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Storytellers: A gripping historical suspense novel of Iceland Kindle Edition
If you don't tell your story, they will.
Iceland, 1920. Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith, dwells with his animals, darkness, and moonshine. The last thing he wants is an injured lodger, but his money may change Gunnar’s life. So might the stranger’s story – by ending it. That is, unless an unwanted marriage, God’s messengers’ sudden interest, an obnoxious elf, or his doctor’s guilt change the narrative. Or will the demons from Gunnar’s past cut all the stories short?
Side effects of too much truth include death, but one man’s true story is his brother's web of lies. With so many eager to write his final chapter, can Gunnar find his own happy ending?
Bjørn Larssen’s award-winning, Amazon #1 best selling novel is an otherworldly, emotive Icelandic saga – a story of love and loneliness, relief and suffering, hatred… and hope.
“These strange, sad, funny, murderous people will stay with me for a long time.” – Annie Whitehead, author of The Sins of the Father
Eric Hoffer Grand Prize Award – Finalist
Readers' Favorite Gold Medal – Historical Fiction
Discovered Diamond – Winner
Note: British English conventions, spelling, and grammar were used in this book.
The author is an ex-blacksmith, lover of all things Icelandic, physically located in Amsterdam, spiritually living in a log cabin near Akureyri. He has published stories and essays in Polish and American magazines, both online and in print. This is his first novel.
"How do I describe this book? Intense? Melancholy? Spine-chilling? Hilarious? Haunting? Painful? Captivating? With sharp humour, evocative passages, witty dialogue, and a slow-burn plot, Larssen takes us to the transcendental landscapes of Iceland, and immerses us in his tale of murder, obsession, furtive desires, bleakness, but ultimately hope." - PL Stuart, author of The Last of the Atalanteans
"Yes, I got a little bit of mystery with a little bit of magic, followed by INSANE, jaw-dropping revelations. But at its heart, Storytellers is a tale of evading the darkness, bearing with the pain of tragedy, and living to see the sun rise another day." - Justine Bergman, Whispers and Wonder
"A complex and layered novel about the stories we tell about lives, our own and others; what we reveal, what we hide, what we forget, and the power of those stories to shape who we become."- Marian L. Thorpe, author of Empress & Soldier
"The landscape of Iceland is as vivid as any character, and just as difficult. Larssen has taken a handful of not particularly likeable people and crafted a story which kept me reading far into the night." - Karen Heenan, author of Coming Apart
Readers' Favorite Gold Medal Winner
Eric Hoffer Grand Award Prize - Finalist
About the Author
Bjørn has a degree in mathematics, worked as a graphic designer, a model, and a blacksmith. He used to speak eight languages (currently down to two and a half). His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland, even though he hates being cold. He has only met an elf once. So far.
- ASIN : B07P8Z74CC
- Publisher : josephtailor (March 28, 2019)
- Publication date : March 28, 2019
- Language : English
- File size : 1041 KB
- Simultaneous device usage : Unlimited
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 296 pages
- Page numbers source ISBN : 9082998521
- Best Sellers Rank: #649,998 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on February 7, 2020
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This book has two timelines on which we can follow the events - now and then. Now being March 1920 and then being a few decades earlier. The place of all these events are the same: a small village/town near Reykjavík in Iceland. In 1920 Gunnar is a blacksmith, living isolated in his houe with only his dog Ragnar and his horse Karl keeping him company. His days are filled with work, drinking and sleep. He has a miserable life, though he probably doesn't realise that. One day he saves a stranger and is forced to keep him under his roof until he gets better. To pass the time, Sigurd tells a story to Gunnar about three brothers - Arnar (the one who made his luck in America and came home rich with a beautiful wife), Ingvar (the smart and ambitious one) and Bjarni (the builder with many insecurities) and their lives.
There is a lot more to Storytellers than I would be able to cover in this review. The plot is not particularly complicated or action packed, but I think it suits the book. The real power of Storytellers is in the characters. Everyone has secrets, everyone has an agenda and not many of them are likable. But that makes them feel more real rather than cardboard figures on the pages. The village/town is a small place, the people can't escape each other and as it happens in places like that, they talk. Whether the things they say is true or not, doesn't matter. Everyone has their own version of any given event which they don't fail to share under the pretense of keeping others' best interest in mind. Or maybe not a pretense, because people are the best at lying to themselves, and if you keep telling yourself something, you'll believe it sooner or later. I also have to note, that things are maybe exaggerated here of course, but I honestly could symphatise with Gunnar and Juana who just wanted to be left the hell alone.
