A thirty-something aspiring writer, G., encounters a former romantic rival at the post office and begins trailing the man throughout Reykjavik. What starts as an amusing tale of cat and mouse turns into a complex, introspective journey of a man struggling to complete the unfinished narrative of his own life.
The shadows cast by past disappointments are long. Ancient defeats and buried regrets may sometimes diminish over time, but do they ever truly go away? Narrator...is a book that mines these long shadows of failure, anguish and resentment for jet-black comedic effect ... In this deft translation...Ólafsson’s voice shines through. The prose is relatively sleek and straight-forward, even as it erratically hops between first and third person, bubbling over from time to time with a dark and dangerous idiosyncratic beauty. As the story draws to a close, the resolution feels neither tidy nor messy, for it is nearly non-existent, which admittedly may be part of the point. Though unable to achieve the sublimity of his masters—the exquisite sexual obsessiveness of the surrealists, the intricate narrative play of the writers of the nouveau roman, the flawless disjointed nightmarishness of Kafka, or the perfect gallows poetry of Beckett—Ólafsson does manage to take the reader on a compelling journey into the tragicomic world that erupts from man’s inability to adequately process shame and the inevitable narcissism that flows from that ineptitude.
... perhaps it is testament to Bragi Ólafsson that, after giving a reader many opportunities to set Narrator aside as inscrutable and even a little irritating, the pages nevertheless continue to be turned. You simply have to find out what happens ... Granted, when the pages dwindle to too few to reveal much resolution, you’re in too far ... The plot seems fantastical — yet who hasn’t given in to imagining what might have been, with an indulgent emphasis on thinking the worst of someone? Maybe that’s the thread that keeps a reader reading, that there is more in common with G. than we’d care to admit.
Ólafsson bends rules of tense and perspective, and Narrator is made all the better by it. Hopping between first and third, between past and present, these breaks in form capture G.’s erratic temperament, and explore the psychic distance between character and narrator. G. strives for objectivity, wants to cast himself as the hero, but cannot help slipping back into his own obsessive, unreliable mind. The kind of novel that teaches you how to read it while you’re reading it, Narrator asks odd, fascinating questions about the function of the narrator as a character, and the reliability of self-reflections and our accounts of ourselves.