Good for the soul

I've been down with one of those nasty fluey colds over the last few days; and have spent much of the time in bed curled up with 2 helpful hounds, steaming mugs of honey and lemon,TV documentaries (have learned more than I would have thought possible about sinkholes, Genghis Khan (of which more anon), Easter Island and the making of Psycho), and, of course, a succession of good books. Where better to start than Audur Ava Olafsdottir's gentle road-trip Butterflies in November?

I've long been a fan of Scandinavian noir, and in particular of Icelandic crime writers, but after reading this I think I should read more Icelandic literature generally, as this was a beautiful, engaging comical tale, warming, funny and impossible to stop reading.

The tale is told in the first person, a 30-something female narrator with a gift for languages and sleeping with the wrong men. In a single day she manages to kill a goose, and be dumped by both her husband and her lover. Not surprisingly she feels that something in her life needs to change, but after her best-friend has an accident, when she slips on the ice outside the narrator's home (the home itself starts to turn on the narrator), the narrator is landed with her pal's 4 year old deaf son. The two then take off on a road-trip across Iceland winning the lottery en route, meeting an Estonian male voice choir with some rather less than traditional dancers, cooking, knitting, and making friends.

The narrator is trying in some small way to come to terms with her past, both the more recent, and remote scars that are still unhealed, while the small boy is trying to find his way in a world that seems unaccepting of difference.

I adored this book. It could only have been written by someone from those far northern climes, think Tove Jansson for grown-ups. There is a wonderful other-worldliness to it. And I just loved the heroine. As her life lurched from disaster to disaster, I thought "This is me, she's writing about!" It's  a funny, charming read. At the conclusion of the novel nothing's really happened. There's no huge climax, no earth-shattering changes in the lives of the central characters, just this gentle experience that has impacted on their lives.

It's completely charming. It's also unusual in that I felt a great connection to the characters, but at the same time (not least because of Audur Ava's recipe selection at the end of the volume), I was aware of what a different place Iceland is to the rest of Europe sitting there, just on the edge.

One strange thing - as I was lying in bed finishing this, I heard the beat of wings, and saw a butterfly in my February.


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