Is this novel a masterpiece? Plenty of the reviews it has received will try to convince you that it is, and both the book itself and its publication history make bids for high esteem. It is suitably epic in scope, with a narrative sweep that extends from Nazi Germany to present-day Iceland and incorporates elements of Biblical lore as well as Norse mythology.
Bragi Ólafsson is the master of making mountains out of molehills. Here is how a typical Bragi novel unfolds: he kickstarts a narrative with a situation that looks like it has virtually zero potential for complex development, and then he digs deeper into it, and deeper still, and even deeper, mining the situation for its subterranean minutiae, until he reaches a point at which it erupts into something much more elaborate than seemed possible at first.
It’s not every day that you come across a novel with a passage like this in its opening pages: Flosi from Svínafell came back from his vehicle; the angle grinder leapt to life and the hotel splattered with red gore…
Iceland has an unusually intimate relationship with literature. You could almost say that literature is the base material of the nation.
Acts of devotion tend to arise from religious beliefs and observances, but at heart there’s something deeply secular about them. Why do we admire someone who unselfishly devotes their time to the wellbeing of someone else?