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Icelander Paperback – June 10, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nabokov meets Lemony Snicket in this manic Chinese box version of a mystery. The story, on the surface, is a whodunit set in Iceland, but it's an Iceland of fictitious cities and fantastical underground lands, in which Our Heroine (the only name given to the book's central character) searches for her lost dog while resisting and then reluctantly solving the mystery of who murdered her best friend. The book's multiple narrators include the grownup Our Heroine, a Hollywood actor, a pair of detectives whose style of speech owes more than a little to Yoda, the murder victim's husband, an Icelandic gossip columnist, and the overnarrator who speaks through the book's 53 footnotes, Prefatory Note, Prelude and Afterword. Through all of this ancillary material, the overnarrator refers to a series of mystery novels featuring Our Heroine's now-dead mother and now-demented father and their nemesis, an Icelandic Moriarty. The murder victim herself speaks through notes she has left behind, one of which reads: "We must create incomprehensible things in order to have an analogy for our incomprehension of the universe." Perhaps it's not quite the imperative she thought. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Long aspires to the linguistic acrobatics of Nabokov and Pynchon in this clever but somewhat tedious mystery debut. The tale revolves around the daughter of Emily Bean-Ymirson, a criminologist and anthropologist, who, along with her Icelandic husband, Jon, solved a slew of cryptic cases before her death in 1985. (Fictional scholar Magnus Valison has novelized the late Bean's diaries in 12 volumes, matter-of-factly titled The Memoirs of Emily Bean.) Emily's daughter, known only as Our Heroine, reluctantly takes up her mother's work following the untimely demise of Shirley MacGuffin (yes, the name is a nod to Hitchcock), a "continually aspiring" author who pens insufferably pretentious prose. Even the most patient readers may find themselves exhausted by Long's legions of footnotes and excessive narrative shifts. There's also the strange cast, which fills a three-page list and includes a rogue librarian, a pair of metaphysical detectives, and a missing dachshund with better breeding than any of the two-legged characters. Long is a talented wordsmith; pity he couldn't demonstrate his verbal dexterity in a more reader-friendly way. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (June 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802143202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802143204
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,148,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Clarke on March 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is Dustin Long's first novel Icelander and I can't recommend this book highly enough. Although the premise is slightly confusing, you are soon caught up in the plot and by page fifty or so it becomes that rarest of things: a literary page-turner. The book focuses partly on the discovery, commercialization, and quest for independence of a fictional underground Icelandic kingdom called Vanaheim. Most of the action, however, takes place in the U.S.A. in upstate New Uruk on "Bean Day," a local celebration of the deceased adventuress Emily Bean, who along with her family discovered Vanaheim. Despite the book's humorous tone, there are a number of surprisingly moving characters - French-Canadian ex-cop Blaise Duplain struggling to come to terms with and solve the murder of his wife; Jon Ymirson an aging adventure hero stricken with Alzheimers; and his daughter "Our Heroine," in a Hamlet-like state of indecision over following in her deceased mother's adventure-seeking footsteps. At many points in the book I laughed out loud or marveled at the author's clever use of language. (Also watch for hidden clues throughout the book). My favorite parts include overly self-conscious actor Nathan, philosophical investigators Wible and Pacheco, the fox-shirted Refurserkir (guardians of Vanaheim), and rogue library scientist Hubert Jörgen. If you love (but don't mind poking fun at) mysteries, Nabokov, Norse mythology, adventure novels, literary pretentiousness, and Hamlet (the Thomas Kyd version) order the book!
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Format: Paperback
When a friend pointed me at this book, she advised, "It's very post-modern." Yes, yes it is, and loads of fun besides. I'm not going to try to describe it as a whole - not for fear of dropping any spoilers, no matter what you say about it, it fails to make the book any less of a mystery. Rather, I'll just make some peripheral points about it, just as the book itself doesn't come out and tell the murder mystery plot but only tells bits of the story around it.

Item: the protagonist is known only as "Our Heroine" throughout; Hiro Protagonist, step aside.

Item: there have been murder mysteries where the macguffin is a lost Shakespeare play; in "Icelander," Shirley MacGuffin is killed over a lost Thomas Kyd play.

Item: Hubert Jorgens, "rogue library-scientist...blacklisted from any jobs within the mainstream library-science community"!

Item: the footnotes. Here's an extract from one of my favorites, which describes Vanaheim, the underground country living in caves beneath Iceland, whose struggle for national independence is the motivation for some of Our Heroine's antagonists: "We await the day that Vanaheim, like an unruly footnote, will rise to overwhelm the would-be master text of topside Iceland."

Item: though this is apparently the author's first work, it is presented as the latest in a long series. Every character, on their first appearance in the story, gets an introductory paragraph recapping which of Our Heroine's family's previous adventures they appeared in.

The only quibbles I can make about the book are: I'm modern enough I'd like just a *little* more of the story to be explicit, I can't figure out what "Angus O'Malvins" is an anagram of, and the title is misleading in that the only character who appears to be an Icelander is distinctly a supporting role. (Well, plus several Vanaheimers.)
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Format: Paperback
A fun, whimsical and stylish postmodern journey replete with colorful characters, meta-narrative hi-jinks, and writing that isn't afraid to show its literary influences. Wible & Pacheco, the metaphysical investigating duo, are particularly enjoyable ("Typography cannot convey the essence of our subsequent screams"). At times, however, the homage devolves into tropes too blatantly unoriginal to ignore. To wit: Besides the protagonist, Our Heroine, who mirrors The Crying of Lot 49's Oedipa Maas, the novel directly summons Thomas Pynchon at several points, none more clearly than a floating paragraph on pp. 50-51, where Our Heroine watches the snowflakes and contemplates them as indecipherable hieroglyphics from the sky that escape her understanding. The segment recalls the famous paragraph early in The Crying of Lot 49 where Oedipa Maas looks out over the San Narcisso landscape and sees it as a printed circuit, riddled with hieroglyphics imbued with meaning but "just past the threshold of her understanding." Similarly, Long conjures up Paul Auster's deconstruction of the detective novel, City of Glass, when, among other things, he equates the winding ambles of his characters through the streets in coded symbolic terms when viewed from above. All in all, however, Icelander is an entertaining little romp.
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Format: Hardcover
Icelander takes place in a sort of Scandinavia - obsessed alternate reality where there is a separate underground kingdom beneath Iceland. The book and its mystery are quite an interesting and creative concept, but unfortunately I found actually reading the book to be rather dull, and I didn't care greatly what happened to the characters, though I think I would have liked the dead woman, too bad she was dead for most of the book, except in flashbacks. I certainly enjoyed her two-story house. I have a clue as to which character is the author of the footnotes, was I supposed to be able to tell for sure?
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