The Good Lover by Steinunn Sigurdardottir and Philip Roughton (translator)

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The Good Lover by Steinunn Sigurdardottir and Philip Roughton (translator)

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A man removed from the love of his life – and a book that pushes us as far as we can get from caring about him.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 224 Date: December 2016
Publisher: World Editions
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9789462380134

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Karl is a global example of the Icelandic species, with more than one home abroad and an amanuensis-cum-assistant to do his scheduling and arrange housework while he's going here and there being a businessman. He has a string of lovers that has stretched into three figures, partly because with one exception three is the limit of liaisons he'll have with each. But he's also got a heart devoted to Una, his teenaged love whom he adores, despite her splitting with him decades ago. On a whim he leaves a beach holiday to go back to one of the icy limbs of Iceland, witnesses the changes wrought by fifteen years on her – and then ends up staying the night with the woman next door. This is purely platonic, but what with his host knowing everything about the situation, an ever-present taxi driver, and an ex on the line in America, is there a way he can snatch his love from her marriage and find happiness?

I often baulk at engaging the category marked 'literary fiction', for the simple reason it means different things to different people. Here, for instance, is a story that has a lot about it in common with general reads – a man lost to his modern world, wanting but one thing and one relationship. You certainly don't always get such overt narrative in some literary fiction, which can easily go on as if affairs of the heart are far beneath it – but you generally do get what we have here, a dense, meandering approach, using wordplay and artfully considered language to convey the story's contents. But if literary fiction is writing that you tend to see up for the major awards, I'm afraid to say this will win no prizes from me.

There's an obtuseness to much of the writing, which may have been down to the translation (certainly a host of printing errors don't help, either). The narrative is so close to our lead character we get names he knows dropped onto our laps before we've met them, even if the style also goes great guns to hide his own name from us, until it changes its mind and does the reverse. I never found myself being taken by his manner, his style or his predicament, and when the story jumps into flashbacks regarding the ex he phones, I took to her even less, meaning these pages were quite dead to me.

What also killed the book was the story – one that was highly unlikely, whatever genre tag you put on it. It seemed to be wanting to say something about rural Iceland, in that everyone is related to or at least knows everyone else, and nobody has business of their own. But the bones of the plot – whether conveyed at length or just in pointless recap on the phone, as happens here – never once rang true. And a fourth quarter, concerning itself – in oh so literary ways – with the nature of writing about real people – took me one more step from caring about what should have been a universally-appealing situation. Never has a story of unrequited love encompassed – and provided – so much alienation.

I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.

The Gravity of Love by Sara Stridsberg and Deborah Bragan-Turner (translator) could sound like too much gloomy Scandinavian literariness, but it's so much more.

Buy The Good Lover by Steinunn Sigurdardottir and Philip Roughton (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Good Lover by Steinunn Sigurdardottir and Philip Roughton (translator) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Good Lover by Steinunn Sigurdardottir and Philip Roughton (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Good Lover by Steinunn Sigurdardottir and Philip Roughton (translator) at Amazon.com.


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