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Miss Iceland

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Iceland in the 1960s. Hekla is a budding female novelist who was born in the remote district of Dalir. After packing her few belongings, including James Joyces's Ulysses and a Remington typewriter, she heads for Reykjavik with a manuscript buried in her bags. There, she intends to become a writer. Sharing an apartment with her childhood and queer friend Jón John, Hekla comes to learn that she will have to stand alone in a small male dominated community that would rather see her win a pageant than be a professional artist. As the two friends find themselves increasingly on the outside, their bond shapes and strengthens them artistically in the most moving of ways.

256 pages, Paperback

First published November 1, 2018

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About the author

Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

14 books715 followers
Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir was born in Iceland in 1958, studied art history in Paris and has lectured in History of Art at the University of Iceland. Her earlier novel, The Greenhouse (2007), won the DV Culture Award for literature and was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Award. She currently lives and works in Reykjavik.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 757 reviews
Profile Image for Adina.
776 reviews2,944 followers
June 15, 2020
Please do not judge this novel by the pinkish cute cover. The title and the cover are all meant as an irony to the women’s condition in the 1960’ Iceland, where they were expected only to look good and respond positively to the advances of men.

Hotel Silence was the first novel that I’ve read by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and it was very different (review here). There, the narrator was a man impoverished by loss who tries to escape life in a country torn by war while here, the main character is an independent woman trying to find her way in the capital of Iceland.

Hekla, a young woman aptly named after a volcano, leaves Dalir, a remote part of Iceland to become a writer in Reykjavik. Armed with wit, talent, a manuscript and a typewriter, she has to face a world ruled by straight men who mock her dreams. She is constantly harassed by men for her good looks and invited to participate in a beauty pageant and finds no support from other writers, not even from her boyfriend, also an aspiring poet. She moves together with her best friend Jón John, a gay man who also struggles to find his place in the world and is rejected by society. The trio of misfits is completed by Isey, a married young woman, also a writer, who finds life as a dutiful wife and mother very hard to bear. Living in a basement with no light gives Isey no hope for the future as she sinks deeper in despair and fear of having too many children.

The writing is not too complex, I admit, but it was moving and engaging, I did not feel the time passing while reading.

The ending left me a bit deflated and perplexed but maybe it was the only way it could have ended at that time. As a new island was forming due to a volcanic eruption, it made me think that change was coming although not soon enough.

Thanks to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,844 reviews34.9k followers
June 28, 2020
There is so much I want to share - I’m ACHING!!!!!!
Guess, I just need to rant a minute....
Here goes>>>>>>> LOVE ACHE LOVE ACHE LOVE ACHE LOVE ACHE ....
TEARS....I’m trying to type through tears....
I can’t express enough the impact this book has on me....GOD, I’M SOOOOOOOOOO GLAD I READ IT!
Thank you, thank you, thank you: Audur Ave Olafsdottir, Grove Atlantic, and Netgalley!!!!!! BIG TIME THANK YOU!!!!!

Perhaps it’s our pandemic, [ GRIEVING for and with our families, friends, and communities, with at ‘least’ 440,000 worldwide deaths], due to the coronavirus....
Or
The reality of racial inequality, injustice, discrimination - the need for serious police reform - [BLACK LIVES MATTER] -
Or
America’s policy issues: Conservatism vs. Progressivism,
Or
our overall health care system, concerns
Or
immigration issues
Or
our election integrity......
BUT THIS BOOK is one of the most harrowing, powerful, and imaginative books novels I’ve read this year!!!
It’s little.....thin-slim....
Great things come in small packages! It won’t take long to read....( but I admit reading parts several times)....I loved this small fry story....so I was in no rush to speed read it.
Oh, my god.... I did something I never do. At 95% done....only 5% more to read — I purposely put the book down for a few hours.
And WOW..... how did I intuitively know that was a smart move? I wasn’t expecting to feel so emotional in the last 5 percent.

