Monday, March 3, 2014

The Flatey EnigmaThe Flatey Enigma by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Victor Arnar Ingolfsson's "The Flatey Enigma" is quite a bit of a disappointment. I wanted to like it as I liked his "House of Evidence", which I reviewed recently and rated with four stars. Alas, this novel is not that interesting and I find its literary structure lacking.

Flatey is a small island off the western coast of Iceland. A tiny library on this island once housed the famous Flatey Book, the largest medieval Icelandic manuscript that contains sagas of the Norse kings. The plot of the novel is taking place in 1960 and relates to the (fictitious) Flatey Enigma, an extended riddle (a 40-question quiz really) on the topics of the Flatey Book stories. A body is found on a tiny islet off the coast of Flatey island, and a motley group of characters conducts an investigation. When another suspicious death occurs, detectives from Reykjavik become involved, which precipitates the conclusion.

Unfortunately, the structure of the novel does not work for me. The 40 questions, along with related fragments of the sagas, are intertwined with the detecting thread of the plot. The repetitiveness and predictability of this rhythm (chapter-question-chapter-question, etc.) is boring. The denouement is not very satisfactory.

The book has some redeeming qualities. I like the descriptions of how the inhabitants of Flatey make their living. They mostly live off seals. They kill seal pups for food and for their fur. They eat seal meat and puffin breasts. They collect eiderdown for sale. I will not forget the portrayal of the femaleless family of Jon Ferdinand, Gudvaldur, and Nonni, all three of the "croft of Ystakot". The Author's Postscript is moving. So the good news is that reading this book has not been a complete waste of time. Yet, in my opinion, "House of Evidence" is much, much, much better.

Two stars.

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