No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Saturday, December 26, 2015

2015/40: Season of the Witch -- Árni Þórarinsson (trans. Anna Yates)

"...he said to me once: What Loftur did by old-style sorcery, I’m doing with modern-day sorcery. If Loftur were alive now, he’d be doing the same as me. Loftur and I are human beings who become our own gods."

"And it destroyed both of them?" [loc. 4860]

Einar is a crime reporter with a history of alcoholism, working for a Reykjavik-based newspaper: he's assigned (or banished) to the small northern town of Akureyri, which initially seems quiet and old-fashioned. Einar -- who is not impressed with all this new-fangled technology, cellphones and laptops -- quickly finds that as well as the hoary journalistic staples of missing dogs, student theatre and 'question of the day', there is plenty happening in Akureyri. The charismatic teenage star of Loftur the Sorcerer, Skarphédinn, is murdered: a middle-aged woman drowns (surely an accident?) on a corporate away-day: the local youth gang are increasingly out of control, and nobody seems able to rein them in.

I rather liked Einar. Though he constantly complains and initially seems to dislike practically everybody, he's a compassionate, sometimes self-effacing, and self-aware man. More pertinently, he works through the murder mystery at the heart of Season of the Witch by wit and logic alone: he's a journalist, not a detective, and his methods reflect his trade. And he knows that truth and justice are seldom black and white.

This novel was originally published in 2005, before the Icelandic financial crash. The pre-crash boom is underway and society is changing, with increased industrialisation and the spread of social problems from the capital to the remoter parts of the country. It's well-written, neatly plotted and -- as far as I can tell -- the translation is good. (It certainly flows well!)

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