I'd heard about the novel (novella?) in a few places - first at dovegreyreader, methinks, then later when Scott Pack chose it as his first Blogger's Book of the Month - and Claire at Paperback Reader has also written about it - there you go, three reviews to read before I even get past a weak Cher joke. And they all liked it - you can add me to that pile.
Published in Icelandic in 2004, Victoria Cribb's translation was published by Telegram Books in 2008. I always make sure to credit translators, because it is one of the jobs which impresses me the most, being about as far away as possible from own (incredibly limited) skill set. And, though I cannot compare Cribb's translation with Sjon's original, I'm pretty certain that the atmosphere of the book has been carried across.
The Blue Fox takes place in January 1883, and the first section follows the priest Baldur Skuggason as he is on the trail of the elusive blue fox. Each page has a paragraph or two of text on it, slowing down the reading process and giving the words the form, as well as the language, of poetry. Not that it is overly full of imagery or anything like that - rather, the language is sparse and deceptively simple. And there is a subtle humour throughout. One page reads simply: 'The night was cold and of the longer variety.' We follow the slow and careful hunt, and even if (like me) you're willing the fox to escape, this is still beautiful writing. Completely unlike anything I've read before.
Just as the trigger is pulled on the gun, we jump back a few days, to the world of Fridrik B. Fridiksson and his charge Abba, who has Down's Syndrome. Apparently it was rare, in the mid-19th century in Iceland at least, for babies with Down's Syndrome to be left alive.
No witnesses were needed; before the child could utter its first wail, the midwife would close its nose and mouth, thereby returning its breath to the great cauldron of souls from which all mankind is served.Once more the structure is strange, as it's going backgrounds. We meet characters before we know their histories; sometimes we are told they are dead before they even appear. It all lends a disorientating feeling, but fairy-tale-like rather than sinister. Perhaps it is the mediation of translation, or perhaps it is in Sjon's writing, but The Blue Fox feels almost mystical, as though it is read through a glass darkly.
I'll be honest - I wasn't *as* bowled over by the novella as Scott Pack was, but I am very glad that I've read it. The sections of the hunt, especially - which continue at the end of the book, increasingly and beautifully surreal - were haunting and mesmeric and so different from anything else I've read. For a taste of Icelandic literature, and a glimpse of a wholly different world and time, I suggest you pick up The Blue Fox - you're unlikely to read anything else similar this year.