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The Whispering Muse

3.49  ·  Rating Details  ·  903 Ratings  ·  152 Reviews
The year is 1949 and Valdimar Haraldsson, an eccentric Icelander with elevated ideas about the influence of fish consumption on Nordic civilization, has had the singular good fortune to be invited to join a Danish merchant ship on its way to the Black Sea.

Among the crew is the mythical hero Caeneus, disguised as the second mate. Every evening after dinner he entrances his
Paperback, 160 pages
Published May 6th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2005)
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Jun 18, 2013 s.penkevich rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mi hermana
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Peter
'The wind was in our favor.'

Stories are the building blocks for our lives and the whole of human history. We all have our own personal experiences which we share with others to create an image of ourselves in their minds, and through the stories of our ancestors we can chart the progression of history as it marches toward the present, while witnessing the creation and destruction of all the civilizations, religions and other governing systems of belief across it’s ever-growing timeline. Even our
Claire McAlpine
I loved this little gem of a book, that demands much more than the 143 pages it is written on. It is an invitation to embark on the adventures of The Argonauts, as told by the second mate Caeneus, who while voyaging on a ship in 1949 narrates his previous adventures on the Argo under Captain Jason in their quest for the Golden Fleece.

Not being familiar with the epic poem written by Apollonius of Rhodes, (Hellenistic poet, 3rd century BC) I diverged off course to familiarise myself with its plot
Gia Scott
Jun 30, 2013 Gia Scott rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was a strange book. Essentially, it's the tale of a tale being told, with the telling occurring a long time ago (for most of us living souls) about an even more ancient tale.
It was okay, but...I just could not ever really get into the story. The main character comes off as somewhat pompous with an overblown sense of racial/ethnic superiority. I couldn't identify with him, or with his points of view. I wanted to shove him off the boat and into the sea, preferably with circling sharks in the
May 03, 2013 jeremy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: translation, fiction
much like the blue fox, sjón's the whispering muse is possessed of qualities that linger long after the novel has concluded. combining elements of greek mythology with modern storytelling (as well as incorporating his grandfather's fascination with icelandic & nordic fish consumption), the whispering muse (argóarflísin) is a lyrical, imaginative work. set mostly upon a merchant ship in the spring of 1949, the crew is regaled nightly by the astonishing tales of mate caeneus's adventures saili ...more
Dec 14, 2014 Antonia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Неговата проза е нещо много различно от всичко, което съм чела. Сьоун наистина притежава безкомпромисен интелект, който успява да обвърже с чувството си за хумор и да представи този синхрон в романа си “The Whispering Muse” (Шепнещата Муза). Там читателят среща Валдимар Харалдсон, ексцентричен и леко надут застаряващ исландец, който се качва на борда на датски кораб в пътешествие до Черно море. Действието се развива през 1949 година, а героят на Сьоун е обсебен от теорията, че превъзходстсово на ...more
Parrish Lantern
Myth or Mythos, From the Ancient Greek μῦθος (muthos, “report”, “tale”, “story”)

A story or set of stories relevant to or having a significant truth or meaning for a particular culture, religion, society, or other group.

Anything delivered by word of mouth: a word, speech, conversation, or similar; a story, tale, or legend, especially a poetic tale.

A tale, story, or narrative, usually verbally transmitted, or otherwise recorded into the written form from an alleged secondary source.

The interrelati
Oct 25, 2013 Bruce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sjón, the pen name of the Icelandic author Sigurjón Birgir Sigurosson, is only now being introduced to the English speaking world as his novels are beginning to be translated. I decided to read this work after reading a favorable review by the esteemed English author A.S. Byatt, whose work I have greatly enjoyed. This curious little novel is hard to pin down, almost impossible to categorize. Such may be Sjón’s intent. The tale begins in the first person, told by the pedantic and supercilious Val ...more
Chihoe Ho
Feb 08, 2013 Chihoe Ho rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With a cover and a title like that, glowing recommendations from renown authors like David Mitchell and Alberto Manguel, and the comparison as "Iceland's Haruki Murakami/Robert Bolaño" from my colleague, it was hard to keep my hands off this book. I had no inkling as to what "The Whispering Muse" was about so it was a pleasant surprise as to how taken I was by the story and the words.

