The Ice Lands by Steinar Bragi and Lorenza Garcia (translator)
|The Ice Lands by Steinar Bragi and Lorenza Garcia (translator)|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Never unreadably bad, but this latest in the genre labelled 'thrillers questioning which came first – the evil in Iceland, or the evil in Icelanders?' is nowhere near the best example.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 400||Date: October 2016|
Four middle-aged Icelanders take themselves off on a Jeep safari across the lunar wilderness of the interior of their country. Hitting a patch of horrid fog one night, they lose all sense of the road, until they hit something else – something a lot more solid than just fog. They find themselves embedded in the wall of a mysterious farmhouse, in the middle of nowhere, peopled by a crabby old woman who reluctantly puts them up, and her very peculiar male companion. Our heroes try to borrow the farm's Jeep to get back to civilisation, but fail – and therefore spend a second day trying to find the way out, find their bearings, even at times find civility in talking to each other. Slowly, however, as the unusual landscape makes their heads turn and they lose all sense of direction, they realise something much less solid than the wall – even less solid than the fog, perhaps, and purely evil, is also in the area…
This is the kind of book that could only come from Iceland. There's something about the genre fiction from that island that has an earthy, gritty mysticism running through it like letters through a very different kind of rock. And, as it patently mentions genetic issues (a company was used to work out every Icelander's relationship to each other in case they ever slept with someone too biologically close) in the same way as Jar City, that's not the only pervasive element involved. It's a slight pity that this book makes that initial statement of mine so explicit, for the characters and their conversations are seemingly here to raise questions about the Icelandic identity. One is a psychologist, the males play the markets; there is talk of banking and what happened in 2008 in that regard, and through a style that alternates the POV between all four characters, we learn all of their parent's backgrounds as well as their own, every street they lived and worked on, and more. This is too much, however – and when you add on the layer of who fancies who, who is with whom, and what their friendships have been, are and might become, you do see too many longueurs for my taste. You have to hope this is the calm before the storm.
Therefore, as the book has a sand-storm in the middle third, I'll riff on that. This is like watching a sand-storm, not from deep inside, with the visceral, visual impairment and howling noise that that implies, but from afar – possibly even on another planet through a telescope. The times I felt I was involved in the spookiness happening to the characters were far too few and far between. I wanted to feel the bluster of Iceland's supernature – instead I was dryly cocooned, too far from anything that affected me. Or rather, something did affect me – somehow the style and presentation meant that I found the balance of detail quite off at times, and it wasn't just the characters getting lost. Several times I couldn't picture the landscapes and directions, etc, in my mind at all, despite multiple readings. I don't know why we needed the full instructions for 'I Spy', nor a prevaricating description of a Polaroid camera. Either in translation, or original text, things seemed to be trying to get the reader dizzy, and that's before anything weird really happened.
And those really weird events are the other problem here, in that they are many, but just feel so varied and so removed from the reader, and ultimately dropped. The book becomes a weird half-and-half, with a discussion of the nature of Iceland and her people making sections feel almost like literary fiction in the use of character to act as cyphers for authorial statements, alongside an attempt at a gutsy horror. I didn't find either purpose of the book completely successful, and the merging of the two can only frustrate – and if you come to me seeking an explanation for the last twenty pages, you seek in vain.
I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.
Books such as Why Did You Lie? by Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Victoria Cribb (translator) are more successful entrants to this genre.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Ice Lands by Steinar Bragi and Lorenza Garcia (translator) at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Ice Lands by Steinar Bragi and Lorenza Garcia (translator) at Amazon.com.
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