Reply to a letter from Helga is kind of odd being that it’s written in the form of an extended letter from Bjarni to his adulterous lover Helga. Composed in the twilight years of his life, his epistle is roughly equal parts love letter, meditation on the meaning of life and plea for forgiveness.
I liked how the author described the mental anguish and sense of frustration caused by unrequited love. In a similar vein, I thought the author did a pretty good job portraying how people struggle when trying to make the right choices in life, as well as how they deal with the consequences of those choices. From reading this novel, I got a good feeling for what life must have been like in rural Iceland during the middle part of the 20th century. (I would best describe it as being at the mercy of the cycles and whims of nature, coupled with a strong sense of isolation.) For a such a sort novel, I found it surprisingly sophisticated thanks to its numerous references to philosophy, Nordic mythology and Icelandic history and literature.
To bring it all full circle, I’m not sure I enjoyed Reply to a Letter from Helga. But I am sure that in the end, I respected it.