Some of the characters' behaviour enraged me more than it should have, because however good intentions are, sometimes people really need the exact opposite we think they need. No one has the right to tell someone else what they need, except maybe therapists and doctors, because they might know a thing or two. Also, forcing one's company onto others is just wrong on so many levels. I swear I wanted to drown Brynhildur in a glass of water, because she was just so damn annoying like that. I don't say Gunnar didn't need help, becuase hell knows he had problems, but not ones which would have been solved by blackmailing and seducing, that's for sure.
And since I'm talking about Gunnar. He is definitely a complex character and one I rarely saw in fiction up until now. He is an alcoholic with depression to booth and something I'd call social anxiety. He is coping with the loss of his parents still and has basically no one on his side, except his animals, and some so-called friends who try to force some changes on him. As I said, good intentions are admirable and all, but don't always lead to the best solution. I simultaneously wanted to comfort him and kick his ass. I don't think that would have been helpful either though.
Storytellers made me think about a couple of things regarding socially acceptable behaviour, mental health, how confined societies work and how I wouldn't want to live in one like that. About the human neature of wanting to tower above of others in any way - be it being the best at something, knowing something, thinking we are being helpful - basing our actions on the opinion or act of others, because we just can't help ourselves. There is no such thing as a pure person (see Storytellers) and there is no such thing as selflessness.
But I went off topic. Larssen's prose is beautiful and sometimes borders on haunting but then - as I said - I expected as much. It's kind of a weird book (in a positive way) as it reads fast despite the fact that it's not full of action. It sometimes makes you feel uncomfortable, sometimes challenges you and sometimes keeps you guessing how the different plotlines will come together in the end, who really did what and who is who. I sure was in for some surprises along the way, especially toward the end.
In terms of criticism, I would have liked to see more of certain characters' actions, rather than being told things. There were two places in the 'then' plotline where I was left confused, because there is a huge gap between events during which things happened which are referenced to, kinda, but we never actually learn what happened. The ending feels a tiny bit rushed and I have so many questions left unanswered. I mean, they are not really important ones, but man, I wanted more.
I can't really put my finger on it, but there is something magical and enchanting about Storytellers that makes it an unputdownable book, even though there isn't a single happy person in it. Bjørn Larssen is undoubtedly among the best storytellers I've encountered. He grabs you by your gut and keeps wrenching it until the very end. Don't ask me how he manages to do that, because I've no idea.
Storytellers is about personal demons, about the rougher side of life which isn't improved by the Icelandic weather. It's about people, about choices and the lies (stories) we tell ourselves. It's about a lot of things, really, and the more time you spend in Larssen's world the more it makes you think. I love when a book does that to you. When you can't quite let it go and try to puzzle out the things that are left unsaid. If you are looking for a book with a happy ending or one that is going to tell you that life is full of glitters and rainbow, then Storytellers is not for you. And you are going to be poorer for it.
Gunnar, a reclusive alcoholic blacksmith, reluctantly offers shelter to the stranger, Sigurd, who has injured his ankle on his way to a destination he refuses to divulge. In return for Gunnar’s spartan hospitality and his promise not to tell anybody Sigurd is there, Gunnar’s visitor tells a several-nights'–running story about an Icelander who emigrates to America, snatches up an American bride, and brings her back to Iceland. Gunnar’s promise to keep Sigurd a secret becomes increasingly difficult as women from the nearby village descend on Gunnar, determined to change him from a bachelor and a heathen into an upstanding (marriageable) citizen. Every time somebody drops in, Sigurd hides…but why?
Larssen’s clean, clear descriptions pull Iceland’s climate close as a damp blanket. When Juana, the American bride, arrives at her sweetheart’s village she notes, “The lack of trees was disconcerting. Surely there must be a forest somewhere nearby, she thought, as she climbed to the top of the mossy hill to better see her surroundings. Even the hill itself was strange. The soil was brick-red, then yellow, even pink. The few purple flowers that sprang up between the rocks were new to her…Both the ocean and the sky spread endlessly in front of her. To her left, the weather was clearing, and the water reflected the blue sky; to her right, clouds were gathering and the ocean looked cold and unfriendly…there was no church, no fields, not even fences!...The frosty wind whipped her mercilessly, and she had to hold on to her dress. Was this really it?” When Juana sees the Northern Lights, however, she gains an appreciation for her new home: “…her mouth opened in shock. Something that resembled green fire danced in the sky. The colors moved faster, then slower. They disappeared, then reappeared, regrouping stronger, covering the stars…. ‘Is this magic?’ she whispered. ‘Is it mountains changing shape? Is the sky burning?’….It was at that moment that the realization struck her, raising goosebumps on her skin: she had been living her adventure without even noticing. She was surrounded by magic, a prize more valuable than any jewel, more astounding than any story she had read before.”
