Review: 'The Greenhouse'

Icelandic novelist Audur Ava Olafsdottir has written a book titled The Greenhouse. It's published now in the U.S. in translation.

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The online retailer, Amazon isn't just selling books these days. It's become a publisher with an imprint of its own, Amazon Crossing. It specializes in new foreign titles in translation.

Alan Cheuse has just read one of Amazon's latest offerings, a novel called "The Greenhouse" by Icelandic writer Audur Ava Olafsdottir.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Lobbi, that's the nickname of Arnljotur Thorir, a red-headed 22-year-old Icelandic fellow from the countryside. He's the father of a young girl from what he calls slyly a half-night stand. He shyly admits to only five one-night stands in his resume. He's also got a widowed father, an autistic twin brother, and a love of horticulture, of roses in particular. This love interest takes him from Iceland to a neighboring country - probably Sweden, but never named - and a project to revitalize the rose gardens at a legendary monastery deep in the countryside.

Lobbi tells all this in his own voice, which is pretty matter of fact. About the matter of fact of life, a wise priest from the monastery who becomes something of Lobbi's mentor offers a caveat. The claim that art has to represent reality is a strange one, the priest says. You'd think people would have had enough of mundane reality.

But that's all Lobbi has. And when the young woman from the half-night stand shows up at the monastery with their small child, he learns to love more of the mundane than ever before.

Novelist Audur Olafsdottir certainly makes the most of it, giving us pages of recipes, infant haberdashery and gardening, as if this makes up an entire world. Which in this sly and sweetly narrated novel, it does, it does.

NORRIS: The book is "The Greenhouse" by Audur Ava Olafsdottir and translated from Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon. Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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NORRIS: Just in time for Halloween, we have a treat for all the listeners who aren't in charge of the radio dial, kids who listen because their parents do. We'd like you to join the ALL THINGS CONSIDERED Back-Seat Book Club.

And first up, we're reading "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman. We hope you read it too, or go to npr.org to find an audio version. Then email your questions to Back-Seat Book Club at npr.org. When we talk to Neil Gaiman this Friday, he'll answer some of those questions.

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