Are there any bookstores I should visit that have a great English language section for visitors?
You may have heard of Laxness’s most famous novel, “Independent people”, which was originally published in the early 1930s and became one of the first Icelandic novels released in the United States in 1946. If you go down Laugavegur and then go to Skólavörðustígur, you will no doubt find a copy of ‘The Book of Sheep’, as we called it when we were young and irreverent, in the Eymundsson bookshop across the street from the old town jail. The shop has a good selection of all Icelandic literature available in English, and a cafe to boot. There you can sit and browse, and maybe even read the first pages about Bjartur’s quest for independence from other men and his daughter’s quest for independence from him. And about his sheep.
Laxness inspired, but he also cast a shadow, and if you had been an aspiring writer in Iceland in the 40s or 50s, or even the 60s, you probably would have felt both. Eventually other shadows joined him – including many from abroad – so that over time it seemed as if there were no shadows at all, just inspiration.
At Eymundsson you may want to pick up”The Good Shepherd,Gunnarsson’s classic novel – the deceptively simple story of Benedikt, a man who searches for sheep in the middle of winter. Gunnarsson wrote mainly in Danish and was translated into Icelandic by Laxness. He later translated some of his novels himself, but Laxness proved to be a better Gunnarsson in Icelandic than Gunnarsson himself.
If you get closer to us in time, I advise you to pick up the tender tale of madness by Einar Már Guðmundsson “Angels of the Universe”; Auður Ava lafsdottir’s “The Greenhouse”, subtle and elegant; sjon’sThe blue fox”, a lyrical, fabulous novella; Hallgrimur Helgason’sThe woman at 1000 degrees,which is louder than the previous three novels (as it should be – the main character lives in a garage with her laptop and an old hand grenade); or Auður Jónsdóttir’s “quake”, where amnesia and family secrets are intertwined. Then there is the historical novel by Jón Kalman Stefánsson”The sorrow of angels”, which transports you to the Westfjords, and Einar Kárason’s “storm petrels”, which will take you directly to sea in treacherous weather.
You will also discover that crime fiction is very much alive in Iceland, ably represented by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Arnaldur Indriðason and Ragnar Jónasson.
I wish there were many more Icelandic authors available in English translations: by now you may have been inspired to learn Icelandic to remedy that.