When I say story, I meant a story within a story, where Vladimar Haraldsson is on board a Danish merchant ship an

I’ve read other reviews so I’m aware I was meant to love or at least like this book very much. I didn’t. I didn’t hate it but it didn’t spark my interest as much as it did others’. Perhaps if I was more familiar with Greek mythology I would have had more of a framework for enjoying it.

There was a sly humor in it that I liked and the main character, though unlikable, was an intriguing narrator. He was no one’s fool and was not going to be taken in by the tall tales that were told onboard shi
Jun 07, 2013 Hburke727 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Whispering Muse is a delightful tale. Sjon weaves myth into common human experience and places the thread deftly into historical context. Not too high-minded, and just enough left unexplained. Read it if you'd like a humorous and inspiring story about divinity and humanity intertwined.
Jul 15, 2013 Kitty rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had high expectations with the opening chapter, introducing a highly eccentric protagonist, Valdimar Haraldsson, whose chief preooccupation is the link between fish consumption and the superiority of the Nordic race.

Sjon weaves in details from "Argonautica" by Apollonius of Rhodes, "Medea" by Euripides, "Metamorphoses" by Ovid as well as Nordic sources, through the voice of the second mate Caeneus, (disguised mythical hero) who "before embarking on his tales had the habit of drawing a rotten
Jul 09, 2014 Ademption rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels
2.4 stars rounded down. Sjón, I think we're done here. The Blue Fox is a better novel, but not by much. Meh.
Kyle Muntz
An incredibly interesting combination of elements, and sometimes incredibly hilarious, though I never got the impression this book added up to much, with leaden prose and characters who felt sort of like disembodied mustaches in suits. Still curious for Sjon's other books, but despite some good moments this one just didn't do much for me.
Hlöðver Sigurðsson
Very very Bad and very boring. As an Icelander, don't rate our literature according to this book.
Apr 25, 2014 Drew rated it really liked it
There was more cohesion to this novel as, well, a novel than I experienced with From the Mouth of the Whale and as such it enabled me to enjoy Sjón's writing so much more. He has a gift with phrases that seem to spin out like gossamer thread, glinting in the light - and he creates a vivid picture, even without too many adjectives or bluntly descriptive phrases, of a world in the North. He's the kind of writer who, at his best, can (like Caeneus, perhaps) make a reader (or listener) believe in th ...more
Aug 22, 2014 Danny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Without a doubt, Sjon’s The Whispering Muse is the oddest, little book I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s protagonist, Valdimar Haraldsson is a puffed-up, self-absorbed intellectual who has written a 17 volume set on the correlation between Nordic superiority and Nordic fish consumption. He is a man who cares only about eating fish, talking about fish, and foisting his theories on those around him. He’s strange, he’s cocky, he’s pathetic, and he’s funny. He gets invited to spend time on a Dani ...more
Apr 05, 2015 Amber rated it did not like it
I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

Really... what was the point of this book? It was written in 2005 so there's really no excuse for the overt racism and sexism. The main character was stubborn, obnoxious, and a snob. He constantly just talked about how the Nordic race is the master race because they eat fish all day.

Apparently I'm some sort of illiterate fool for not liking this book, according to other reviews, but I sincerely see zero purpose this book filled. It wasn't an adventur
David Rush
I see my review of Sjon's The Blue Fox is short. I think that was because, in part, I didn't want to ruin my memory of the book with some half-assed literary interpretation of it. That book just made me feel good and I didn't want to spoil that feeling.

This will also be a short, but not for the same reason. I DO like this book, but it doesn't charm the way The Blue Fox does. The Whispering Muse is overt whereas The Blue Fox was about something implied or sensed but not exactly or...there is some
Mar 29, 2014 Tara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I deeply enjoyed this book, but I'm at a loss for reviewing it fully.

However, I will offer one piece of advice: don't lose track of the storyteller, or the storyteller's storyteller, or the history of the storyteller's storyteller. Don't lose track of time.
Jan 14, 2016 Chrissy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody
I received this book for Christmas from a friend who'd heard great things-- and heck, even Bjork was a big fan! What could possibly go wrong?

It was a quick read. Almost too quick, in fact. The major plot arc is set up as a fascinating collision of myth and truth, in which storytelling and reality circle one another and prepare for inevitable battle.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead....

