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Friday, December 29, 2006
by Dustin Long #34

Oh, Icelander! (I think I am going to start every blog post with "oh!"... okay, maybe not.) Some things about this book:

1) for reasons I do not fully understand, I have always wanted to stay in an ice hotel. And ICELAND, by dint of having ICE as part of its name, always comes to mind. I think this means I was subconsciously primed to be receptive to a book by this title, or possibly it means nothing at all beyond "I want to stay in an ice hotel."

2) I read a review of it in the Believer that made me say "I must read this book!" It is a McSweeney's Rectangular (and it is indeed rectangular!). Except now I can't find that review, so maybe I read it somewhere else. At any rate, this mysterious review that I read somewhere obviously did not spring fully formed into my head or the one I am writing right now would be much more coherent (one would assume), but it did make an impression.

3) once acquired from the library, the back flap further informed me that it was an "intricate giddy romp steeped equally in Nordic lore and pulpy intrigue." I found this Most Appealing. There are steam tunnels and skaldic karaoke and the main character is called Our Heroine, which also piqued my curiosity. Promises were made that "adventure ensues." And it does! (If anything should ensue, it should be hijinks or adventure. Misery, calamity and the like should never ensue (they can befall, if they must) -- okay, maybe calamity can ensue, but I draw the line at misery.)

4) The book is a physical pleasure to read and hold. It's a hard cloth(ish) cover with the picture embossed, and is a great size for carrying around. It also has THE NICEST paper and binding it has been my pleasure to read all year. (don't get me started on how the price of books has gone up, up, up, yet they often put crappy mass market paperback paper inside a hardcover. Uncool, publishing industry, uncool!) The paper is bright white and smooth, the book has a nice spine that I can hold open with one hand, unlike some books that seem more like bear traps.

5) I started out thinking that this story was too clever by half and it was reminding me of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series (of which I read the first one and half of the second). But as I got further along and acclimated to the world of the book, I enjoyed it more and more; any Fforde comparisons became "wow! I like this so much better." (The Fforde books are ones that I want to love but can't. I've been thinking about it, and for me it seems that he's so busy amusing himself with how clever he is, he forgets about his responsibilities to the story and to the reader. I know that lots of people love him, but that sense of self-indulgence (and how good they COULD be) is what I get hung up on.) I imagine there were many more tangents and side roads Dustin Long could have taken, but didn't because he was being more considerate of the story. I for one appreciate it!

6) I am not going to attempt to sum up the plot -- there is just TOO MUCH. It's a PoMo mystery. There are stories within stories, footnotes from an increasingly suspect source, trouble in academia, the nameless girl detective with a famous dead mother, a wolf, a witch, a festival, an actor, a Two-Story House... I ended up really enjoying it, even as I was sure I was missing about half of what was going on. I think it would not only hold up on re-read but have even more to offer, which is one of the things I like most about books.
5 comments on "Icelander"
  1. Interesting/intriguing review. Ice hotels are very cool (hehehehehe).
    It occurs to me that you might (I stress the "might") enjoy SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS. It's prob'ly already in your queue.
    Happy New Year!!!

  2. Happy New Year!!!

    Hmmmm.... I do NOT have that already in my queue. It looks like it could be either really good or dreadful, and your "might" makes me think maybe it's a little bit of both. But I will give it a whirl!

    Have you stayed in an ice hotel? Was it in iceland? I MUST KNOW, since I've never actually heard from anyone who has stayed in one. (if you tell me, I will forgive the 'cool' pun.)

  3. ...i've only seen pictures...

  4. I am reading SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS now and every page I think "Jen would like this!"

    Do you recall the ice dacha scene in Dr. Zhivago? That is actually the only part of that movie that was memorable for me, apparently--oh, do recall the balalaikas. But that moment in the movie--way too brief--was archetypal. (Could our ancestors have lived in ice caves?)

  5. I've already put it on hold, but now that two people think I might like it, I am even more impatient for it to get here! (it will be a while, though...) I think you both should read Icelander, for what it's worth.

    Patty, I don't remember that scene (it has been a looooong time since I've seen that movie), but it sounds lovely. Ice buildings -- so beautiful! so ephemeral! I want to go see one Right Now.


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