Intellectually speaking..... I can say what this book covers:
It explores freedom, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, artistic fulfillment, and friendship.....
......haunted by history, piercing literary imagination......
an unassailable tribute to *hope*.....in the shadow of absurdities, layered consciousness, and harsh realities.
Olafsdottir’s sublime talent....plunges into the superficial...plunged right into my heart!

Emotionally speaking ......it goes much deeper than words.
Its ‘experientially’ felt!

I loved everything about this book....the narrative, the descriptions, the dialogue, the characters, the Icelandic atmosphere, the gorgeous prose, the emotions I’m feeling now (ache, sadness, appreciation, hope, empathy, and love)

I’m embarrassed to say this next sentence (again).....as I’ve been here before - and......
I don’t want to come off sounding like a wacky cheerleader......
but truth be told....
when a book is THIS DEAR TO MY HEART....
I WANT TO SCREAM TO MY FRIENDS....***READ IT***

The ending ZAPPED ME.....I WILL THINK ABOUT IT FOR A LONG TIME!!!

Some specifics:
.....We follow Hekla Gottskalksdottir....(in her 20’s), she wants to be a writer. The book begins in the 1940’s. .....moves into the 1960’s.
Hekla left Dalir for Reykjavik......to work ....to write. ( more backstory about her family, birth, name, parents are learned).
Iceland has many male poets...but women poets? women novelists? They are pretty much chopped liver.

Society men would prefer Hekla to raise her skirt above her knees and doll herself up, rather than wear comfy trousers. And why should it matter to others what anyone wants to wear?

.....We meet Hekla’s best ‘guy’ friend: Jon John. He’s gay. He wishes he had a real boyfriend. He also wishes to work in a costume department in a theater....designing and sewing for Shakespeare plays and other theater productions.

.....We meet Hekla’s best girl friend, Isey, ( married with one little girl; later a second girl baby is born). Isey’s husband, Lydur worries ( a little) that Hekla might be influencing Isey with too much nonsense about writing.
Jon John says:

Jon John says:
“Men only want to sleep with me when they’re drunk, they don’t want to talk afterwords and be friends. While they’re pulling up their trousers, they make you swear three times that you won’t tell anyone. They take you to the outskirts of Heidmork and you’re lucky if they drive you back into town”.

“I wish I weren’t the way I am, but I can’t change that. Men are meant to go with women. I sleep with men”.

“I don’t belong to any group,
Hekla. I am a mistake who shouldn’t have been born. He hesitates.
I can’t make sense of myself. I don’t know where I come from. This earth doesn’t belong to me. I only know what it’s like to be pressed into it”.


.....We meet Starkadur (often referred to as ‘The Poet’). He becomes Hekla’s boyfriend. He wishes to be a great writer...but can’t think of what to write.

**** All the characters were struggling with ‘something’! I cherished the many sides sides of the characters dispositions .....and learned from each of them.

.....We meet Odin....the cat 🐱

An atmospheric visual: ( a mouthful of Icelandic street names)...
I moved out of the attic room on Styrimannastigur into the attic room on Skolavordustigur”.
“ In the basement there is an upholstery store, beside which are a dairy shop and a picture framer, diagonally across from a cobbler and barber. There is also a corner shop, a dry cleaners and a toy workshop where they replace the eyes of dolls that have been damaged”.

Want to know about *Miss Iceland*? Every girls dream? Ha!
“...Miss Iceland gets a crown and sceptre, a blue Icelandic festival costume with a golden belt for the competition on Long Island, two gowns and a coat with a fur collar. She gets to stand on stage and go to nightclubs and meet famous boxers and she gets her picture in the papers”. .....
.......Hekla isn’t interested in the beauty society!
“A single sentence is more important than my body”, Hekla thinks.

Isey asks Hekla, “which do you want most, to have a boyfriend or write books?”
In Hekla’s dream world,
“the most important things would be: a sheet of paper, fountain pen and a male body.
“When we’ve finished making love, he’s welcome to ask if he can refill the fountain pen with ink for me”.

