Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Summer Reads (barely)

Autumn begins at 9:29 tonight (Monday) so here are the final two books of my summer reading list, both making the cut by mere hours:

The Pets

A novel by Bragí Ólofsson
Translated by Janice Balfour
Open Letter Press, 2008

   This slim volume occupies a prime spot in the niche of 101-Reykjavík-Millenial-thirty-somethings novels. The author, Bragí Ólofsson, is a founding member of Smekkleysa (Bad Taste), the Icelandic artistic collective and music label which included The Sugarcubes, of which he was a member.

   The main character, Emil Halldórsson, is returning to his flat in Reykjavík after a short vacation in London, financed by winning a mid-sized lottery (he's a 'millionaire'—but in Icelandic Krona—about 10,000 USD) enough to pay for a trip where he purchased gifts for his friends and CDs (he's a music collector) for himself.  At the same time, Havard Knutsson, an ex-roomate and recent escapee from a Swedish mental institution, is in Iceland, looking up his old 'friend' and causing general havoc.

   The book is comic, Emil's indecision and timidity in facing up to his old nemesis leads to bigger and bigger mortifications as Havard takes over his flat and throws a party: drinking his liquor, dismissing his taste in music, and generally defiling the place. All the while Emil is hiding underneath a bed, waiting for Havard to leave. Further complicating things is the arrival of Greta, who Emil once admired from afar and has reconnected with on his return flight; his big chance with her now spoiled by the unwanted interloper.

   The writing is brisk, the translation is unfussy, this is a breezy light novel, perfect for a short airplane trip or a rainy afternoon.  Those readers familiar with downtown Reykjavík, especially around the turn of the millennium, should get a kick out of the locales. It has a certain pre-kreppa lightness about it along with a most quirky Icelandic perspective on 'dating'.

The Gamal

A novel by Ciarán Collins
Bloomsbury, 2013

   This debut novel is the story of Charlie McCarthy, a "gamal" (a simpleton in the local Irish dialect), written from a first person perspective in this subtle story about youth growing up in a small Irish town. Charlie has been assigned to write this book as part of his therapy in dealing with a tragic Romeo and Juliet-style turn of events occurring to two of his friends. It may sound grim, and parts of it are very sad, but it it also leavened with Charlie's often hilarious and insightful commentary on his peers.

   Collins uses the The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time trope of writing. Using the point of view of a developmentally-impaired person it allows the author a lot of room for creative effects. There are some gimmicks in the typography and illustrations, but nothing that ultimately detracts from the writing.  His use of Irish idioms and courtroom transcripts gives the story its sense of verisimilitude as well as offering the reader a penetrating look into the pub life of Irish teens.

Highest recommendation.

By Professor Batty


Anonymous Caroline said...

I've got The Pets and have only heard great things. I wasn't familiar with The Gamal but it sure sounds like a book for me. Thanks for reviewing it.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

It's a pleasure to find a first novel written with clarity and insight. And no vampires.

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