It is kind of ironic that since mid-June this year, earthquake activity within the caldera of the mighty ice-covered Katla volcano has increased above background levels. This book is set in Reykjavik in 1918. The days are darker than usual and the sky is full of volcanic dust. It is the last time that the eruptions from the Katla volcano managed to penetrate the ice. Life is hard but it continues nonetheless. There are coal and food shortages as World War One plots its weary course and the ongoing eruption does little to boost people’s spirits.
Máni Steinn is sixteen and obsessed with a new arrival to the island. The Movies. During the day he lives a brutal and degrading life on the fringes of society, working as a prostitute. At night his dreams merge the themes and events from his favourite movies with the strands of his real life.
Just when you think that things can’t possibly get any worse the Spanish Flu epidemic arrives in Reykjavik killing hundreds and forcing vast numbers of the population to take to their beds. It doesn’t sound like a very uplifting tale but there is an innate beauty that resonates throughout the story. Translated from the original Icelandic by Victoria Cribb the language is so evocative of the times and the circumstances. There are no words wasted and yet it paints a picture that creeps into your consciousness and won’t let go.
There are some graphic sex scenes that may disturb some readers but unlike many modern novels there is nothing superfluous about them and all is intrinsically valuable to the plot. A wonderful story of courage and bravery in the face of sheer despair.
Supplied by Net Galley and Hodder & Stoughton in exchange for an honest review.
UK Publication date: 2 June 2016. 160 pages.