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Icelander Hardcover – March 29, 2006
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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.
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
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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.)
Long, however, has crafted a dense, multi-layered novel that is able to offer you as much as you seek to get out of it. my book group recently discussed Icelander in a conference call with the author and he expressed his hope that this would be one people would want to read more than once in order to see it from a number of different angles. upon first reading you could go straight through and enjoy the simple mystery of it. read it again and start to connect all the dots the plot lays out. read it again and truly understand all the convergences between the fictional Emily Bean memoirs, the story line and characters and all the clues scattered throughout. by his own admission, Long's short stories are "almost good" so i wouldn't use them as a factor when deciding whether you will read this, his first novel, which is an ambitious and successful work. he also admitted that his previous, unpublished books were "self-indulgent and post-modern to a fault" and you can sense in Icelander tha,t although it bears the mark of McSweeney's some have come to scorn, it aims to entertain and provoke thoughts, not alienate.