From the Mouth of the Whale

Sjón, trans. from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb. Telegram (www.telegrambooks.com), $14.95 trade paper (271p) ISBN 978-1-84659-083-2
Quixotic adventures of a 17th-century naturalist and physician banished to a remote northern island make up this antiquated novel by the prolific Icelandic author of The Blue Fox (and Oscar-nominated songwriter, for the film Dancer in the Dark). Having come afoul of the Inquisition for his alchemical and exorcist practices, Jónas the Learned is stranded with his wife, Sigga, on Gullbjörn Island and unravels the dreamlike narrative of his life: having learned to read in the care of his sage grandfather Hákon Thormódsson, as a young man he acquires the art of healing by treating women and gains a reputation that carries him westward along the Snjáfjöll coast. Jonas finds work in towns like Litla-Vík, where harpooning stations are established in the summer of 1613 by Basque whalers, at first welcomed, then reviled. By 1635 Jónas is languishing in his island exile; despite being rescued and delivered to Copenhagen, where the charges against him are dismissed, Jónas is reimprisoned on the island, this time utterly alone. His fate “forever turning with the wheel of fortune,” Jónas is not unhappy living in harmony with all God’s creatures, and indeed this blithe, rhapsodic novel moves backward from the Book of Jonah in the Hebrew Bible to create a work charged with lyrical energy and metaphysical purpose. Agent: Licht & Burr Literary Agency. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/14/2011
Release date: 11/01/2011
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