Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Greenhouse, Audur Ava Olafsdottir

you guessed it, Icelandic.  From a strange and beautiful country I had the privilege to visit once, and will  again before I die.  Scandinavia is generally cool at the moment, especially for its detective and thriller fiction.  This remarkable book is neither.  It has been beautifully translated by one Bryan Fitzgibbon, who apparently also does literary translation from Italian and French into English as well as from Icelandic.  I am glad he has done it, so that I and other anglophones can read this book, especially as so little is translated into English.  This book was translated into French some time ago (it came out in 2007 in Iceland), but I hadn't heard of it then.  Its title in French is "Rosa candida".  I suspect that before long there will be no demand at all for translation into English of any kind.  In respect of literature, that would be a great pity.  I have already started reading Spanish and South American books in French, because they get translated into it and not into English.

This book is, if you want to place it into one of the seven plots there allegedly are, a coming of age story. The protagonist and first-person narrator is a young man of twenty-two, who has unintentionally and almost without noticing become a father, and whose mother has been killed in a car accident, leaving him with his father and autistic twin brother.  He exiles himself to another country, which may be Sweden, or somewhere else, but is not named, and dedicates himself to the transformation of an ancient monastery rose garden.  And the story unfolds.  As much as it is "about" anything, it is about fatherhood.  The author is female, and has done this quite wonderfully.  This is her third novel.  She is a professor a of art history, and this shows in the pictures she draws with her words.  I was impressed, and will read her others.

As an aside, I was also impressed with the way she handles technology, which is a big challenge for modern writers.  Why do you think so many turn to historical fiction?  This book seems to be set in the recent past, but it is actually hard to tell when.  The protagonist's mother had and used a mobile phone, but he does not, and uses a telephone box quite frequently.  The films watched by one of the monks seem to be on VHS, but a monk might well have that kind of collection even today.  There are no false notes at all.


Anonymous said...

VG Thanks!! Wll get.

AT the moment, startign to read Elizabeth Taylor - the other one. Have begun A View from the Harbour. Modern Jane Austen. Great

Jane Griffiths said...

Sig other is a big fan. Have not read her. Will try.

Jonny said...

You might find this little essay by Tim Lott interesting

Jane Griffiths said...

I did. Fascinating. Thank you. Tim Parks though, not Tim Lott, a writer I admire (Rumours of a Hurricane, wasn't it?) - and the comments, as so rarely, are interesting too. My point was kind of the opposite one, that translations are not being done into English. But they reinforce each other. And no, I'm not bidding for work. I am rarely a translator. But, for instance, modern north African fiction has some wonderful things to offer, and is published in Arabic and French, nothing else.