Except it was entirely evitable. Because it doesn't happen. Not much of anything does, if we're being honest. One of my m
Because I started learning Icelandic this year, I decided it would be a good time to check out some Icelandic literature in translation. Most people are familiar with the Icelandic sagas, but there is a lot of modern literature coming out of Iceland too. I realized I could be reading Icelandic literature in a roundabout way. I had been reading David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. The book mentions Halldór Laxness, an Icelandic author who received the Nobel Prize for literature. I know, this isn’t a ...more
Jan 16, 2015 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who love a dose of epicness and mythology with their breakfast cereal
This slim tome is packed to the endpapers with lyrical writing and a serialized story of epic proportions, hidden amongst the most mundane of details. In some ways this is a story within a story within a story, as the narrator: an elderly idiosyncratic Icelandic man tells of a sea voyage he took, and of the stories told on board by the ship's first mate. By the way, the story takes place after WWII, and the narrator has a strange obsession with seafood and Nordic superiority. Oh and by the way, ...more
Andrew Boden
Apr 12, 2015 Andrew Boden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If The Blue Fox didn't quite work in it's final pages, Sjón's The Whispering Muse does. The heroic imagination in the form of second mate Caeneus and a conservative, self-obsessed pedant, Valdimar Haraldsson almost collide on board a Danish merchant ship. I write "almost collide", because Valdimar Haraldsson seems unable to see Caeneus for who he is: an ancient, semi-immortal mariner with a fist-full of fabulous tales to tell. Valdimar prefers his fish and culture studies, viewing pulp loaded on ...more
Michael Sanderson-green
It's official Sjon is now my new favourite author. Each page of this book is a complete surprise in which one has no idea where the story is going you just have to relax and let him take you on a wonderful journey skipping from Creek mythology to magical reality to travelogue. I will now sit and contemplate the meanings of the story.
Christine Bongers
This slim volume took ridiculously long to read because it has so little narrative momentum. It's a bit like a babushka doll, with stories within stories. The narrator of the main storyline is a pompous old Icelandic man whose belief system revolves around the superiority of the Nordic race due to fish consumption. He's on a cruise on a Danish steamship, and the second mate, an incarnation of the Greek hero Caeneus, each night tells stories of his time with Jason and the Argonauts. An abstract, ...more
I wanted to love this book. He's been compared to Calvino, who I love, but I'm left with the feeling that I missed something. Specifically, from the last dinner to the end of the book I'm almost certain I missed something very important that would have made it all make sense.
May 08, 2013 Zach rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A strange book. Narrated by an old man obsessed with the value of the Nordic diet who interacts with a god who just happens to be a mate on a ship. I waited for a payoff and received only a few morsels. But something about the voice of the narrator worked for me.
Lucy Pollard-Gott
This book deftly brings a mysterious figure from Jason and the Argonauts crew onto a modern ocean vessel as a passenger and nightly dinner raconteur. His tales unsettle the passengers, and although this is a short novella, I wasn't left wishing for any more.
Edward Rathke
Feb 01, 2015 Edward Rathke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an astoundingly awesome book and also something quite a bit less. It's peculiar is what I mean.

All kinds of myths mixing with reality, spilling in and swirling round. It's a very cool effect, this novel. It's also a very funny and ironic novel.

I mean, the narrator is all about the racial superiority of the Nordic race but only publishes his work in other languages because he thinks the Nords are too uneducated to understand how great his theories are.

That's just endlessly funny to me.

Feb 09, 2015 Harrison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
caeneus tells the story of his journey on the argo at dinners aboard this ship, putting a piece of wood to his ear beforehand. the narrator, on inspecting the piece of wood, pops a boner. then when caeneus describes the song from the wood (a splinter of the bow of the argo, blessed by some goddess which i forgot) from which he derives his story, the narrator writes (or, in his words, drones):
"while the mate droned on about his peice of wood, i wondered whether oak trees had genders and whether t
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Sjón (Sigurjón B. Sigurðsson) was born in Reykjavik on the 27th of August, 1962. He started his writing career early, publishing his first book of poetry, Sýnir (Visions), in 1978. Sjón was a founding member of the surrealist group, Medúsa, and soon became significant in Reykjavik's cultural landscape.
More about Sjón...

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