A writer and artist travels around Iceland, taking readers inside the nation's surprisingly numerous collections—from the Phallological Museum, an animal-penis repository, to the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft.
With each chapter Greene circles around her subject as if viewing it in a vitrine, approaching it from different angles, changing her register and voice. The book is shot through with glee and irreverence ... Greene doesn’t offer much of a conclusion – she just enjoys the museum of sea monsters for the eccentric unlikelihood of the place. Birds, polar bears, whales, sorcery – all are equally of value, and her celebration of Iceland’s museums takes all of them into its cabinet of wonders, its exuberant, idiosyncratic enthusiasm. Greene’s mind doesn’t move in lines, either curved or straight, but in weaves and knots, new threads radiating from each tangle of concepts. Her tone is delightfully looping, oracular, faux naif; The Museum of Whales You Will Never See is work not of cataloguing and curating, but of longing and love.
Greene’s book contains all the markers of exploration ... All of this evokes the pleasant hum of wonder that accompanies immersion in a foreign land. Yet if this is a travel book, it’s an unorthodox one, in that it is not immediately interested in orienting the reader in country. In fact, The Museum of Whales You Will Never See is dreamy and disorienting in the best way, since Greene is after more elusive prey than capital cities and sightseeing. She’s after the character of a country and has chosen a fascinating means of pursuing it ... Greene’s book operates as a sly people’s history, the ground-level chronicle of a nation ... Greene is a deft and skillful writer. She can be funny when the subject calls for it (say, visiting a penis museum) or slip into elegy, as when she explores the tragic circumstances surrounding a lakeside museum of taxidermied birds. She can wax lyrically, then pivot in an instant to bluntness ... With her attention to language and her insight into human behavior, Greene makes for a charming guide, a literary traveler in the spirit of Bruce Chatwin.
Greene...presents a thoroughly surprising book on a completely unexpected topic that will fill readers with joyful literary appreciation. In this tremendously engaging and idiosyncratic guidebook, Greene celebrates Icelandic curiosity and creativity, while also deeply exploring the country’s history and people ... With an ear for stories and an eye for delight, Greene has crafted a chronicle that shines with wit and warms with compassion. Why do the 330,000 people of Iceland embrace offbeat collecting so passionately? What draws them to the secrets of stones or makes them want to see folklore-inspired displays? There are no definitive answers to these questions, but Greene, a creative and eloquent twenty-first-century cultural explorer, asks them anyway, and her investigations have resulted in a gleaming gem of intelligent writing and an exuberant travelogue.