First book of 2020: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach (reading notes)

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I loathe movie tie-in book covers because I feel they are (often) trying to tell me how I should see the characters in the book. The edition of Deborah Moggach's These Foolish Things that I read takes it one step further and changes the title of the book into the title of the film version as well as having photos of the ensemble cast on the cover. Fortunately it has been a long while since I watched the movie, so I couldn't even remember who played whom in the film, and I think it's perfectly understandable to try to cash in on the movie's success by rebranding the book. Even with a few years between watching the film and reading the book, I could see that the story had been altered, e.g. by having the Marigold Hotel's owner/manager be single and having a romance, instead being of unhappily married to an (understandably, I thought) shrewish wife. It also conflates Sonny, the wheeler dealer behind the retireme