Larissa's Reviews > The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning

The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgrímur Helgason
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
20698
's review
Mar 18, 12

bookshelves: for-review, in-translation, icelandic, 2012, nordic
Read from February 03 to 06, 2012

Review published in The L Magazine on March 14, 2012, here: http://goo.gl/M8JcA

***

Tomislav Boksic, or Toxic, is the go-to hitman for the Croatian mafia in New York. A former soldier, Toxic prides himself on his impeccable hit record, his “sex bomb” girlfriend, and his decadent Manhattan lifestyle. But when kill #67 turns out to be an undercover FBI agent, Toxic has to flee America, assume the identity of a televangelist named Father Friendly, and hide in Iceland, a country he only knows from travel advertisements of “lunar landscapes and sunny faces.”

In the wake of its financial collapse, Iceland has invested significant energies in exporting itself both as a tourist destination (think of all those alluring subway ads), and—justifiably—as a hotbed of cultural innovation. A new partnership between AmazonCrossing and the Icelandic Literature Fund is representative of this effort: The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgrímur Helgason is one of ten Icelandic novels that the press will release in English this year. Hallgrímur previously gained attention in the U.S. with his slackers-in-the-city novel 101 Reykjavík, and Baltasar Kormakur’s subsequent film adaptation. (There’s a fun moment in Housecleaning when Toxic discovers “the most famous bar in the land, heavily featured in some hip movie years back”—referring to the iconic Kaffibarinn in 101 Reykjavík.)

Housecleaning shares much of 101 Reykjavík’s sensibilities. On one hand, both protagonists—with their respective rating systems for women—could use some feminist sensitivity training. On the other, both books make for great mini-guides to Icelandic culture. It’s a clever device in Housecleaning—Toxic is essentially a tourist, so there’s ample reason to share factoids about Iceland: the country has no army, prostitutes, or handguns; and on particularly warm days (60ºF), businesses close for a “sun-break” so that “employees can go outside and enjoy the heat wave.”

Housecleaning is also notable in that it wasn’t actually translated from Icelandic—Hallgrímur wrote the novel in English. The prose is rhythmic and fluid, and showcases his linguistic creativity. Toxic not only has a flare for descriptions (“her hair… has the color of butter fresh from the fridge”) but also converts all the Icelandic names and words he hears into a phonetic English hitman-ese: he hears a woman’s name, Gunnhildur, as “Gunholder.” The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning was written prior to Iceland’s meltdown, but these efforts to familiarize outsiders with Icelandic culture and situate the country in a greater global context feel particularly appropriate for the current moment.
1 like · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning.
sign in »

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

dateDown_arrow    newest »

message 1: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn This was reviewed in Iceland Review and sounds good. Are you enjoying it? I didn't see it in Reykjavik but may get it online.


Larissa Very quick read--I finished it over a weekend. There are aspects of his writing style which aren't up my alley (he's not the greatest feminist, let's say), but I found that what he did with language here was really interesting. He wrote the book in English and there are a lot of plays on the ways that Icelandic words sound, which is a lot of fun--particularly if you get the joke. It's also interesting because the character is unfamiliar with Iceland, so you get a lot of information about the country with him as you read it. And his back story (the hitman's) is actually worked in fairly well. So yes, I enjoyed it. I am going to write two reviews of this one, so I'll try to get my thoughts more organized shortly...


back to top