Saturday 9 February 2019

Book Review: From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón (Literary Fiction/Historical)

Title: From the Mouth of the Whale
Author: Sjón

Publication Date: 2011 (2008)
Literary Fiction/Historical
Xmas Gift


The year is 1635. Iceland is a world darkened by superstition, poverty and cruelty. Men of science marvel over a unicorn’s horn, poor folk worship the Virgin in secret and both books and men are burnt. Jónas Pálmason, a poet and self-taught healer, has been condemned to exile for heretical conduct, having fallen foul of the local magistrate. Banished to a barren island, Jónas recalls his exorcism of a walking corpse on the remote Snjafjoll coast, the frenzied massacre of innocent Basque whalers at the hands of local villagers, and the deaths of three of his children.

From the Mouth of the Whale is a magical evocation of an enlightened mind and a vanished age.

From the Mouth of the Whale is another wonderful work from Sjón (the third of his I've read so far). It encompasses Sjón's trademark blending of history with elements of the fantastical. Jón the Learned was a real person. Here, Sjón reinvents him as Jónas, telling true stories from his life with a continual hint of magical realism, so we are left questioning what really happened and what was only in his imagination. It is a spellbinding and lyrical work, yet highly visceral at times as well, such as in the depiction of life in early seventeenth century Iceland. A delightful read, but one I would only recommend to those already familiar with Sjón's work. If you are new to his writing, I would suggest starting with Moonstone or The Blue Fox, to ease you into his style.

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