Book of a Lifetime: The Blue Fox, by Sjón

 

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The Independent Culture

It is possible to compress all one has to say about The Blue Fox by the Icelandic author Sjón in two words, "Enchantingly poetic".

However, I am afraid these won't do, because other terms will suggest themselves and these will include "spellbinding," or "magical", or simply "exceptional." In addition, there are several other elements in this novella, which will require that one use the loose descriptive "thriller" too. I recall meeting Sjón in Berlin a couple of years ago, when he reminded me of my own visit to Iceland in the early 1980s to compare Somali oral poetry to Icelandic poetry in its written form. He had been 18 at the time. Such is his excellent memory – the natural gift of a born poet – he reminded me of the points I made and later sent a newspaper clipping about the event.

The Blue Fox reads like a folktale. It's about Baldur Skuggason, a pastor-turned-huntsman, who is intent on tracking down a mysterious blue fox roaming the snow-covered mountainous landscapes of Iceland and killing it for its fur. To achieve his aim, he braves the inclement weather. The fox does everything to avoid death. We gain via its perspective some valuable access to the pastor's innermost self, right into the depths of his inhumanity. Along the way, we meet two other characters: Fridrik Fridjonsson, a nature-loving lotus-eater, who has come home to settle his deceased parents' estate; and Abba, a Down's Syndrome girl, the pastor's daughter, albeit abandoned and banned from her father's church. They encounter each other by chance in the outhouse of Fridjonsson's property. At the time, he was undecided whether to set fire to the estate and then return to his lotus-eating or to stay. He chooses not to leave and then adopts her.

The human characters and the fox are not only bound in a deep-seated way, but equally fascinating, both for what they may or may not represent and for the manner in which they impact upon one another in important aspects. Our hearts go out to the fox, a victim of the pastor's avarice; and our sympathy goes to Abba, whom we see as a casualty of the pastor's cruelty – a parent who won't care for his daughter, given her Down's status.

The narration is done skillfully too. There is a lot of poetry in this novel. Fridjonsson claims that in his travels he has seen the universe, which according to him, "is made of poetry". Baldur, meanwhile, kills the fox, consumes its heart and wears its fur. The Blue Fox received the 2005 Nordic Council Literature Prize.

Nuruddin Farah's new novel is 'Crossbones' (Granta)

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