Saturday 23 May 2020

Book Review: CoDex 1962 by Sjón (Literary Fiction)

Title: CoDex 1962
Author: Sjón
Publication Date: 2018 (2016)
Literary Fiction
Bought Copy


Jósef Loewe can recall the moment of his birth in August, 1962 and everything that has happened since - or so he claims to the woman listening to the tale of his life...

A love story
He begins with his father, Leo, a starving Jewish fugitive in World War II Germany. In a small-town guesthouse, Leo discovers a kindred spirit in the maid who nurses him back to health; together they shape a piece of clay into a baby.

A crime story
Leo escapes to Iceland with the clay boy inside a hatbox, only to become embroiled in a murder mystery. It is not until 1962 that his son Jósef can be born.

A science-fiction story
In modern-day Reykjavík, a middle-aged Jósef attracts the interest of a rapacious geneticist. Now, what lies behind Jósef's tale emerges. And as the story of genesis comes full circle, we glimpse the dangerous path ahead for humankind.

In this epic novel, Sjón has woven ancient and modern material into a singular masterpiece - encompassing genre fiction, history, theology, folklore, expressionist film, poetry, comic strips, myth, drama and, of course, the rich tradition of Icelandic storytelling.

I have loved all previous works by Sjón that I have read, so I was excited to get into CoDex 1962. It's too extreme to say I was disappointed in it, but it didn't thrill me as much as I'd hoped. In part one I was fully invested in the story and eager for more, but as I plodded through part two my enthusiasm waned, only to revive a little in part three. The book was well written with all the usual Sjón trademarks, but it didn't captivate me in the way his novellas have always done. For while in the second part, I wondered what exactly was going on. Now, I did read this while tired, so maybe it just needed more concentration than I was able to give it at the time, but after part one ended, I was never again able to get lost in the story. I could see the excellent writing style and appreciate Sjón's wit and literary dexterity, but I felt detached from the work overall. That's why I am giving this four stars. There were elements I enjoyed, but it's certainly my least favourite of his works so far. In all fairness, my mental exhaustion may have played a part in my approach to the work, but if you are new to reading Sjón I would recommend starting with the novellas and leaving this one for later.

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