Isey says, “ Women have to choose, Hekla”.
“Both in equal measure”.
Hekla adds, “I need to be both alone and not alone”.
“That means that you are both a writer and ordinary”.

Gorgeous moments....
“The skylight has misted up in the night, a white patina of snow has formed on the windowsill. I drape the poets sweater over me, move into the kitchen to get a cloth to wipe it up. A trail of sleet streams down the glass, I traced it with my finger. Apart from the squawk of seagulls, a desolate stillness reigns over Skolavordustigur”.

A quandary....( a jealous boyfriend?)....hmmmm?.
“He stopped reading for me, he’s stop saying: Listen to this, Hekla.
“Instead he wants to know if I’ve written today. And for how long”.
“Were you writing?”
“Yes, I reply”.
“How many pages?”
“I skim through the manuscript: twelve”.
“You’ve changed so much since we met. If you’re not working, you’re writing. If you’re not writing, you’re reading. You’d drain your own veins if you ran out of ink. Sometimes I feel you only moved in with me to have a roof over your head”.

Know much about Ptarmigans? I googled a YouTube video and watched how a funny guy cooked OUT IN THE SNOW of about 9 degrees.....a ptarmigan in olive oil, garlic, onions cabbage carrots ...adding ‘the Ptarmigan’, last.
.............[a northern grouse of mountainous and arctic regions, with feathered legs and feet]


Our younger daughter worked 3 different summers in Iceland. Its where she met her husband. They live in a Canada today.
I’d love to visit Iceland 🇮🇸 ... but whether or not that ever happens...
I will always cherish this story....with an ending that made me cry!
Profile Image for Liz.
1,913 reviews2,348 followers
May 10, 2020
This book reminds you how much has changed in the space of 60 years. Hekla moves to Reykjavik to try and make her way as a novelist. She moves in with her queer friend, Jon John. She is faced with the limitations of her sex and he by his sexual preference. “We kept each other’s secrets. We were equals.”
This book tugs at my heartstrings. It’s not just how the men at the dining room treat Hekla, but more importantly how her poet boyfriend treats her like she’s nothing but a pretty face and a muse.
This is a book that’s sparse on plot but lush in wording. The ending left me perplexed. I wasn’t at all sure what to make of it.
My thanks to netgalley and Grove Press for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Dolors.
515 reviews2,136 followers
July 21, 2020
This is a novel that won’t appeal to all readers, although it did to me.
Iceland in the 60s. A young woman, Hekla, called after a volcano, is an aspiring writer who leaves her hometown hoping to become a novelist and get her works published in a world dominated by men. John Jón, her gay best friend, welcomes her in Reykjavik and together they struggle to be valued for their artistic qualities rather than their gender or sexual orientation.

Ólafsdóttir’s narration is far from conventional. Told in the first-person narrator, the reader never gets to know what Hekla is thinking. Her character is molded by the ponderings and written correspondence of the people who cross her path, giving the false impression of an impersonal storytelling which might be the reason why some readers fail to connect with her abstract voice. I, on the contrary, felt there were layers of significance in Hekla’s missing thoughts.
As the story progresses, Hekla becomes less and less delineated, her works get lost “out in the sea”, sent to publishers who never respond when they learn that a woman is the author of such unusual style. Instead, she is approached again and again by men in different contexts trying to convince her to take part in "Miss Iceland" beauty contest.

Hekla is an invisible woman. That she reads Sylvia Plath or Simone de Beauvoir is no coincidence. Like the lost female authors who never came to be in Virginia Woolf’s famous speech “A room of one’s own” , Hekla needs a male pseudonym to be taken seriously, to be recognized for her talent as a writer, otherwise she is merely a carcass, a beautiful face, an object to be displayed around by her male companions.
Her art, though, is the heart that beats within the layers of this novel. Her words are tangible and real. Her words are pure rhythm, composed with deftness, intelligence and the kind of inward poetry that captures perfectly the silent angst of running against the mainstream standards of a bigoted society. And the beauty of the Icelandic landscape, it’s in these paragraphs where Ólafsdóttir’s prose soars up high.

