Book Review: 'The Blue Fox'

Critic Alan Cheuse has a review of The Blue Fox written by the Icelandic novelist Sjon, who also writes lyrics for Bjork.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The Icelandic writer Sjon pens lyrics for Bjork and he writes novels. The first of several of his works of fiction has just been published here in the U.S. in a translation by Victoria Cribb. It's called "The Blue Fox." Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: I wasn't surprised - I think I know myself well enough as a reader - when I found myself falling hook, line and sinker for a short novel, only 115 pages, by this Icelandic writer I'd never heard of before. It seems as though this writer can't apply his mind to a subject without something beautiful taking place on the page.

The plot: In 1868, while scavenging through a shipwreck on the Icelandic coast, locals find a 14-year-old girl with Down's Syndrome chained to the timbers. One of the men takes her in and cares for her, and when, years later, she dies, the minister who presides over her burial then goes off on a hunt for the elusive blue fox.

A hundred years ago, a European naturalistic writer might have told this story linearly and made it into a stark masterpiece. Not this contemporary Icelandic rock-'n'-roller. He jumbles the time scheme, begins with the preacher's hunt for the blue fox and then takes us back to the girl's first appearance in Iceland, her wedding and her short life and then her death, and then goes back to the dramatic conclusion of the hunt.

So time here is jagged, sometimes opaque, sometimes translucent, like water melted then frozen again. And the characters are caught in the physics of the landscape and the half-mythic nature of the elusive blue beast helps to dramatize a psychology halfway between neurology and legend.

That's the effect of this beautiful, brief sojourn into the near past of a culture for us almost as elusive as that fox.

That's Alan Cheuse with his review of "The Blue Fox" by Icelandic writer Sjon, that's S-J-O-N.

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