A month ago, I travelled to Iceland for the Iceland Writers Retreat and for weeks ahead, I boned up on Icelandic literature: Nobel prize winners, twenty-first century darlings, and a few thrillers. No sagas. In doing so, I was delighted to discover Sjón, a multi-talented poet, novelist and lyricist (he has written lyrics for Björk) and Halldor Laxness, Iceland’s sole Nobel Prize winner in literature. Right now, I am reading Sjón’s “The Whispering Muse”(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York), a clever retelling of Jason’s myth (he of the Golden Fleece).
“The Whispering Muse” is a slim novel, beautifully translated by Victoria Cribb. It is narrated by a comically dull self-appointed expert on fish and their contribution—as food—to the superiority of the Nordic race. Throughout, two narratives roll in like waves until Greek and Icelandic myths clash and crest. The endings—for there are two—will satisfy both speculative fiction and magical realism fans.
Speaking of waves in narrative, “Meander, Spiral, Explode” by Jane Alison (Catapult, New York), presents a gentle yet firm denunciation of the climactic Aristotelian narrative schema taught in all creative writing classes. Using patterns from nature: waves, radials, and honeycombs in addition to the titular three, she dissects literary works from flash fiction to epic tomes illustrating alternative but equally satisfying narrative structures, all in a non-scholarly and engaging manner.