Storytellers has a nice balance of description and conversation along with deft touches that delineate character as clearly as a die-cut stamp. Detail and humor give the story sparkle, while the machinations of the village women give the reader an urge to rescue Gunnar.
Also gripping is Larssen’s personification of depression, “the darkness” that plagues Gunnar and partly explains his need to self-medicate with moonshine. “Gunnar stared at the boiling pot, trying to gather enough strength to finish Sigurd’s meal. Sometimes splitting impossible tasks into smaller ones helped. Stand up. Pull the pot off the fire. Burn your fingers. Swear. Drain the potatoes. Mash them…no, too much, too fast. Reach for the masher. Move it up and down. Make a plate. Walk towards the room…Listen to the clock mercilessly bringing his death closer with each tick and tock.” Later: “He had no feelings, no hope, no choice. The darkness stood next to Gunnar, with her hand extended. He knew this would be their final encounter, the one that would never end. It felt as if the darkness was another person next to him, and he slowly turned his head to see…But there was nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps the air was even more stale, the sky and grass greyer. He looked at Hallgrimur’s sheep without much interest. Little dots in the distance, some of them white, some brown. Unimportant and inconsequential. Like you, the darkness remarked.”
Two things detract a smidge from this page-turner; the first is an elf that appears for no apparent reason and could be dismissed as an hallucination—except Gunnar’s dog sees it too. But then the elf disappears without a why or a wherefore (more on him later). The other minor distraction is occasional 21st century diction bubbling up (“gross her out,” “too weird,” “blown away,” “do their thing”).
Nevertheless, this delightful pressure cooker offers its small-town characters an assortment of escapes: adultery, attempted murder, plots, witches, arson, blackmail, and fratricide.
In addition, Larssen crafts dead-on observations of human nature. When Gunnar briefly escapes small-town intrigue for a day of shopping in the big city, he notes, “Perhaps Reykjavik wasn’t so bad after all? It felt good to be a stranger, surrounded by other strangers, none of whom inquired about his religious views, tried to marry him, or asked questions about his money.” Another character pre-plans every detail of every encounter to ensure he will make the right impression: “…he would show up unannounced, blinking in the spring’s sunshine, overwhelmed by the beauty of everything. His hand would go up to cover his mouth at the sight of the church and dwelling, even if it was nothing but a painted shed. His passion and modesty would be noticed and praised….”
And there is a generous sprinkling of humor. Gunnar remarks at one point, “I just don’t like time. It’s bad for you.” And, later, “At least right now it was neither raining nor snowing outside, which Gunnar could tell by the fact that it wasn’t raining or snowing inside either.”
Author Bjorn Larssen was born in Poland, lives in the Netherlands, and is stone-cold in love with Iceland. He has a MS in Mathematics, has worked as a graphic designer and a blacksmith, and claims to have met an elf (which may explain why an elf appears in this book: perhaps Larssen owed him a boon?).
Larssen’s Storytellers takes you to an island in the North Atlantic a hundred years ago and sets you down in a village that may be surprisingly similar to your own home town. Recommended.
Top reviews from other countries
The story tells of village blacksmith Gunnar, who is (at first glance) quite happy living in his shack with his dog, Ragnar, and his 'medicine' (alcohol). One night, he takes in a climber with a broken ankle, Sigurd; with reluctance, Gunnar agrees to take care of him until he can walk again. From the outset, it is clear that there is much mystery surrounding the stranger.
Meanwhile, Gunnar's life is picked apart by his doctor, the overbearing Brynhildur who wants to marry him, and the Conservative Women of Iceland who demand that he mend his heathen ways. I loved these women - the Conservative Women number just two; they and Brynhildur were a joy to read. The gossip and atmosphere of small village life reminded me of a Jane Austen novel, subtly and amusingly executed as it is.
