cover image The Fish Can Sing

The Fish Can Sing

Halldor Kiljan Laxness, Halldor. Harvill Press, $15 (288pp) ISBN 978-1-86046-687-8

Laxness, Iceland's best-known fiction writer and winner of the 1955 Nobel Prize for literature, authored well over 60 novels and other books before his death in 1998 at the age of 90. This lyrical novel, first published in English in 1966 (nine years after its original publication in Iceland), concerns a boy named Alfgr mur Hannson of Brekkukot, the humble fishing cottage where he is raised by adoptive grandparents. The novel's plot--if so formal a term may be used to describe the tale's slow and meandering progress through Alfgr mur's uneventful youth--involves an Icelandic singing star known as Gardar H lm. All Iceland, except for H lm's own mother and the folks at Brekkukot, dote on H lm because of his international reputation for performing lieder. Yet few have ever heard him sing--the beloved H lm is growing old and he is mysteriously elusive. Young Alfgr mur may also be a gifted singer, and he tracks H lm down assiduously. Once he finds him, however, he learns that singing is only one way of seeking ""the one true note""--and he who has heard that note never sings again. Laxness portrays the backwardness of turn-of-the-century Iceland with gentle humor and irony. Tiny Iceland needs its ""singing fish""--celebrities like Gardar H lm, and perhaps Alfgr mur Hannson--but the moral of Laxness's lovely fable references a simpler sentiment: glory may just as well be sought in the humblest walks of life. (Feb.)