On this blog, I’ve mentioned an interest in Japanese literature and writers such as Osamu Dazai, but prior to that passion I had this obsession with really anything to do with Iceland – perhaps especially it’s amazing, otherworldly landscape. I felt drawn to the isolated nature of this land, though unfortunately I’m still yet to visit the place. But one way to get closer to a land and its people is to read its literature!
Halldór Laxness is the most famous of Icelandic writers and the only one to claim the Nobel Prize for Literature for his epic ‘Independent People,’ but I actually haven’t read that, although my brother has, and it’s his favorite book too… but what I’d like to talk about is his novel ‘The Fish Can Sing,’ which I found so charming, it’s about an orphaned boy who’s taken in by an ragtag cast of eccentrics who raise him, and at his new home guests are welcomed in every so often whenever they need shelter. The boy comes into contact with a travelling musician who changes his outlook on the world, and makes him think beyond the narrow horizons he currently finds himself in.
But what really struck me was the exquisite prose style Laxness employed throughout, granted I was reading a translation, but it flowed so well, like poetry at times:
“His constant silent presence was in every cranny and corner of Brekkukot – it was like lying snugly at anchor, one’s soul could find in him whatever security it sought. To this very day I still have the feeling from time to time that a door is standing ajar somewhere to one side or behind me, or even right in front of me, and that my grandfather is inside there pottering away.”
So the writing style of Laxness is very flowery and descriptive, which isn’t for everyone, of course. But after reading ‘The Fish Can Sing,’ I felt inspired to write beautifully like Laxness had. Not to reach the same heights, naturally, but I wanted to write with some style. Even writing on Internet message boards, I would try to infuse my messages with a particular style that would set them apart from others. I’m feeling really pretensious now, like a snob, but some people praised my writing, I recall.
Then later on I got into Japanese literature and to give one example, the Yasunari Kawabata novel ‘Beauty & Sadness,’ in contrast to Laxness’ prose, this story was written in a much more simplistic fashion. But what impressed me was that Kawabata managed to convey so much with supposed simplistic language.
“I suppose even a woman’s hatred is a kind of love.”
-Yasunari Kawabata, Beauty and Sadness