Saturday, 30 March 2019
STORYTELLERS by Bjørn Larssen @bjornlarssen #RBRT
5 out of 5 stars
On Amazon UK
How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member, but I'd been interested in it since seeing the author talking about it on Twitter, so I bought a copy when it came out, anyway.
In a Nutshell: Icelandic history set in the 1920s, with moments of subtle humour.
I loved this book - it was a delight to read, an unusual debut novel by a writer with much talent.
The story tells of village blacksmith Gunnar, who is (at first glance) quite happy living in his shack with his dog, Ragnar, and his 'medicine' (alcohol). One night, he takes in a climber with a broken ankle, Sigurd; with reluctance, Gunnar agrees to take care of him until he can walk again. From the outset, it is clear that there is much mystery surrounding the stranger.
Meanwhile, Gunnar's life is picked apart by his doctor, the overbearing Brynhildur who wants to marry him, and the Conservative Women of Iceland who demand that he mend his heathen ways. I loved these women - the Conservative Women number just two; they and Brynhildur were a joy to read. The gossip and atmosphere of small village life reminded me of a Jane Austen novel, amusingly executed as it is.
This is actually a story within a story - the Icelandic winters are long and dark, and storytelling is a much loved pastime. Threaded through Gunnar's own tale is another, told to him in instalments by Sigurd, about love, death and a feud between brothers. Both stories are so compelling.
As we learn more about Gunnar, we discover the demons that lurk within, that he tries to banish with the moonshine that he makes in his shack.
The atmosphere of the place and time is perfectly drawn, the characterisation is excellent, the dialogue authentic and amusing. The ending is surprising, as the link between the stories is uncovered. In these days when so many novels are jam-packed with events from start to finish, I enjoyed the slower pace of Storytellers; it has such charm that I still found it to be a 'page-turner', was reluctant to leave it when I had to, and sad to finish it.
The quality of the writing and storytelling is most definitely worthy of 5*. I was, at first, going to knock off half a star because of some editorial errors that may not concern many readers - a few Americanisms, the odd word used incorrectly, and phrases/words too modern for the time. However, English is not the author's first language, and his command of its subtleties is, on the whole, outstanding, so I don't want to penalise him for that which should have been picked up by editors and proofreaders, and which I believe will be remedied soon.
This a work of literary art that I recommend most highly; Bjørn Larssen is, indeed, an Icelandic storyteller.
Bjørn Larssen writes about Iceland 99 years ago
Bjørn Larssen - writer, blacksmith, mathematician, graphic designer, model (not all at the same time) was made in Poland. He is mostly located in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one. Since then his short stories and essays were published in Rita Baum Art Magazine, Writer Unboxed, Inaczej Magazine, Edurada.pl, Homiki.pl, and Holandia Expat Magazine. He is a member of Alliance of Independent Authors and Writer Unboxed.
Bjørn used to speak eight languages (currently down to two and a half). His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland, even though he hates being cold. He has only met an elf once. So far.