A quiet but poignant book about the unjust sacrifices an artist must go through to remain true to her art. Like the volcano that gives Hekla her name, the things that really matter explode inwardly in this tale, and sadly, most people don’t even notice.

Note: I received an ACR of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
2,090 reviews587 followers
May 20, 2020
Iceland in the 1960s was a difficult time to be an aspiring female writer. With a harsh, but beautiful landscape built from fire and ice, it was also isolated and male dominated with few options for women apart from menial, underpaid work or marriage and motherhood. A land of many writers, but only men who were allowed to consider themselves as poets and writers with a sparsity of female authors. For Hekla, named for a volcano, writing is all she lives for but she keeps it a secret from all but her two best friends and publishes her work under a male pseudonym. Earning her living as a hotel waitress, she is told sexual harassment is an accepted part of the job and is constantly propositioned by a man who tells her she should enter the Miss Iceland beauty contest. Her boyfriend, an aspiring but unpublished poet, sees her as a trophy girlfriend to show off to his friends and fails to notice the fires burning within Hekla's soul.

Hekla's two best friends also yearn for more in their lives. Isey, married with a child and another on the way acquires art as a way to see beyond her confined life, wheras Jon John, gay and living in constant fear in a homophobic world, wants only to be a costume designer for the theatre. Instead he is forced to take work on fishing vessels and factory ships where he is openly derided by the other crew.

Beautifully written with gorgeous but sparse prose, this somewhat dark and quirky novel is about sexism, deceit, love and friendship but ultimately about the bond between two people who fail to conform to fit into society's strictures. I was a little disappointed by Hekla's decision at the end of the book which felt like a backward step for her and would be interested to hear what other readers think about it. I also felt that the cover for this version of the book does not fit the literary style of the book as well as the other covers I have seen. 4.5★

With thanks to Grove Atlantic and Netgalley for a copy to read




Profile Image for Cheri.
1,684 reviews2,239 followers
July 6, 2020
4.5 Stars

A new author for me, set in a place I’ve never personally seen, although I’ve seen photographs that friends of mine took when they were in Reykjavik on business trips, the year for the main story is 1963, a year when much of the world was seeing changes. Changes in fashion, changes in music, and changes – at least in America – in politics, in the dreams to end racism, as well as relatively new visions for women about their own future. It was the year that four young men from Liverpool became a world-wide sensation, The Beatles, and John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the year of the “March on Washington” and Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, countless sit-in attempts, and other civil rights movement protests. The US involvement in Vietnam was growing, there was a military coup in Iraq, overthrowing Premier Abdel Karim Kassem, and on May 5th astronaut Gordon Cooper completed 22 orbits of earth, and a little more than a month later, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to orbit the earth. A Buddhit monk self immolates in Saigon in protests South Vietnamese government’s persecution again Buddhists. In the US, the average annual income was $5,807.00, an average new house cost $12,650.00 and the average new car cost $3,233.00, while a gallon of gas was 29 cents. LGBT legal protections advanced in some places in the 1960’s, but attitudes were another thing. The world had become a smaller place, and advances were made in some areas, where in others, people dug in their heels and resisted the thoughts of a life where women could be equal to men, and where sexual orientation didn’t determine your worth. Sexism and homophobia were the ‘norm’ and equality was for straight white men only. In 1960’s Iceland, women were either mothers or, if they had the honor of being chosen as Miss Iceland, a beauty queen, they had, at least, a brief reprieve from marriage and motherhood.

Hekla’s father named her for a volcano when she was born, and he took her to see it erupt when she was four and a half years old. When they returned, her mother tells her after some time about how that journey had changed her.

’You spoke differently. You spoke in volcanic language and used words like sublime, magnificent and ginormous. You had discovered the world above and looked up at the sky. You started to disappear and we found you out in the fields, where you lay observing the clouds; in the winter, we found you out on a mound of snow, contemplating the stars.’

