by Oddný Eir
Restless Books 2016
Translated by Philip Roughton
Oh, my. I should never read other people’s diaries. Especially this one.
This book is a lightly fictionalized account of a late thirties-something dilettante dabbling in issues of commitment, career, family and society in Iceland after the Kreppa of 2008. The author blithely brings up issue after issue, never making a decision, while sprinkling the text with weasel words: maybe, perhaps, I should, I hope, vaguely, didn’t, don’t, couldn’t and lots and lots of question marks. I’m not doubting her sincerity, not one bit, I just don’t want to read about someone floundering purposelessly through life. The story centers on the author, of course, and her almost-but-not-quite relationships with her ornithologist lover Birdy and her archaeologist brother, Owlie, both of whom are ill-defined. This fragile triangle plays out over a plethora of cultural references, both modern and historical, Icelandic and European, but none are developed to any extent; a hint of incest is brought up but dropped more than once. The diarist constantly flits from topic to another, often several times on a single page. It does get a little better toward the end, where some family history starts to shape a narrative, but in the book’s final pages her weasel words—might, depending, would, could—negate the book’s impact.
I’ve interacted with many Icelandic women in the last twelve years. They have been, as a rule, self-assured, opinionated and decisive, and pretty much, to me at least, a source of unmitigated joy. Oddný, with her shallow and aimless neurotic musings, breaks that streak. For a much better book about the internal life of a modern Icelandic woman, I recommend Alva’s 88.