This is more than a mystery novel
By Derryll White
Indridason, Arnaldur (2015). Oblivion.
Some call Arnaldur Indridason the “king of Icelandic crime fiction.”
He is a very good writer, with an able translator in Victoria Cribb. Iceland seems to be a hotspot on present travel bucket lists and anyone wanting a heartfelt sense of place, before landing, should read Indridason. As well, those interested in geo-political matters might be interested in the author’s description of the U.S. presence in Iceland. Indridason is very clear in charting the influences and troubles brought to Iceland by an arrogant American presence. In the modern conversations of cultural appropriation, Indridason should rank high on the reference list. But some would say this is just a mystery novel.
Indridason offers no shield to Iceland, or to its politicians. Erlendur Sveinsson, the lead character in this novel, has little patience for Icelandic politics, loathing the positioning and posturing he sees happening around him. Events such as the former ban on black soldiers being stationed in Iceland are exposed as the bigoted behaviour of a recent past.
Indridason is very good at giving a picture of an Iceland different from the glowing tourist brochures. He talks about how challenging the terrain is, and how demanding is the weather. Like here in East Kootenay, the author states that only sloppy or ignorant people head into the backcountry without making preparations and gearing up. The character Erlendur is obsessed with incidents and death being brought about by inclement weather. He also discusses the overpowering odor of traditional dishes such as fermented skate. Indridason does, however, pay good attention to the outstanding beauty of natural Iceland cloistered within the harsh, cold environment.
I appreciate the way Indridason has two stories running side-by-side. The official murder investigation gives him a great voice to reflect on U.S.-Icelandic tensions and misapprehensions. The more personal investigation of a missing girl cold case yields private insights into Detective Erlendur’s mind and background. Woven cleverly together they keep the reader very involved in the novel.
ICELANDIC NATURE – “In my opinion it would be better if we dealt with our own problems instead of sucking up to military powers like you Americans. That’s what I think.”
“Then you need your own army.”
“No, we don’t need an army. We’ve never needed an army. We’ll lose all our wars but at least we’ll lose them with honour.”
RELATIONS – “I mean, this is your world but it’s a world we simply don’t understand. As a nation we emulate everything you do without really knowing why and forget that we’re just a bunch of poor farmers forced by modern life to live in blocks of flats. You’re the richest nation on the planet. The biggest military power in history. For most of our existence we’ve been fighting a losing battle against starvation.”
BEAUTY – “Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not unhappy here. I travelled round the country a bit last summer. The scenery’s incredible. And I like the midnight sun. When the sun doesn’t go down in the summer and the nights are as light as day.”
– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them. When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.