Five books to pack for Iceland

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Martin Andersen

28 April 2017

Time to Read


That Iceland is one of the most spectacular places on earth is undeniable. With its breathtaking landscapes, unique lagoons and geysers, awe-inspiring volcanos, and, of course, the absolutely amazing Northern Lights, this is a place that, justifiably, is a bucket-list destination for thousands of people.

Chasing the Northern Lights, however, is an unpredictable art form which sometimes can leave you with time on your hands, where you’re just waiting for the phenomenon to appear. Bringing a book with you will help you while away the wait during the dark winter nights, and what better way to enjoy Iceland than to immerse yourself in some local literature. Despite its small population, one in ten in Iceland is a published author, and the nation has even won the Nobel Prize in Literature, through the wonderful works of Halldor Laxness. The breadth of genres found here is surprisingly large as well, from the classic to the quirky, and from the murderous to the hilarious, you can choose exactly what you feel in the mood for. Here are a few suggestions for you to choose between.

The Blue Fox – Sjon

A poetic novel where two fantastic tales slowly reveal their interconnection with each other, The Blue Fox is an enchanting story that plays with the realms of reality. The novel is set in Iceland in 1883 and features a priest that is on the hunt for an elusive blue fox. The other story involves a herbalist, who has recently returned to his native country from studying in Denmark. He rescues a disabled girl who has been sold into slavery and as he takes her in as his housekeeper, the two storylines start to merge. The Blue Fox is a short and elegantly poetic book where the natural and the surreal dance together effortlessly through the pages.

Blue Fox

The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning - Hallgrímur Helgason

A dark comedy starring the runaway, Croatian hitman Tomislav, who, after a botched job in New York City, suddenly finds himself a man with a price on his head. Deciding to flee danger, he ends up in the complete polar opposite of the metropolis in the form of Iceland. Here, in a country with no access to guns, this hardened contract killer has to come to terms with the crimes that he has committed in the past and somehow try and create a future for himself.

Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning

The Sagas of the Icelanders

The island was originally settled by the Vikings, and not only did they bring their beliefs and legends with them, Iceland also proved to be a fertile ground for new myths and stories. During the so-called Age of Sagas, a wealth of literature sprung up and, to our great fortune, many of these survives today. In the collected book of sagas, the reader will encounter great tales of bravery, betrayal, conquest and even the supernatural. Stories such as the Njal’s Saga and Egil’s Saga also offer interesting insights into life in Iceland in the early Middle Ages, including scenes from the oldest surviving parliament in the world, the Althing. 


Arnaldur Indriðason – Jar City

Iceland has its very own Sherlock Holmes, or actually, with the rise of Scandinavian Crime Noir, the main eponymous character of Arnaldur Indriðason’s Erlendur­-series is more akin to the characters featured in the books of Jo Nesbø and Stieg Larsson than Arthur Conan Doyle. The main character, Erlendur Sveinsson, is a highly talented but multifaceted detective, who is haunted by a dark past. Jar City was the first in the series to be translated into English and the pace and plot of this novel will draw you into the dark but page-turning universe of Indriðason’s Iceland, where the brutal murder of an old man leads the detective down a path full of gruesome secrets.

Jar City

Butterflies in November – Audur Ava Olafsdottir

A quirky and amusing novel this is the story about a woman in her early thirties who find herself dumped by both her lover and her husband, and decides to go on a road trip through her native Iceland. Before setting out on her travels, her best friend suffers an accident, which leaves her unable to take care of her 4-year-old son, Tumi. The main character agrees to take this boy, who is deaf, with her, despite having never cared for a child before. Their journey around Iceland leads them through a number of adventures, including winning the lottery through numbers picked by the boy. Butterflies in November is an alternative novel that looks at life in Iceland from a slightly different perspective, and it’s a great read to accompany your own journey around the island.

Butterflies in November

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