Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The Fires

The Fires
A Novel
By Sigríður Hagalín Björnsdóttir
Translated by Larissa Kyzer

Presenting: a new Icelandic author, with a new novel, in a new genre: Geologist-Disaster-Romance!

The title has a dual meaning: fissure-type volcanic eruptions are called ‘The Fires’ in Iceland, where they are more common than an explosive eruption that forms an iconic cone. They can burn for years. The other type of fire is a sudden outburst of desire, as displayed by the main character, Anna Arnardóttir. Anna is an expert in Icelandic vulcanism, as was her late father. She is part of a response team that has to deal with government, civil defense, tourism, and the safety of the public at large. A minor underwater eruption near the Keflavík International Airport puts everyone on edge. While touring the area in a helicopter Anna meets a photographer with whom she starts a most unprofessional affair that goes against her own best interests as a wife and mother.

This exposition is a prelude to THE BIG ONE, when a swarm of eruptions marches across the Icelandic landscape with catastrophic results. The book is fast-paced and easy to read despite the use of Icelandic names and its use of an interesting choice of punctuation—omitting all quotation marks. Some reviewers have jumped on this, but it works well, helping the flow of the story. The geology of Iceland’s volcanoes is clearly explained and there are also numerous maps and even a character index to help keep things straight. Larissa Kyzer’s translation flows smoothly but be forewarned: this is not ‘high’ literature.

All of that said, this novel is primarily a romance, and a fairly steamy one at that. The biggest weakness of the book is that Tómas, the love interest, is somewhat a somewhat shallow and a rather unlikable character, and Anna is no prize herself. It would be interesting to see a movie adapted from this material, it would be stunning with the action played out in front of a backdrop of active volcanoes.

Marginal recommendation.

By Professor Batty


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