Sjón: The Blue Fox (2008) aka Skugga-Baldur (2004) An Icelandic Novel

The year is 1883. The stark Icelandic winter landscape is the backdrop. We follow the priest, Skugga-Baldur, on his hunt for the enigmatic blue fox. From there we’re then transported to the world of the naturalist Friðrik B. Friðriksson and his charge, Abba, who suffers from Down’s syndrome, and who came to his rescue when he was on the verge of disaster. Then to a shipwreck off the Icelandic coast in the spring of 1868.

The fates of Friðrik, Abba and Baldur are intrinsically bound and unravelled in this spellbinding book that is part thriller, part fairy tale.

Winner of the Nordic Literary Prize and nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize

Different. Very different. Mysterious. I don’t always feel like finding out more about a book but this time I did. The Blue Fox is a haunting story full of ice and snow and darkness. Historical fiction and fairytale. It takes place at the time when Iceland has finally gained independence from Denmark. Fridrik, one of the protagonists, studied in Copenhagen. He is a naturalist and a herbalist. He returns to Iceland to burn down his late parents farm and erase all of his old life. But then he finds Abba, a young woman with Down’s Syndrome, who is kept in captivity. He decides to stay for her sake until the day she dies an early death. The book tells also the story of the priest Baldur Skuggason and the little blue vixen he is hunting. This is a very short novel but it is rich and multi-layered. Compellingly atmospherical and descriptive. What we don’t know unless we do a little bit of research is the fact that Skugga-Baldur, the Icelandic title, refers to a ghost being, part fox, part cat. A mysterious mythological creature. The English translator decided to name one of the forms of Skugga-Baldur. The German opted for the title Schattenfuchs, meaning shadow fox. Even though it has fairytale elements The Blue Fox is also very realistic. The writing is sparse, the information is well-chosen, we get a good impression of life in Iceland at the end of the 19th century. One thing that I found very interesting is the fact that Down’s Syndrome never existed in Iceland. Sjón deliberately chose to write about it as he was shocked when he found out that children showing signs of it in the womb are immediately aborted.

Sjón writes the lyrics for  Björk and also wrote the lyrics for the movie Dancer in the Dark. He is a well-known Icelandic poet. His affinity to poetry is very obvious.

I don’t think that I have read a lot of Icelandic literature so far apart from bits from the Edda and I have books by Halldor Laxness on my TBR pile.

Does anyone have recommendations? Any Icelandic writers you like or know of?

24 thoughts on “Sjón: The Blue Fox (2008) aka Skugga-Baldur (2004) An Icelandic Novel

  1. This sounds really interesting. I don’t have anything to recommend as very little Icelandic literature has come my way. I’ve been thinking about seeking some out though. It’s a country I’m very curious about. The ghost fox here is particularly intriguing. And oddly enough, I have the movie Dancer in the Dark at home waiting for me to watch it. Might get to it tonight actually. 🙂

    • I have seen the Dancer in the Dark when it came out. Fascinating but not easy. I like Björk a lot. Never been in Iceland but everybody I know who was there loved it. It is a very small book. But quite dense. I just remembereed I read another Icelandic writer Mar Gudmundsson. He wrote a fantastic novel Angels of the Universe. I highly recommend it. Helgason’s 101 Reykjavik should be good too. The movie that is based on it is great. Maybe you saw it? I loved it.

      • Just watched the trailer and it looks really interesting. I hope Netflix has it. I too know people who have been to Iceland and been blown away. Someday…

  2. I hate Bjork, Caroline, and thought Dancer in the Dark was only so so. However, I’ll keep this in mind because your second sentence makes this sound like a good read for a winter night even though a cross between historical fiction and a fairytale wouldn’t normally appeal to me (as to other recommendations: sorry, I have no background at all in Icelandic lit to draw from).

    • I can see how someone can hate Björk. She has done a few songs that get on my nerves too. I am a singer myself and wouldn’t be pleased if I sounded like her ( I think you shouldn’t hear the singer breathe all the time but that is her “thing”). Still she has something I appreciate a lot.
      Anyway… I feel confident you might like The Blue Fox. The fairytale part is quite toned down. It’s very poetical.

  3. The cover image would be enough to get my interest, and the storyline sounds good too. I love fairytale stories.

    Unfortunately the library doesn’t seem to have it in stock, I’ll have to wait until my next buying splurge 🙂

    • I liked the idea of a fox/cat being. I love foxes. If I could have one I would. I always found cats are the animals which are closest. It sure got me interested in Icelandic mythology and folktales.

    • Yes, It’s a beautiful cover. I can’t say I bought it because of the cover as I ordered it and had only seen the German cover. The German cover is very different. It’s an old drawing of a red fox.

    • Thanks for visiting. Hope you will like it. I just discovered that I read more Icelandic authors than I thought and still have on my tbr pile. I will keep on posting on them.

  4. This sounds like beautiful tale of magic-realism, coming across as part myth & fable & part compelling historic drama, a fantastic combination, so I will be looking out for this book. although I like some of Bjorks music, this book with its glacial mysticism sounds better suited to the icelandic band -Sigur Ros- so although I can’t recommend an Icelandic author, I can this band & in particular the album “Ágætis Byrjun”
    Thanks for introducing me to a new writer.
    Parrish.

    • You are welcome and thanks for visiting. I always meant to try out Sigur Ros but never knew wher to start. Thanks for the suggestion. I am on a hunt for Icelandic authors now and might be reviewing some in the future.

  5. It does have a very eye catching cover! I always like the sound of books that are retellings of fairy tales, but then I don’t always get on with them for some reason. Still, this does sound interesting. If you like crime novels, you might try Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s books. Her protagonist is a lawyer–entertaining reads. I also have a book by Halldor Laxness on hand.

  6. Pingback: Arnaldur Indriðason: Silence of the Grave (Reykjavík Murder Mysteries 2) aka Todeshauch aka Grafarþögn (2001) An Icelandic Mystery « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

    • Thank you for visiting. I liked it, it’s tricky and poetic at the same time. Let me know if you liked it should you get around to reading it. I hope to post more on Iceland in the future. maybe even on their folklore.

  7. Halldór Laxness is my favorite author, although some of his work can be difficult at first. If you have “The Fish Can Sing” I would recommend starting with that.

    If you search my website, you will find reviews of all of Laxness’ work in English, along with comments and links to other people’s reviews.

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