Dec 10, 2007

Halldór Laxness Day

52 years ago today, Halldór Laxness was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Today is the day that Professor Batty and I chose for posting our personal rankings of our favorite Laxness novels. You, our reading audience, can be assured that we have not collaborated on or discussed these rankings ahead of time...I will be as surprised as you when I read PB's post tomorrow!

Here is my list:

1. The Fish Can Sing (1957)
Álfgrímur's coming of age. Iceland's greatest singer. A house called Brekkukot in Reykjavík at the beginning of the 20th century. My favorite book ever.

2. Independent People (1934)
Sheep, and the frustratingly stubborn Bjartur of Summerhouses.

3. Iceland's Bell (1943-46)
The Loveliest Woman in Iceland and an irascible criminal.

4. World Light (1937-40)
The Poet, Ólafur Kárason of Ljósavík.

5. Under the Glacier (1968)
The Emisary of the Bishop (Embi) investigates strange things at Snaefells.

6. Salka Valka (1931-32)
A poor fisher girl who is big, strong, and very generous.

7. Paradise Reclaimed (1960)
Steinar gives his white pony Krapi, the finest horse in Iceland, to the King of Denmark, and goes to live with the Mormons.

8. Great Weaver From Kashmir (1927)
Steinn’s quest for perfection, and his desire to avoid the sins of the flesh. Humanity and Divinity. The nature of redemption.

9. Happy Warriors (1952)
Sworn brothers Þormódur Bessason and Þorgeir Hávarsson have the souls of saga warriors. But they are misfits in their world, and don’t even realize it.

10. Atom Station (1948)
A girl from the north country encounters city ways, and learns about human values. Another Strong Woman steals our hearts.

11. The Honour of the House (1933)
Honour and pride, and what it does to a family.

I think it's interesting that many of Laxness' novels were published in separate volumes and parts over the course of several years. I also think it's interesting (although I don't expect anyone else to) that Laxness was awarded the Nobel Prize the same year I was born. His acceptance speech (audio and text) can be found at the Nobel site.

I'd love to hear from other Laxness fans about their favorites. If you'll send me your personal ranking I'll be glad to post it! And don't forget to check out Professor Batty at Flippism is the Key to see what he has to say about our favorite Icelandic Author.

To conclude, an excerpt from my Iceland diary, July 19, 2006:

Today we are going to visit Gljufrasteinn, the home and museum of author Halldór Laxness. Thingvellir, Gljufrasteinn, and Drangey Island are the top three personal shrines on my Iceland list.

Halldór Laxness (1902-1998) won the Nobel prize in 1955, in part for his book Independent People. In an introduction to this book Brad Leithauser says:

When I tell people I meet that my favorite book by a living novelist is Halldor Laxness's Independent People and am asked what it's about, my reply is, "Sheep."

...My reply is actually less facetious than might first appear, for while the book does keep large issues constantly in mind (the largest: mortality and memory and love and duty), it is also very much about...[sheep].

We come close to hitting a herd of sheep on the road, one at a time. In case you're curious, sheep are not too smart. They exhibit that irritating characteristic common to squirrels and deer: it's impossible to predict which way they will dash when they panic--or they might just freeze. It's safer not to honk the horn, and just wait for them to amble off.

Gljúfrasteinn is nestled in a large, lovely valley with imposing mountains nearby, across the road from Laxnes horse farm. Laxness's name, a pseudonym he took in 1923, means "of Laxnes."

First we walk around through the gardens to the back of the house, and have our picnic lunch on a bench in an alcove shaded by small birches and wildflowers. The nearby stream tumbles over smooth boulders and forms myriad small waterfalls.

The house itself is elegantly plain: medium sized, white plaster with lots of windows. It isn't a showplace; it's a house meant to be lived in. The orginal furnishings, art, music and books are still in place, so it's very easy to imagine Laxness and his family living here. The audio tour is excellent: it is less obtrusive than a tour guide, and the recording includes the voices of Laxness and his wife. You can stand in his study, see the desk he stood at to write, look out the window at the very view that he saw daily. You can enter his bedroom, and see the art and objects he kept close to him. You can see his Steinway piano--the very same one that Bill Holm has played. When I see the grandfather clock in the hallway--ticking E-TER-NI-TY---(the one that the clock in The Fish Can Sing was modeled on) my throat closes up and I choke back tears.


Professor Batty said...

...great job, Rose! I especially liked adding the visit to Laxness' house (one of my top ten Icelandic Fever posts!) in giving some personal background to your relationship with the author. Maybe this is the start of a huge Laxness revival- what a writer!

Marc said...
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Professor Batty said...

The Weaver (my weaver, not the Great Weaver from Kashmir!) really got a kick out of Atom Station.

Professor Batty said...

So it appears that Under the Glacier and Salka Valka have moved up (if memory serves correctly)... I guess you have reviewed all of the Laxness-in-translation titles. But I haven't done Independent People properly. Oh well, mabe next winter...

Rose said...

Yes. We owe it to our reading public.

You'll be in the mood after (aughhhhhhhh....sounds of extreme jealousy...) your 2009 trip to Iceland!

This time you get to set the date.

Rose said...

hmmm, and just what was it that appealed to The Weaver about Atom Station? Maybe she'll give you some comments to post?
I hope...

Professor Batty said...

She thought it was hilarious that Ugla would come to Reykjavík to learn the harmonium. I think the Weaver had an affinity after years of organ lessons and numerous country funerals where she was the organist. She also grew up with a pump-organ, one of the few "luxuries" in her childhood home.