The Hunter and the Hunted

Having read both From the Mouth of the Whale and The Whispering Muse over the past few months, I was tempted (as mentioned in a previous post) to return my copy of Sjón’s final translated work, The Blue Fox, to the local library unread – so that I could read it another time.  In the end though, I couldn’t bring myself to do it as I was desperate to read more of the Icelandic writer’s tales… and I’m very glad I didn’t…

The Blue Fox (published by Telegram Books, translated by Victoria Cribb) is set in Iceland in 1883 and begins with a short chapter describing a hunt over snowy, mountainous terrain.  The Reverend Baldur Skuggason is in pursuit of a blue fox, a rare creature in these parts, and he is determined to bring down his prey.  Over thirty, sparsely-filled, poetic pages (a story which could easily stand alone as a work of fiction), man, fox and nature battle for supremacy in a fight to the death.  But this is just the prelude…

We then move back a couple of days and are introduced to the rest of the characters, among them the educated Fridrik B. Fridriksson and his housemaid Abba.  Fridrik has just finalised the arrangements for his poor servant’s funeral after her premature death (related to her Down’s Syndrome), sending the coffin off to Reverend Skuggason with the vicar’s half-wit assistant.  This part of the story initially appears to have little to do with what precedes it.  When we are granted glimpses into Fridrik’s past though, especially of the time when he encountered Abba, the writer begins to drop hints that there is more connecting the two parts of the story than you would expect at first glance…

As we move backwards and forwards in time, learning more about Fridrik’s history, life in the small Icelandic town and the epic hunt across the snowy landscape, the writer slowly reveals his intentions.  While the first section of the book appears to show a simple, but elegant, battle of wits between Skuggason and the fox, later events show that things are not quite so clear cut.  The more we read, the more we have to wonder – who exactly is hunting whom?

You’ve probably guessed this already from the few paragraphs I’ve written, but I loved The Blue Fox.  It’s a slight work, just over 100 pages, many of those containing very little writing, but it is so much more than that.  While barely managing to reach novella length, it is constructed with more flair and imagination than you’d find in most works of five times the size.  At times, particularly in the first part, the text resembles poetry more than prose, black paw-prints punctuating the snow-white expanses of the page, with Sjón’s trademark dry humour never far from the surface.  A good example of this is:
“The night was cold and of the longer variety.”
p.12 (Telegram Books, 2008)
By the way, that was the whole of page 12…
Once again, praise has to go to translator Victoria Cribb.  I loved her work on the other two Sjón books I’ve read, and this is another excellent piece of writing, a flawless effort which never feels like a translation.  A token example?  Oh, go on then…
“There was a whining in the air.
     A ptarmigan hurtled past, a hair’s breadth from the man, driven before the wind.  It was followed by a falcon, flying high with sure and steady wing-beats.
     The man turned away from the blast, tightened his scarf and wrapped the shoulder strap three times round his right arm so the bag rested tight against his hip.
     He was not too late for the storm.” p.12
I think that one thing above all shows how much of a fan I am of Ms. Cribb’s work – I didn’t even have to open the book to check the translator’s name 🙂
There are a lot of things which I could say about The Blue Fox, but there really isn’t much point because it’s a short book, and most of the fun would be spoiled by my laying the plot even barer than I already have.  It’s great – read it.
Off you go now…

11 thoughts on “The Hunter and the Hunted

  1. Have this but have been putting off reading it, saving it for a time I can indulge myself & have exclusive time for myself to luxuriate in his writing which as you say is poetic, but then he is also a poet, which for me is bonus points. But reading your post is making it harder not to resist the temptation & just dive in.


  2. Gary – Well, I'm pushing hard for the publishers to get cracking on the next one 😉

    Jo – Sjón is a great writer to start with in terms of literary fiction – oh, and I'm doing another Icelandic post on Thursday too 🙂

    Séamus – All three so far have been very intriguing and enjoyable reads – now the wait for the next translation begins…

    Sandra – I think after some of the action in 'The Blue Fox', I'd be wanting something a fair bit stronger than tea 😉

    Can you request purchase orders at your library? I did that for 'New Finnish Grammar', and while it took a while, they got there in the end.


  3. Indeed, I've finished it now [tried to spread it out to make it last as long as possible but even so it was over so quickly], wonderful read and as you gave mention to in your review it's a fantastic translation by Ms Cribb! You can quickly tell a fine translation, it just has a nice easy flow, it makes reading the story such a pleasure. Anyway I've purchased another of his books, The Whispering Muse, looking forward to that.


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