The Fish Can Sing, by Halldor Laxness

by Peter

The Fish Can Sing is one of Halldor Laxness’s most beloved novels (even though Independent People is more well known). It is a tale of Iceland written with a very pointed pen andThe Fish Can Sing, by Halldor Laxness with considerable amounts of Nobel Prize Winner Halldor Laxness’ blend of light irony, love for Iceland, warmth and dark humor. The setting is Iceland in the early years of the twentieth century. Modernization of Iceland, perhaps even independence from Denmark, is on the national agenda. It is wonderfully written, flows slowly and grows while you digest it.

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On the outside The Fish Can Sing tells the story of the orphan Alfgrimur. He has spent an idyllic childhood being sheltered in the simple turf cottage of a very generous and eccentric elderly couple and all their various house guests who come there to stay. His dream is to become a fisherman, like his adoptive grandfather. He is a strange character. The price he charges for his fish never change. And his regular customers buy his fish both when it is the cheapest and the most expensive at the market because he is considered fair and honest. The grandfather teaches the boy about the eternal truths of the world.

Then Alfgrimur hears about the internationally famous opera singer, Gardar Holm, a very mysterious man who spends most of this time abroad where he supposedly is extremely famous. Gardar rarely visits Iceland, but when he does, it always causes a stir. Yet somehow he always fails to perform for his beloved countrymen.

Alfgrimur meets this famous singer. And Gardar is interested in Alfgrimur, as he recognizes in him a budding talent for singing which he seeks to encourage. However, Alfgrimur is somewhat suspicious of Gardar, and realizes that he is not what he seems to be. And Alfgrimur learns, in several ways, that there is “the one true note”, and that whoever has heard this note never sings again. But has he heard it?

In The Fish Can Sing, Halldor Laxness finds large ideas in the minds of modest and rustic Icelanders, and he portrays their lives as imbued with an eclectic, uniquely Icelandic dignity. Iceland needs singing fish – celebrities like Gardar Holm – that can promote the country and increase national pride. Is that to be the role of Alfgrimur as well? And more than just only the tale of Alfgrimur and Gardar Holm, this tale is perhaps the tale of an Iceland in transition.

Links to books by Halldor Laxness at amazon US: Under the Glacier, The Fish Can Sing (Vintage International), Independent People, and The Atom Station.

You can also order the books by Halldor Laxness from amazon UK: Independent People, Under the Glacier (Vintage International Original), The Fish Can Sing (Panther), and The Atom Station.

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