Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Bird's Milk

Skugga-Baldur is the title of a romantic novel by the Icelandic poet and author Sjón. Romantic novels are not so easy to come by in today's literary world, but Sjón has written a book which in its sensitivity to the strange twist and turns of human nature and the interaction of light and darkness can stand comparison with the spirit of the work of 18th and 19th century novelists and poets like Heinrich von Kleist, E.T.A. Hoffman and Robert Louis Stevenson.

The book is set in 19th century Iceland, and describes the experiences of a young naturalist who rejects a life of wordly amusement when he takes in a mentally-handicapped girl to look after. It turns out that the local priest, Baldur Skuggason, has much to do with the girl's unhappy fate, and the novel traces the strange sequence of events that reveal him to be a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Victoria Cribb's translation of the novel (The Blue Fox) is first-rate. If you want to sample a chapter from the book, there's one here, though it appears under an earlier suggested title for the English version, Bird's Milk.

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