This story is primarily Hekla’s, a 21-year-old woman who moves to Reykjavik, the heartland of literature for Iceland. Hekla is a writer who works as a waitress for money to live on, enduring the harassment by male customers at a café and is slowly working her way through reading Ulysses. The café where she works is a favourite of the local poets, writers who meet there regularly. A man offers her the opportunity to become “Miss Iceland,” persisting over and over, trying to convince her of this golden opportunity, while others simply harass her for her looks.

Her childhood friend is a woman who now has children and inundates her with the good, the bad and the ugly of motherhood. Her closest friend, David Jón John Johnsson, a man who works on a whaling ship. Jón John, who knows her best and loves her, confides in her, shares his fears as a gay man in a world that fears and abhors him, and his heartbreaks over the men who use him, making sure he knows they aren’t gay and swearing him to secrecy.

’This earth doesn’t belong to me. I only know what it’s like to be pressed into it.’

There’s something about this book, this story, the writing that was so atmospheric, that transported me to this place and this time, which made it hard for me to leave these people, and this place behind when I reached the last page. As melancholy as this story seems at times, there is so much beauty in the sharing, I felt enveloped in this sense of timelessness, where I wished I could just stay a little longer.


Published: 16 Jun 2020

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Grove Atlantic / Grove Press, Black Cat
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,378 reviews519 followers
March 1, 2021
This slim, melancholic novel set in 1960s Iceland has lodged under my skin. The narrator, Hekla, is a writer who searches for freedom in a stultifying environment. Her matter-of-fact narration exposes little of her inner world but we learn of her through others - her gay friend Jon, her best friend Isey, her poet lover. And the ending - Wow.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,445 reviews2,179 followers
May 25, 2020
Prix Médicis étranger (Best Foreign Novel) 2019
The cutesy cover doesn't do the book justice: One of the most famous female novelists working in Iceland today, Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, has written a book about the patriarchal, conservative Icelandic society of the early 1960's, centering on two women who are writers, but aren't taken seriously as such. Our protagonist and narrator is Hekla (named after the volcano, of course) who hails from the rural West and comes to Reykjavik to get a job, live as an independent woman and write. She finds employment as a waitress but at the job, she is expected to remain silent about the harrassement and discrimination she has to endure while the (male) poets who hang out at the famous Café Mokka don't take her seriously. Hekla finds solace with her childhood friend Ísey, who is also a writer but constrained by what society expects her to be as a young wife and mother, and her gay friend Jón John who is ostracized because of his sexual orientation. All three of them aim to find a place for themselves and try to help each other finding it.

"Ad ganga med bok I maganum", says an Icelandic proverb, "everyone has a book in their stomach". The small country is famous for its many readers and writers, its love for literature, and Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir writes about the fact that for a long time, the right to be taken seriously as an artist was only granted to men: There is Hekla's boyfriend, an aspiring poet, and his male friends who can't wrap their heads around the fact that beautiful Hekla is also a talented equal - they simple don't know how to handle the situation. There is Hekla's father, who ponders life by writing about the impact of the weather on people and the natural world (how Icelandic is that?). There is Jón John, the skilled fashion designer who is forced to work as a sailor, because which "real man" does sew dresses? There is Ísey who is haunted by the stories she cannot write, and of course Hekla who is constantly pestered by a man who wants her to participate in the Miss Iceland contest - but Hekla knows that the citeria they are applying do not do justice to Icelandic women, that conforming is a trap.

This is a melancholic book about three highly relatable characters who are misfits because they refuse to deny themselves. While they are struggling though, erupting lava is creating a new island, thus foreshadowing the new spaces later social movements will open up for women and minorities. Maybe not the most complex novel ever written, but moving and captivating nonetheless.

The German translation will be published by Suhrkamp/Insel in Spring 2021.
Profile Image for Neale .
284 reviews124 followers
November 21, 2019
The novel opens in Iceland in 1942. Because of his love and Passion for volcanos the protagonist of this novel is named by her father after a volcano. Hekla, is an active volcano in the south west of Iceland and also according to her father a beautiful name for a little baby girl.

