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…

IMG_7191

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!

#2

…in which Helen ceases to talk about interrailing at last, the awesome power of nature and the insignificance of man…

IMG_7190

I was planning my next few blog entries when I came across the around the world reading challenge.

I love travelling. I think everybody should travel whenever they can, if they are able to. It’s a running joke among pretty much anyone who knows me, actually, that I can’t stop talking about the time I went interrailing. Well, I didn’t know you went interrailing, Helen, they say, you never mentioned it. Some have even gone so far as to compare me to that gap yah video. I promise you I am not that annoying. And I have never, probably, possibly… mentioned ‘the awesome power of nature and the insignificance of man’ (although I can say, without a doubt, that I have ‘chundered’ all around Europe. I’m not sure that this is necessarily something to be ashamed of).

Anyway… I was thinking about reading and travelling and how linked they are. Well, for me anyway. I think it’s cool how you can read a book when you are away from home and that book will always remind you of that place. Slaughterhouse 5, unfortunately, will always remind me of sitting on a hot, sticky bus for 15 hours, slowly losing the feeling in my left bum cheek. If anyone has any books that remind them of places they’ve been, or any travel book recommendations, I would love to read them.

For my first around the world challenge book, I’m reading the Nobel Prize winning The Atom Station, by Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness. I would really appreciate any recommendations for books from any of the other five continents, so comment below!