This is a book that you have to give yourself over to, you have to meet it where it is and accept its way of imparting the story, of whether there is a story at all, and how the author has built her main character, and how that main character chooses to share her world with you.
Once you’ve done that the book embraces you like waves coming onshore. But is it the cold waters of the North Atlantic or something warmer? I have my opinions, and I know you’ll have your own.
Through Hekla we see Iceland in the early 1960s as she endeavors to be a published author, but more importantly to be herself. We accompany her from leaving her family’s farm in the west of Iceland, travelling to Reykjavik with her few belongings including her typewriter, to meet up with her best friends who are already there, and then finally abroad. We meet Jón John and Ísey, and their own struggles with accepting who they are and what life has to offer them as a gay man and a young mother. We see self-invention in Hekla’s boyfriend Starkadur, of his expectation of who is he and who he will be, and of who Hekla will be in relation to that.
This is a book that deals with the desire for creativity and the desire for beauty and what that means in practical terms. There are those, the poets at the cafes, who spend their time around the idea of creativity and beauty and there are those who sit down and make it happen – Hekla, Jón John, and Ísey – in their own ways. Auður pokes at why there were so few women writers in Iceland in at the time, and how women writers were not expected or encouraged. The title even draws from this – of how Hekla is dogged throughout by men who want her to take part in the Miss Iceland beauty contest and how it is all a scam. This is also a book about how a society can limit the creative, sensitive people and following one who would push beyond that for as far as she can push.
All set against Iceland’s physicality, of glaciers and volcanoes, and newly birthed islands, and a city growing into itself.