Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/
Terry has been reading Storytellers by Bjørn Larssen
5 out of 5 stars
I loved this book – it was a delight to read, an unusual debut novel by a writer with much talent.
The story tells of village blacksmith Gunnar, who is (at first glance) quite happy living in his shack with his dog, Ragnar, and his ‘medicine’ (alcohol). One night, he takes in a climber with a broken ankle, Sigurd; with reluctance, Gunnar agrees to take care of him until he can walk again. From the outset, it is clear that there is much mystery surrounding the stranger.
Meanwhile, Gunnar’s life is picked apart by his doctor, the overbearing Brynhildur who wants to marry him, and the Conservative Women of Iceland who demand that he mend his heathen ways. I loved these women – the Conservative Women number just two; they and Brynhildur were a joy to read. The gossip and atmosphere of small village life reminded me of a Jane Austen novel, subtly and amusingly executed as it is.
This is actually a story within a story – the Icelandic winters are long and dark, and storytelling is a much loved pastime. Threaded through Gunnar’s own tale is a another, told to him in instalments by Sigurd, about love, death and a feud between brothers. Both stories are so compelling.
As we learn more about Gunnar, we discover the demons that lurk within, that he tries to banish with the moonshine that he makes in his shack.
The atmosphere of the place and time is perfectly drawn, the characterisation is excellent, the dialogue authentic and amusing. The ending is surprising, as the link between the stories is uncovered. In these days when so many novels are jam-packed with events from start to finish, I enjoyed the slower pace of Storytellers; it has such charm that I still found it to be a ‘page-turner’, was reluctant to leave it when I had to, and sad to finish it.
The quality of the writing and storytelling is most definitely worthy of 5*. I was, at first, going to knock off half a star because of some editorial errors that may not concern many readers – a few Americanisms, the odd word used incorrectly, and phrases/words too modern for the time. However, English is not the author’s first language, and his command of its subtleties is, on the whole, outstanding, so I don’t want to penalise him for that which should have been picked up by editors and proofreaders, and which I believe will be remedied soon.
This a work of literary art that I recommend most highly; Bjørn Larssen is, indeed, an Icelandic storyteller.
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.