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The Fish Can Sing (Vintage International) Paperback – February 19, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“This weird and wonderful novel is Laxness at his best: a reminder of the mad hilarity of the Icelandic sensibility.” —Nicholas Shakespeare

"Enchanting . . . .This novel is a true pleasure." —The Independent (London)

"Laxness is a beacon in twentieth-century literature, a writer of splendid originality, wit, and feeling." —Alice Munro

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307386058
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307386052
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Jay Stevens on December 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
Laxness' book, "The Fish Can Sing" is a remarkable book. At first, it seems like a random series of vignettes about early 20th-century Icelandic life, full of detail and life, but appearing loosely bound at best. But by the end of the novel, the reader realizes he is in the hands of a master craftsman as the rich detail provided in earlier chapters come back to play important roles in the culmination of the book and its plot.
There's an endless array of well-defined, complicated, and vivid characters. There's the lavish countryside painted simply - evoking the same feeling you get from a good watercolor. Then there's the plot, which is mysterious and complex, but leaves you with much to ponder.
A nod to the translator, Magnus Magnussen, because the prose is fertile and poetic. It's unbelievably rich, yet brilliantly sparse. This is the way prose should be.
Laxness and Magnussen have given us a beautiful, soulful book. It's a remarkable read.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
The Fish can Sing (or, as it is known in Icelandic, The Annal of Brekkukot) is one of Laxness's finest and most intimate novels. It successfully weaves together several narrative threads: it is an orphan's lyrical coming-of-age story, a tragic tale of a "world-famous" singer, and a brilliant description of Reykjavik at the beginning of the 20th century, with its quaint combination of old values (as represented by the storyteller's grandparents) and and more modern influences. As in every Laxness book, the characters are colorful and imaginative, yet always true to life. This book is a gem.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
This brilliant work amply demonstrates why its author, Halldor Laxness, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955(?). Without much of a plot--it portrays the maturation and awakening of a young man, Alfgrimur Hanson--"The Fish Can Sing" is nonetheless very rich in characterization and aptly depicts life in early 20th century Iceland. As an American who has lived in Iceland for the last two years, I have grown to appreciate Laxness's insight into the character of the proud and independent Icelandic people. I have read two other Laxness books which I could find printed in English--"Under the Glacier" and "Independent People"--and although those are very good, "The Fish Can Sing" is outstanding and clearly my favorite. Humorous, though-provoking and ultimately very moving, this book is one which you will surely enjoy and not readily forget.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Sarang Gopalakrishnan on December 31, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The charm of this book is in its atmosphere. You get a wonderful feel of early C20 Iceland and the characters that inhabit it, from the old-fashioned fisherman who ignores market economics to the admirer of modern cesspits. The age of the novel, like its hero, progresses from child to early-adolescent. A particularly charming thing about this novel is the way rather grimy adult features of adulthood are transformed by the place and its people. The cesspit-admirer, for instance, sees modern cesspits solely as an exciting new invention; and the farmers, when they discover barbed wire, just string it up in purposeless and harmless lines across the country.
The plot involves an orphan boy (Alfgrimur) who might be a gifted singer, his experiences while growing up, and his relationship with the elusive "famous Icelandic singer" Gardar Holm. But "fame" appears to be something petty, the god of Danish shopkeepers (Danes, of course, are grown-up) -- and the "one true note" which Alfgrimur seeks can be attained just as well while singing at funerals in the local churchyard.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By James Paris on March 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
I could not help but think while reading this novel of a Frank Capra film from the 1930s entitled YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU about an eccentric household headed by Lionel Barrymore full of amiable zanies who stump the frenetic world around them.
Laxness, Iceland's only Nobelist, writes of a young orphan named Alfgrim who may or may not be a relative of the great opera singer Gardar Holm, who also hails from Brekkukot, where the old lumpfisherman Bjork maintains a rambling house on the outskirts of what was to become the country's new capital, Reykjavik. This house is filled with lodgers who get to stay rent-free for no other reason than that they ask.
Alfgrim keeps crossing paths with Gardar Holm and the young woman who wants to become the singer's lover. For some reason, the singer always cancels his appointments to the chagrin of his sponsors and fans; and the young woman, Blaer Gudmunsen, is always given the slip. The unhappy Holm is in stark contrast to Alfgrim, who maintains his balance by being suspicious of fame and content with a future of gathering lumpfish.
In the end, this is an feel-good work of considerable artistry, with a masterful, rich sense of characterization. The translation by Magnus Magnusson is excellent, as befits the man who at one and the same time is both one of the best translators of Icelandic Sagas and the TV host of BBC's MASTERMIND and WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYHOW?
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Anna Karenina on August 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
What a wonderful book. If you loved Independent People as much as I did, you will love this book too. It has the same wit and some similar themes. The book does have a plot (despite what a couple of other reviewers say), but the author develops his story slowly. Once you're "into it" (be patient!) you will be glad for the pace. There are so many marvellous details here to savor. I just loved it, and plan to read it again in the near future.
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