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on September 26, 2012
I started off really wanting to like this. It seemed interesting, set against the backdrop of Iceland. I thought I might get some insight into Icelandic culture/people, but all I did get was a confusing storyline and bland characters. I stuck with it though only to be really disappointed with a very unsatisfying ending that just left a question mark in my head.
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on November 22, 2009
This is a wonderfully bizarre story in which the main character makes a quick decision hoping to avoid an awkward momement only to become trapped in an even more awkward situation lasting for hours. It's a truly laugh-out-loud comedy, thoroughly enjoyable.
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HALL OF FAMEon July 18, 2011
"Hilarious" is not a word that immediately comes to mind when thinking of Icelandic writing. Arnaldur Indridasson, the most famous contemporary writer in Iceland, pens mysteries which are among the darkest, gloomiest, and most haunting ever written, the pinnacle of Nordic noir. Life in Iceland can be tough. So when I stumbled across The Pets, I was amazed to see it described as "hilarious"--a book written by a young author who finds humor, even slapstick humor, in life in this cold, dark country. Nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize in 1999, and first translated into English in 2008, The Pets maintains a bright and breezy style which belies the obvious care and attention to detail with which it is written. Olafsson accepts the weather as a given, eliminating it as a factor in creating mood and atmosphere. Nearly all the important scenes take place indoors, and though the writing possesses a humor which is dark by comparison to that of some other cultures, the novel achieves a kind of universality through the absurdities which dominate the action.

Main character Emil Halldorsson has been away in London, celebrating his million-kronur lottery win (about $8500) with a two-week vacation. Upon his return, he learns that someone wearing an anorak with hood has been looking for him, knocking on his door and then peering in the window. Gradually, the reader comes to know Emil, who is not sure if he loves Vigdis, his lover; Armann Valur, a chatty "prospective pensioner," who appears to be hopelessly in need of attention; and Greta, the pretty woman across the aisle on the plane, whom he hopes will visit him. The man in the anorak is Havard Knutsson, who has been away for several years and who has an agenda of his own. Havard has no idea of boundaries and no sense of responsibility. Gradually, the story emerges of Emil's disastrous relationship with Havard when they were "pet-sitting" in London, five years ago, and when Havard comes to Emil's house once again, this time forcing his way in, Emil hides under the bed, while Havard makes himself at home.

Filled with details which illustrate the dreary "ordinariness" of the characters' lives, the reader quickly realizes that Havard's life, in its totality, is far from ordinary. As he makes himself at home in Emil's house with Emil's friends, Emil finds himself trapped, fearing that revealing his presence may be more dangerous than staying hidden. Irony and absurdity work together, creating scenes which are intensely visual, and which would make great theatre. The dialogue is often hilarious as Havard becomes the "perfect host," using supplies Emil has purchased at the duty free shop. The alternation of music between Mahler's piano quartet and Elvis Presley's singing, the constantly ringing doorbell, the telephone ringing, and various cellphone ring tones suggests a broad panorama of visitors connecting with Havard at Emil's expense (literally). The chaos of reality becomes even more absurd as the party progresses without any limits being imposed.

The author's deliberately vague conclusion forces the reader to consider all possibilities, and Emil's continuing failure to confront this intruder suggests that Emil may deserve whatever happens. With the strange Havard acting as the complete opposite of Emil, the reader ultimately wonders who is the responsible person--if anyone--and whether the ghost of Emil, who may be knocking at the front door, may provide a clue. Mary Whipple
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on December 8, 2008
Great little book translated from... Icelandic? Norwegian? Danish? Whatever they speak in Iceland. The author, Bragi Ólafsson, I have since learned was the bassist for the Sugarcubes back in the day. I picked it up at random off the new-release shelf at the library, as is my wont, and tore through its brief 157 pages in a couple days. My random grabs often result in disappointment, but I have stumbled across some gems. A history of failures also has lowered my expectations, so the book doesn't need to be spectacular. This book greatly exceeded any expectations.

The Pets revolves around two fellows, Emil and Havard. Emil has just returned to Iceland from a trip to London when he spots trouble coming to his door in the form of an old acquaintance, Havard. Havard is that guy everyone knows who glides through life in a drunken haze, somehow managing to be just barely productive enough to support a lifestyle of drinking and causing trouble. He was great fun for us when we knew him in our early 20s, but he now represents a serious threat to our current status quo. If this was a Hollywood movie, I suspect Havard would be played by Owen Wilson.

When Emil sees Havard outside, he reacts as many of us would like to do; he hides. As if it was an ID'd call from a creditor. Undaunted by the lack of response, Havard crawls in the kitchen window and Emil commits to the dodge by hiding under his bed. During a tour of the house, Havard answers the phone and, pretending to be Emil, begins inviting Emil's friends over that night for a big party. One of the two major plots is Emil trying to figure out a way to both get rid of Havard and not reveal that he has been hiding under the bed. The second plot is the backstory of Emil and Havard's relationship revealed through flashbacks to London and the tragic hilarity that ensued there.

Ólafsson writes in clean, direct prose, giving vivid and detailed descriptions of what is happening in every scene. His style paints a realistic picture of the surreal action. I read an interview with Ólafsson and, having read the book first, I was surprised at how flippant he was. I think he is a person who takes writing far more seriously than he let on in that interview. When I read it, I didn't get the vibe that the author was at all flippant. The book is clearly the product of a talented, disciplined writer with an offbeat sense of humor. I am glad he made the transition from music to literature and I hope to see more of Bragi Ólafsson's work translated into English.
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on January 9, 2012
This short novel follows two individuals for one day, with the back story of their previous contact provided over the length of the book. One of the characters is big, offish "a faulty specimen" and without any socialized niceties. Paid to house-sit and watch the family pets he kills the pets and steals the family's prized possessions (leaving a cigarette burn in the couch for good measure). When the narrator sees the oaf lumbering towards his front door this previous experience impels him to hide in his own apartment so as not to be seen. But being an oaf this doesn't stop him, and he merely climbs through the window, forcing our narrator to hide under the bed...for the remainder of the novel.

One a mild mannered ineffectual guy who seems to find passion in CDs, books, but not much else. The other, well I've been describing the oaf. The humor is in the juxtaposition. But it is all pretty bland, and there is really only one joke, it is just told in different shades, and with different examples, over and over. Maybe if you lived in Iceland you would immediately recognize the narrator is a particularly Nordic type and find this hysterical. I can't see it.

And what is with the quote on the back cover? DV (Iceland) says "I'm convinced beyond any doubt that Bragi Olafsson is among our best authors." I am always suspicious when the quote talks about the author, not the book, but "among our best authors" is pretty lame, I mean Iceland has less people than a neighborhood of a good sized city; so he's one of the best 10 or so. That is the best the publisher can come up with? And by someone called DV? And the translator has translated two Icelandic short story collections, but no one has published them! Are these more Icelandic jokes?
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