Backchat: Hotel Silence

Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, Hotel Silence (trans. Brian FitzGibbon)

Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir,
Hotel Silence.
Translated by Brian FitzGibbon.
Pushkin Press. £9.99.
Buy direct from the publisher.

Splice publishes new content on Mondays and Wednesdays, but throughout the week we bulk it out with bonus material on Facebook and Twitter. On Fridays, “Backchat” looks at the week that was and gathers up all the bonus material in one place.

This week on Splice, we interwove our usual style of coverage (review plus bonus material) with a couple of glances at the shape of things to come. On Monday, we ran Alec Dewar’s review of Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s Hotel Silence, and on Wednesday we featured a Q&A with the novel’s translator, Brian FitzGibbon. In between those two pieces, we published a short essay by Alec Dewar on the current state of Icelandic literature in translation. Especially in its final paragraphs, this essay has one eye on the future: Alec will be writing about Icelandic literature all year for Splice, and he concludes by naming some of the writers he’ll be reviewing soon.

Finally, after we wrapped up our first look at the literature of Iceland, we changed gears to make an announcement about Dana Diehl’s Our Dreams Might Align. Dana’s beautiful collection of stories is forthcoming from Splice in April — just a month from now — and it’s now available to pre-order as an ebook and a paperback. You can also take a look at Dana’s page here on the Splice website to read some excerpts from her book.

If you’re planning on diving into Hotel Silence, or if you’re just intrigued by some of the things that Alec Dewar and Brian FitzGibbon said about it, there’s a wealth of material online to sweeten the experience. You’ll want to start by reading Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s recent column for LitHub, in which she faces up to the irresolvable question of whether or not art can possibly change the world:

My answer, my method as an author, is simple and twofold. On one hand, it is to give a voice to those who have no voice — those who cannot shout out loud enough to attract the attention of the world — and, on the other hand, to look on ourselves as if we are the others. And the others are us.

Then you’ll want to head over to the website of BBC Radio Ulster’s The Arts Show, where you can hear Auður being interviewed (in English!) and reading an extended passage from Hotel Silence. If you’re looking for an older English-language interview with Auður, you’ll find one at the Icelandic Literature Centre. There, she discusses her thematic intentions in writing her novel The Greenhouse: “I wanted to approach the illogical part of the human psyche in a musical way, to elevate everyday experiences.” Because Hotel Silence is thematically very similar to The Greenhouse, much of what she says about the earlier novel also applies to her new one.

You might be tempted to think that Brian FitzGibbon is in a company of one when it comes to translating Icelandic literature, but you’d be wrong. His Q&A with Splice follows on from much longer, often more technical interviews with other Icelandic translators of note. Publishing Perspectives interviewed Victoria Cribb, translator of Sjón, in 2012; more recently, Words Without Borders spoke to Philip Roughton about his translations of the novels of Jón Kalman Stefánsson. But the Icelandic translator extraordinaire right now is Lytton Smith — best known for his sensational work on last year’s Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson — and you can find detailed interviews with him at both The Culture Trip and Scott Esposito’s Conversational Reading.

That’s all for this week! Next week we’ll be looking at two new novels of migration and diaspora: Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry, published by Granta Books, and Suneeta Peres da Costa’s Saudade, published by Giramondo. Follow Splice on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with everything as it unfolds…