Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Atom Station

The Atom Station by Halldór Laxness

Set in Iceland just after WW2 with the threat to some countries of the Cold War, and this leads the Americans to try to secure a deal to build a nuclear atom station.  You can basically forget all this however and just concentrate on the relationships and character development as once again Capitalism and Socialism clash.  The story is told from the perspective of 19 year old Ugla (from the North we are repeatedly told. i.e. she's a country bumpkin, a bit like me) coming to terms with the big city, where she has come to learn the harmonium, which I think is a basic piano. 
It's sounding a bit dull, but I'm not doing it any justice. It's an amazing kind of surreal situation, with a maid, a crazy harmonium teacher, his demented mother, a member of parliament, his bonkers family, a prostitute called Cleopatra, two poet-thieves who believe themselves to be Gods, an unselfconscious policeman and a self-conscious policeman with a vocation to become a thief. Quite a cast eh?

The fact is, it draws you in and keeps you guessing all the way through, which is unusual.  An odd mix of Icelandic folklore and traditions and new American influences, eclectic characters and a fantastic storyline with interesting underlying questions as to the motivations and loyalties of politicians, and the comparison of what is truth.

I will say I was disappointed in the ending, but only the last ten pages or so. But then again, I should have known it wouldn't end the way I wanted, it is after all a novel for my European novel course.  I guess I should count myself lucky that it doesn't end with massacre or suicide, and with that I will have to be satisfied.


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