I have been on the lookout for books that will transport readers to another time and place. Icelandic novelist and playwright Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir's atmospheric sixth novel, Miss Iceland, is just the ticket ... Hekla's visits, bearing library books, boxes of canapés, toys, and adult conversation, are a lifeline for Ísey, just as these mutually supportive friendships are a ray of light in Ólafsdóttir's novel. But so, too, is Hekla's unusual voice — reticent but firm, straightforward but wry, melancholic with an undercurrent of irony ... quietly mesmerizing.
[S]he does a brilliant job of conveying, sentence by sentence and word by word, the exotic nature of Icelandic life, its harshness, its connection to the land and to history, and its amusing qualities ... Olafsdottir’s novel is not autobiographical — most of it takes place in 1963, when Olafsdottir, born in 1958, was five. But she must have been a very observant child, because the distinctive nature of every scene and every character takes hold of the reader immediately ... The sexism and homophobia Olafsdottir portrays were not unusual for the time, but she surrounds it so precisely with details about life in Iceland that it seems to glow with renewed fervor.
As elegantly cold and foreboding as the Icelandic landscape itself, Olafsdottir’s languid and melancholy portrait of a writer with a singular passion demonstrates the sacrifices women have always made for their art.
The narrative, like the protagonist herself, is restrained, almost neutral in its description. It is effective: most of what is described speaks for itself ... Along the way, it also offers a neat picture of early 1960s Iceland, from the shared kitchens and bathrooms to the (would-be) littérateurs of the day to, more generally, nature there, from the cold to volcanic eruptions ... Miss Iceland is well done, and quite an impressive work.
The genius of Miss Iceland is that it uses an elegant fictional narrative to establish in literary form a continuity between the sexist '60s and the present day ... Those who might think the author chose the easy way out—setting her novel in the '60s, so as not to disturb the sensibilities of contemporary 'woke' men—would be mistaken. The book's setting does more to reveal how little we've in fact progressed over the past half century ... The sparse prose of the book is one of its best qualities. The uniquely constructed narrative flows quickly, lightly. It may seem trite to forever be comparing modern Icelandic literature to Viking sagas, but there is an epic saga-like quality to the prose. Although a linear, coherent narrative emerges, the text is sub-divided into short passages with pompous headings. Characters speak in declamations of poetic profundity, sparse as the landscape yet potent with meaning. Despite the book's quick pace and light touch, its characters are fully formed and richly portrayed ... Miss Iceland is a beautiful book. It is at once a poetic, light-hearted narrative filled with endearing characters; and yet also a sharply edged social critique that is caustic and righteous in its portrayal of the enduring nature of sexism, misogyny and homophobia.
Ólafsdóttir is an art historian and writer whose work is just beginning to receive the attention it deserves in the United States. This quietly moving tale of friendship and artistic fulfillment will appeal to readers of Elena Ferrante and Margaret Atwood, and the unusual setting offers an interesting twist on the portrait of an artist as a young woman.
...quirky and beguiling ... smoothly translated ... In previous books, Ms Audur Ava Olafsdottir occasionally relied too much on eccentric foibles and hare-brained antics. In Miss Iceland she judiciously downplays the oddities, particularly when exploring weighty issues such as sexual harassment and discrimination ... this captivating novel’s finest component is its endearing heroine who, at her journey’s end, has learned to follow her dreams but know her limits.
Ólafsdóttir...paints a vivid portrait of Iceland: cold weather, volcanic eruptions, northern lights, whale hunting, darkness, sexism, and homophobia ... In this excellent introduction to her work, Ólafsdóttir creates a world where either escape or hiding one's true nature are the only choices
Ólafsdóttir’s graceful and quiet tale of feminism, alienation, and artistic expression...tenderly explores how these authentic characters help each other overcome their fears and doubts. This winning tale of friendship and self-fulfillment will inspire readers.