Friday, May 27, 2005

Halldór Laxness, Under the Glacier.

I came across this book because of a review in Salon that talked about one of the character's approaches to Christianity:
When Embi insists to Jón the importance of delivering sermons, at least at Christmas and other ceremonial occasions, the pastor answers: "Oh, no, better to be silent. That is what the glacier does. That is what the lilies of the field do." As Embi only incompletely and reluctantly realizes, Jón is a Christian mystic of the old school, convinced that shoeing and feeding horses pertains more to "the cure of souls" than preaching the gospel. In shuttering the church and turning to the outdoors, repairing farm implements and living off donated fish and bread, he is returning his religion to its ancient roots.
The line about the glacier being silent made me decide to read the book. I decided to love it when I read another line, later in the novel: "Whoever does not live in poetry cannot survive here on earth."

It's a weird book. A young man, a theology student, is sent as an emissary of the bishop (Embi) to investigate what's going on in the parish near Snæfells glacier, where the church is apparently borded up. The student is told to listen to the people, to ask questions, and not to argue--but mostly, not to make up his mind about anything, but merely to record what he encounters.

The people are very strange--from the house-keeper, who feeds Embi only cakes and coffee, to the poet who's a little to fond of modern kitchen counter surfaces, to the pastor who wishes to fix things, to the man who finds horses--only to leave them to go looking for others, to women who disappear, to almost-Buddhists, to new agers who believe in bioinduction... All in all, Embi is frustrated at every turn, to the point of falling in love with a mysterious & disappearing dead woman.

You will find this book odd, if you decide to pick it up. The sparse elegance of the characterizations and the dialogue kept me compelled by the book. Its odd subject matter is intriguing, and though it's hardly riveting in a traditional sense, it's a book not to be abandoned, and well worth picking up.