This is actually a story within a story - the Icelandic winters are long and dark, and storytelling is a much loved pastime. Threaded through Gunnar's own tale is a another, told to him in instalments by Sigurd, about love, death and a feud between brothers. Both stories are so compelling.
As we learn more about Gunnar, we discover the demons that lurk within, that he tries to banish with the moonshine that he makes in his shack.
The atmosphere of the place and time is perfectly drawn, the characterisation is excellent, the dialogue authentic and amusing. The ending is surprising, as the link between the stories is uncovered. In these days when so many novels are jam-packed with events from start to finish, I enjoyed the slower pace of Storytellers; it has such charm that I still found it to be a 'page-turner', was reluctant to leave it when I had to, and sad to finish it.
The quality of the writing and storytelling is most definitely worthy of 5*. When I read the book there were some editioral errors: a few Americanisms and phrases/words too modern for the time, but I believe these have now been remedied. English is not the author's first language, and his command of its subtleties is, on the whole, outstanding, so I don't want to penalise him for that which should have been picked up by editors and proofreaders.
This a work of literary art that I recommend most highly; Bjørn Larssen is, indeed, an Icelandic storyteller.
But it’s not quite so straightforward. It seems the stranger is not so benign and he insists that no one must know he is at the blacksmith’s house. Odder still are the folk in the village, some who want to get close to the blacksmith, and some who shy away from him.
It’s hard to talk much about this book without giving away spoilers. So let me just say that the ‘then’ is just as captivating as the ‘now’ story. We know that the ‘then’ story is setting out little clues, but it’s hard to know what they are. In the ‘now’ story, we feel there must be a connection, some reason why the stranger is here, telling this particular tale.
I pride myself on guessing twists correctly, but I didn’t quite get this one right. It’s fair to say that the stories, both ‘then’ and ‘now’, start off fairly placidly. This is as it should be, for we are being told a story, round the fireside, in instalments, just as the blacksmith is listening, day by day and we, like he, wait impatiently for the next chapter. Then the last part of the story picks up in speed and tension and I was absolutely riveted. The drama is intense, the plot reveals come thick and fast, and the ending is satisfying and yet… it might not be an ending. I think it is for the reader to decide what really happens.
Mystical, and sometimes a little creepy, this story sits firmly within its landscape. The characters are insular, as you’d expect in such an isolated place, and of course everyone knows everyone else’s business. There are some moments of genuine laugh out loud comedy, and there are scenes of real tragedy.
If I have one niggle, it is that occasionally there is a bit too much ‘head-hopping’ where we go from hearing the thoughts of one character to hearing those of another within the same paragraph. But it is just a tiny niggle.
This story was an ambitious project and the author has executed it with aplomb. It’s not like anything I’ve ever read before and these strange, sad, funny, murderous people will stay with me for a long time.
The dialogue and interaction between Gunnar and the injured Sigurd is both convincing and amusing; the pathos of Gunnar’s solitary existence brilliantly portrayed – his struggle with alcohol, his desire to be left in peace, the bond he shares with his beloved dog, Ragnar, and the harsh conditions where he lives and works.
The cold and isolated atmosphere of the Icelandic village, the long dark nights and the spectacular Aurora, described so well that I felt I’d been transported there, making me shiver as I turned the pages. It was a relief to picture sitting in front of the fire where the story (within the story) was being told.
There were many village characters and, therefore, a lot of names to contend with, which I found a little confusing at first. However, as the plot unfolded, their identities became more established, the story culminating in an interesting and unexpected denouement.
It’s difficult to specify the genre of this book, but if you are looking for an unusual read that will hold your attention until the very end, you should definitely give this one a try.
I loved the characters, well developed and interesting. Even though this is a slow paced book, it keeps you engaged and wondering about the outcome.
Gunnar, the lonely blacksmith with his loyal dog Ragnar live in a small house in Iceland. One night an injured traveller turns up, Gunnar reluctantly nurses him back to health in exchange for some old Icelandic stories. These are beautifully told, the love story, the brothers, the pastor and the gossiping folk at the Inn.
This is a lovely book, scenic and charming. Highly recommend it.
The setting is bleak and the characters are complex, the ending is a surprise but there are clues scattered throughout the stories.
It's a pageturner. I dislike the word "unputdownable" but this is certainly one of those books that makes you want to read just a bit more.
I hope there's a sequel!