Storytellers is historical fiction written in the style of an Icelandic saga.
The book opens in 1920 with Gunnar, a blacksmith who rescues an injured climber. He takes the man to his home. Gunnar has lived alone for several years; his house is basic and his lifestyle simplistic.
The climber, known as Sigurd, persuades Gunnar to keep his presence a secret from the villagers. He pays Gunnar a large amount of money to let him stay while his ankle mends. It’s March and Spring is yet to show; during the long evenings Sigurd entertains Gunnar with a story. It’s about a young couple: Arnar and Juana, and their life together in a small Icelandic village.
The story alternates between the two threads at a slow pace. We learn of Gunnar’s lonely life. He lives with his dog, horse and his illegally brewed alcohol. He prefers his own company, often desperate to lose himself in the darkness of drink. He does, however, enjoy Sigurd’s story, often urging him to continue with the next instalment.
This is a dark tale. I thought that the author used his own experience as a blacksmith to good effect as I could easily picture the parts that took place in the forge, while the pace reflected the era in which the book was set. When the story reached its denouement it was worth the wait.
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In March 1920 Icelandic days are short and cold, but the nights are long. For most, on those nights, funny, sad, and dramatic stories are told around the fire. But there is nothing dramatic about Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith who barely manages to make ends meet. He knows nobody will remember his existence – they already don’t. All he wants is peace, the company of his animals, and a steady supply of his medication. Sometimes he wonders what it would feel like to have a story of his own. He’s about to find out.
Sigurd – a man with a plan, a broken ankle, and shocking amounts of money – won’t talk about himself, but is happy to tell a story that just might get Gunnar killed. The blacksmith’s other “friends” are just as eager to write him into stories of their own – from Brynhildur who wants to fix Gunnar, then marry him, his doctor who is on the precipice of calling for an intervention, The Conservative Women of Iceland who want to rehabilitate Gunnar’s “heathen ways” – even that wicked elf has plans for the blacksmith.
As his defenses begin to crumble, Gunnar decides that perhaps his life is due for a change – on his own terms. But can he avoid the endings others have in mind for him, and forge his own?
The author is an ex-blacksmith, lover of all things Icelandic, physically located in Amsterdam, mentally living in a log cabin near Akureyri. He has published stories and essays in Polish and American magazines, both online and in print. This is his first novel.