Participating in Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge keeps me on the lookout for books from across Europe. While I’d like to boast that my tastes are fairly broad when it comes to what I seek, I especially like books about or from some of the smaller nations of Europe like Croatia, Luxembourg and Bosnia. Of all the smaller European countries, perhaps Iceland has fascinated me the most. However, thanks to its rather small population, finding books by Icelandic authors isn’t what I would consider an easy task. So you can imagine how I felt a few weeks ago when, at the library, I came across a novel by an Icelandic author. Published in 2012 by Open Letter (the same people who brought us 18% Gray by the Bulgarian writer Zachary Karabashliev), Children in Reindeer Woods by Kristín Ómarsdóttir is only the second novel by an Icelandic author I’ve ever laid eyes on. (The other, Reply to a Letter from Helga by Bergsveinn Birgisson, I reviewed last year.) Happy to find something from Iceland, of course I grabbed Ómarsdóttir’s novel. Being a short novel just under 200 pages it didn’t take me long to read it. You’re probably wondering what I thought of it. I guess the best way to answer that question is to say I found Children in Reindeer Woods a bit, um, odd.
The story itself is a bit odd. Set in an unnamed, somewhat rural country with a vague Latin American feel, the novel begins with a bloody wartime massacre of a children’s residential care facility. The sole survivor is a young girl named Billie, who rather quickly forms a friendship of sorts with the soldier who did the killing. Sick of army life and wanting to live the simple life of a farmer, the soldier hangs up his fatigues and embraces his new-found vocation. Soon the two become unlikely friends, settle down and begin running the farm attached to the Reindeer Woods children’s home. Along the way they encounter a few quirky people, bicker with each other and keep themselves company with philosophical chats.
But like I said, it’s an odd book. The plot is unusual. Even though the story is told from the perspective of a third person, much of that comes from Billie’s perspective which feels pretty unreliable, or at the very least childlike. It’s a book that I wish I’d enjoyed more, given my fascination for Iceland. But alas, it was not meant to be. Perhaps the next piece of Icelandic literature I encounter will be a bit more to my liking.