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A welcome, major contribution to modern Nordic literature in translation and a pleasure to read.

“Nothing but harm and misfortune result when killers and skalds come together.” True enough, as Nobel Prize–winning author Laxness’ long-forgotten 1952 novel elaborates.

As Norse kings go, Olaf the Stout merits his name. The “sworn brothers” Þorgeir Hávarsson and Þormóður Bessason are another matter. The former had watched impassively, after all, as his father was slaughtered in epically gruesome fashion: “Jöður Klængsson dismounted, and, like a true Norseman, hewed frantically at the man with his ax where he lay fallen, spattering blood and brains everywhere.” Yet, having seen blood and gore firsthand, Þorgeir likes the possibilities for renown that follow, and so he sets out to carve out a hero’s name for himself, shunning farm work—he objects to it by saying that since his mother never ordered him to feed the pigs, it was his privilege to “slay with a sword.” A hero needs a bard, and there’s where sworn brother Þormóður comes in. Alas, the two are less than successful as a Quixote/Panza team; they’re a little dim at times, a little luckless at others, and the people they meet—especially the women—are better grounded in the world as it is and see right through them. Laxness’ novel follows the better-known Independent People by a couple of decades, and while it can be read with much pleasure without context, a couple of things from modern real life play into its medieval setting, one being Laxness’ Catholic worldview and the other his mistrust of alliances of the kind that the Cold War was forcing on Iceland, as well as of politics generally; as a minor character notes, “We have had plenty of kings in Norway, but the only ones that proved of any use to us were those that we sacrificed for good harvests and peace.” The result is a cynical, tongue-in-cheek reimagination of the Old Norse sagas on which the novel is firmly based, its heroes men with plenty of foibles.

A welcome, major contribution to modern Nordic literature in translation and a pleasure to read.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 9780914671091

Page Count: 500

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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