The Blue Fox (Skugga-Baldur), by Sjón

I recently finished reading a book called The Blue Fox, by the Icelandic author, Sjón.  The book, titled Skugga-Baldur in the original Icelandic, was translated into English by Victoria Cribb.

The book is short (the edition I read is just 123 pages), and I finished it in what was essentially a single read (I briefly set the book down to eat).

First off, before any other commentary, I will say that the book was phenominal. Since stars seems to be thing to give or withhold, I’ll say 5/5. I base that rating on writing style, pacing and structure, depth of character and setting development, and overall composition.

From my perspective, it  and reads like two intimately intertwined short stories:

The first tells of a man on a snowy mountain, hunting a blue fox, the VixenThe fox is as much a character as the man, and the prose is very nearly poetry.

The second story follows a herbalist  who, upon his return from Denmark, decides to shelter a young and very much abused woman with Down syndrome. As I say, the two stories are utterly intertwined, even if the connection is not immediately apparent.

The writing style has been compared to folklore or mythology, and the comparison is apt. The hybrid story that emerges from the two sub-texts feels rooted deeply in time and in the landscape on (and at one point under) which the story occurs.

As a writer and editor, I find that my ability to read books for pleasure is sometimes reduced. The tripwire of my writerly or editorial self is triggered, and the veneer is peeled back on the book. There was no such “tripping” moment for me during the reading of The Blue Fox. No moment at which I thought, “I would have written that differently.”

And a note on translation is required also. I do not speak Icelandic, and so I can’t comment on how well the translation was done. I can say, however, that Victoria Cribb did a marvelous job of taking a work that (presumably) had an entirely different rhythm and structure, and building something marvelous in English. As a speaker of a few dissimilar languages, I know that it is very seldom possible to simply pick something up from one language and “English-ify” it.  There is nothing Google Translate-y about this book.

So, if you haven’t read it already, go find yourself a copy of The Blue Fox and read it. And if that whets your appetite, Sjón has written plenty more. I look forward to reading it.


About jackfrey
Jack Frey lives somewhere in Northeast Asia with his wife and two young boys. He finds the letter K to be the most aesthetically pleasing of all the consonants, in both its upper and lowercase forms. Like many of us, he is currently seeking publication of his first novel.

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