Oct 9, 2009

What's a Quire*?

A Quire of Seven, by Halldór Laxness. Translated from the Icelandic by Alan Boucher. Iceland Review Library, 1977 (first published in 1974). 95 pgs.




These seven short stories by my favorite author lack the monumental epicness of his novels. But this is an interesting assortment: like a curry, there are many different flavors and nuances. Humor and a surreal atmosphere predominate. Like all of his works, I savored these stories more on my second reading. Boucher translated this work over 30 years ago; it seems an adequate, not utterly graceful translation.

And--did you guess?--this is another book review challenge, posting the day before the Professor's much anticipated return to Iceland. Read his review of A Quire of Seven at Flippism is the Key.

Place of Safety is about dogs, respect, and faithfulness. Next up is Pigeon Banquet, a very odd story about a mysterious host, a lavish party and his bewildered guests.
"Aren't you enjoying yourself?" I asked.
"Of course I'm enjoying myself," said the man. "I'm the Icelandic police inspector who lost his passport in New York and couldn't remember his name. Then the judge in New York said, 'Let the police band play all the national anthems of the world, and see whether he doesn't respond to any of them. '"
Wouldn't that make a great scene in a black and white movie?

"Deroppefra," ... This Danish expression is oddly conceived. Its immediate sense seems to be the equivalent of the English "from up there"; but beyond this its meaning is so varied that it can be used to convey "from up in the rafters" or "from Heaven itself". And what is odder still, it can also signify "from Iceland."

So close to Heaven, is Iceland.

Inland Fishing Trip is a tale of impending disaster. Capital Error in the West Fjords is the strange odyssey of a middle-aged woman of no particular distinction who loses herself and finds her calling. Corda Atlantica concerns Count Dunganon, Duke of St. Kilda, a man who has his own country. This small island off the coast of Scotland is reputed to be the last remaining part of Atlantis.  The Count ...

... differed in no way from the rest of a class that has been more harshly treated than any other group in the world, not excluding the Jews: the so-called petit bourgeoisie, consisting, as everyone knows, of university professors, linen drapers, roadworks supervisors, assistant managers of breweries, and violin-makers.

John of Breadhouses is an alternative view of Christ's Disciples, as they might have been years after the Crucifixtion.

The last story, Bird on the Fencepost, describes the final hours of Hard-Knut (a Bjartur of Summerhouses sort of character). Knut intends to leave all of his wordly possessions (17 ewes) to his housekeeper, Brightmay. This story ends, and likewise the book, with a line that reminds me of Laxness himself:
As they rode through the gate the bird was still sitting on the fence-post, listening to the echo of the song it had chirped in summer.

How many travelers will be listening to the echo of Laxness' song, for seasons unnumbered?


*Dictionary.com says:
1.
a set of 24 uniform sheets of paper.
2.
Bookbinding. a section of printed leaves in proper sequence after folding; gathering.

3 comments:

Professor Batty said...

A most curious book, indeed.

Rose said...

Yes, do you want to read the Pigeon Banquet play next?

Professor Batty said...

I may have something else up my sleeve... Check my post for Tuesday...