Welcome to Iceland Review Online's review section. Guest contributors and staff writers will provide you with a new review every Monday about a current art exhibition, a new Icelandic film, an album recently released by an Icelandic band or a new Icelandic novel likely to be published abroad. Please email any comments you might have to the web editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Review by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.
Icelandic author Árni Þórarinsson’s crime series featuring Einar the journalist—the first of which appeared in 1998—has enjoyed considerable success in Iceland and abroad, mostly in Germany and France.
The fourth book in the series, Season of the Witch (2005), is my favorite out of the three that I’ve read and the only one available in English, published as an eBook by AmazonCrossing this year.
Árni likes to name his books after song titles that kind of become the theme of the story, which is a nice touch.
The protagonist, Einar, is not a likable guy. He smokes and drinks too much, ruins his relationships, is not exactly the model father to his teenage daughter, doesn’t care about his appearance and is generally obnoxious.
The character may appeal to some but I find the anecdotes of Einar’s personal life take away from the plot.
However, whatever may be said about Einar and although he gets on his editor’s nerves (along with mine), he is a good and persistent journalist and his probing does drive the storyline.
While most modern Icelandic novels are set in Reykjavík, Árni takes the reluctant Einar to missions in other parts of the country as well.
In Season of the Witch, Einar is based in Akureyri, North Iceland, and the author scores extra points for his detailed descriptions of my hometown.
The story centers on the disappearance of a teenager, the star of a high school staging of a play on a sorcerer’s apprentice, and Einar’s investigation and reporting thereof. Einar soon discovers that there is something rotten under a shiny surface.
There are various side plots as well and petty things like a missing dog end up serving a purpose in the wrap-up of the story, which certainly is tightly woven.
Árni often touches upon social issues in his novels, in this case the reaction to immigrant workers who came to construct a power plant and aluminum smelter in East Iceland.
He approaches the subject rather meekly, in my opinion, and it bothers me that he should come up with a fictional name for Reyðarfjörður, Reyðargerði, which is obvious enough.
Greed, megalomania, domination and their horrific consequences are also featured in the book, and one character seems to personify an aspect of pre-crisis Iceland where profit was to be made at all cost.
The author kept my attention with the main plot and I found the novel an entertaining and exciting read in spite of some irritating characters and other shortcomings.
The book isn’t deep in any way and doesn’t pretend to be. It doesn’t say much about Icelandic society but is interesting for its setting and original plot, a good choice for the nightstand, plane, train or for leisurely passing time at home.
As a side note, Season of the Witch was adapted to a television series by celebrated director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson and aired on national broadcaster RÚV last year.
The series got mixed reviews but proved popular among viewers and, according to dv.is, Swedish critics liked it when it was aired there last summer.
Personally, I prefer the book.
Season of the Witch is available on AmazonCrossing among other recent releases of Icelandic novels in English eBooks versions.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – email@example.com
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir graduated with a Bachelors degree in communication studies from the University of Erfurt, Germany, in 2004. In 2006, she graduated with a Masters degree in journalism from the University of Westminster, London. She was the web editor for Iceland Review from October 2006 until September 2012 and now works as deputy and features editor for the print edition. Eygló received an award for her entries in a nationwide short story competition in 1997, 1998 and 1999.