Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Blue Fox - Sjón

Many of the best books in my list (if I make one), are books that is around 100 odd pages  ( Closely observed trains, A Life's Music, The year of the hare, Too loud a solitude and this one to name a few) . You don't need a 600+ page volume to make an impact. The compactness of the text , tending towards poetic composition make these little gems some of the masterpieces in the literary world. Sjon's "The Blue Fox", after reading it , and re-reading it leaves you with such a lasting impression, not easy to get it off you head.  Sjon, himself in this interview says,  "You can take a melody and stretch it over five minutes, or compress it down to three seconds".

This little book, set in the late 19th century Iceland, at the outset tells of a story of a fox hunt and the aftermath. What it carry within itself is a profound philosophical and existential question about life in general. An Icelandic Priest  Baldur Skuggason, set forth for the hunt of a rare blue fox, who takes him all over the snow and icy whiteness of the landscape , through his magical and cunning ability. Fox tries to save his life, hiding amongst blue rocks,
"Blue foxes are so curiously like stones that it is a matter for wonder. When they lie beside them in winter there is no hope in telling them apart from the rocks themselves"
The hunt takes days over the whitish terrain, until the fox now caught and the pastor, fires his shot, resulting in a blizzard ( "When the peak replied to his shot") of a vast snow drift. The avalanche carries both down the terrain.

On a parallel thread, a naturalist, Fridrik B. Fridjónsson, living alone, is mourning the death of Hafdís, a young woman with down syndrome, whom he had rescued long ago from a ship wreck. A cleverly and beautifully converged threads, conclude the suspense in the last chapter, brilliantly.

Skugga-Baldur ( re-writing the name of the Priest) is the legendary demonic animal in the Icelandic folk lore, which also the title in the original, gives some glimpse to the concept of the book. The change of roles of man and animal, the indicative metamorphosis of the man into animal and vice versa. The animals even talk in human language discusses and debates about the electricity with the priest. On the other hand, the lady with down syndrome, build her own vocabulary and create a language of communication that is her own.

The early pages, poetic and musical ( not surprising as Sjon, collaborate with the singer Bjork, and started his literary career as a poet) had spell binding effect on me as a reader. Sjon, then shift the narrative cleverly, bringing out the pastor and the lady with down syndrome, coming back the the fox hunt, by now we have a general idea of the pastor, before solving the mystery in the end to some phenomenal effect. Very haunting, moving little tale, read like a poem. beautifully translated retaining all those magical beauty of the sentences into English.
The Blue Fox ( 2004)

Sjón ( translated from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb in 2008)

Ferrar,Straus and Giroux

115 Pages
Slate, The Daily Californian, Complete Review, Book Slut, The Independent

No comments: