Can You Sell A Country? The Atom Station Review

This is my first book review and the first book I have read for the around the world reading challenge. Icelandic writer, Halldór Laxness is the only Icelandic Nobel Laureate, having won the Nobel Literature Prize in 1955 for his sixty novels. The Atom Station is one of them…


Ulga is a country girl from the North and The Atom Station is the tale of her experience as a maid in the house of a politician. Somewhere inbetween a political satire and a coming of age novel, Laxness’s story revolves around the themes of corruption, westernisation and the preservation of traditional Icelandic values. Personally, I found parts of The Atom Station quite amusing, but I’m not sure whether I found it amusing enough to warrant being classed as a ‘satire’. Although, I understand that the irony mostly relies on knowledge of the context, which I don’t claim to have. This book would not be wasted on anyone with an interest in Icelandic history or politics. However, parts of the book resonate with anyone who knows anything about the nature of politicians. They did with me anyway…

“But he turned on his heel in the middle of the hall on his way up and continued his monologue: ‘As I was saying, you can always depend on him absolutely: If he swears something to you in confidence when he is sober, and pledges it on his honour, you can be quite sure that he is lying. If he swears it thrice in public on his mother’s name, then, quite simply, he means exactly the opposite of what he is swearing. But what he says when he is tipsy he really means, even though he swears it.'”

One of Laxness’s strengths is his characterisation. He has the ability to sum up a character just through his description of how they first appear to us in the book. Ulga is a real treat of a narrator. She is witty, curious and bold. I think if the character of Ulga hadn’t been as strong and quirky I wouldn’t have enjoyed The Atom Station quite so much. Parts of it were very heavy on philosophy and politics, which felt overwhelming and almost obnoxious, actually. The distinct preference for Communism and the Communist characters cannot be ignored. However the parodies Laxness paints of the various social groups (the upper class families, the old-fashioned farmers, the overdramatic modernist guests at the organ player’s house) were insightful and, at times, hilarious. I particularly enjoyed Ulga’s account of the spoilt family for whom she worked…

“‘I will, I will, I will go to America.’

In the middle of the floor of the study this beautiful, sleek woman lay on her back, her skirt up around her waist, wearing nylon stockings, silk panties and gilt shoes, belabouring the floor with her heels and fists and screaming, her bracelets jingling with the blows and one gilt shoe flying across the room.

Her husband stood at a distance, watching, wearing a surprised and helpless look; yet I suspect he had seen such a performance before and was not particularly amazed.”

Ultimately, The Atom Station was thought provoking and incredibly readable, although not unputdownable. At just 180 pages, I managed to read the whole thing over two two-hour train journeys. While I would not say that this was one of my favourite books, or that it moved me emotionally, I would recommend it to anybody as an insightful and unusual novel that is fun to read.  I’ve never read any Icelandic Literature before so if anybody else has read anything Icelandic or has any thoughts about this I’d love to hear about it!



… In which our novice blogger contemplates the innumerable possibilities of introducing herself; the conundrum of whether to incorporate or omit the dubious ‘OMG this is my first ever blog post LOL’; other matters…

I’m Helen and I’m a 20 year old English and Philosophy Student. Since removing myself from the world of social media, I’ve been trying to find a creative outlet to fill all of this spare time I suddenly have.

I know, she thought, let’s join a newspaper. I thought I’d write online for the Tab but it didn’t really work out. I ended up writing the world’s naffest article on the incredibly original subject of the walk of shame. The research for this somehow escalated into me and my best friend getting drunk at 9 o clock in the morning and going into McDonald’s with neon green UV paint all over our grinning, goofy faces. I decided to scrap this. Then, after not actually submitting anything for two weeks I was hilariously awarded a cream egg for being the Tab’s most ‘illusive writer’ at their end of term meal.

I am more optimistic about this blog. Instead of writing about cool, edgy-type things us students are supposed to be interested in, like walks of shame (which I couldn’t really comment on anyway if I’m honest, the one time I did a kind of walk of shame was when I was 15 and my sandal strap snapped the morning I was walking home after staying at my friend’s. I did get one evil eye from a neighbor washing his car but overall it wasn’t too bad, one nice lady even wished me a good morning. I can’t see what all the fuss is about), I will probably be writing about things I’m reading, literature, really bad word jokes and what it’s actually like to be a student: the ever oppressing plight of paying to print out your work. Less one night stands, more book stands.