Four and a half years after Hekla is born the volcano that shares her name erupts after lying dormant for over a century. Hekla’s (the baby, not the volcano) father is in rapturous ecstasy. He knows that most volcano enthusiasts never get to witness an eruption in their lifetime and although he is not there. his sister tells him over the phone exactly what is happening, and he repeats it excitedly verbatim to his wife, who could not care less.

He simply cannot let this once in a lifetime opportunity go by and he grabs his daughter jumps in his jeep and heads to the volcano like a bat out of hell, or a bat out of a volcano. When he returns the melted soles of his boots tell his wife just how close he got to witnessing his dream.

We then jump to 1963. Hekla’s body may be in a bus close to the city of Budardalur, but her mind is very much ensconced in Dublin as she reads James Joyce’s Ulysses. She pauses in her reading to think of the female poet who succumbed to melancholy and walked out into the river one night only to be found wrapped up in the fishing nets the following day.

The female poet was the only role model that Hekla had, all the other poets being men. You see Hekla is already a published writer.

At a stop, an annoying unctuous man slips into the seat beside her and eventually after a lengthy inane one-sided conversation tells Hekla that he sits on the board of the Reykjavik Beauty Society and would she like to become and entrant in their Miss Iceland Beauty Contest. Hekla respectfully declines hoping he will get the message and leave her alone. He leaves her his card in case she has a change of mind.

As she arrives at her friend’s town, she stops on the way to peer through the windows of the Mokka cafe, the café where all the poets hang out, drinking coffee and compiling their latest works of art. She peers through the dark window but cannot make out any faces. Resignedly she trudges on to her friend’s place.

Both of Hekla’s best friends are severely depressed and feel trapped in lives that they don’t wish to live in. Isey, secretly envies Hekla. Her freedom, her writing. She feels trapped with her baby, contradicting herself, saying motherhood is the best thing that can happen to a woman and in the very next sentence wishing she was not stuck with her baby all day every day. There is a hint of mania in her voice as she tells Hekla that you can never take your eyes of them for even a second.

Jon John is a different kettle of fish. “Fish” being an intended pun because when we meet him, he has just returned from a fishing ship. A ship which he tells Hekla he is never going back to. Jon John is a gay man in a time when it is not “ok” to be gay, in fact, it is downright dangerous. The police see the queer folk as little better than paedophiles and Jon John, as well as receiving death threats, has been violently beaten more than once. He dreams to leave this city and work in fashion or the theatre.

Jon John is a mess of self-loathing, declaring to Hekla,

“I wish I weren’t the way I am, but I can’t change that. Men are meant to go with women, I sleep with men.”

“I don’t belong to any group Hekla. I’m a mistake who shouldn’t have been born.”

He never knew his father, an American soldier who sailed away leaving his mum with a copy of A farewell to Arms with an inscription “With love from John”. He never even knew his surname.

The narrative is very heavily character based, which in this case is a good thing as the characters are wonderfully rich and real.

In the 1960’s, writing, although there were a few notable exceptions, was still seen very much as a man’s vocation. This passage sums it up beautifully,

“Men are born poets. By the time of confirmation, they’ve taken on the inescapable role of being geniuses. It doesn’t matter whether they write books or not. Women, on the other hand, grapple with puberty and have babies, which prevents them from being able to write.”

The novel is also about deception and subterfuge. Hekla hides her writing from her poet boyfriend and writes under a male pseudonym, which many women writers were forced to do in order to publish their work.

There is a wonderful passage in the book alluding to deception, where Isey is explaining to Hekla about a painting they have on the wall. Isey tells Hekla that the painter told her that if she scraped the top layer of paint off, there is another painting underneath. Beautiful allegorical writing.

Hekla and Jon John are best friends, and both struggle every day to get by in life.

So, this is a story of the beautiful friendship of two square shaped pegs, born in the wrong time, unable and unwilling to fit into life’s round shape holes on the board. 4 Stars.

Thanks to Grove Press, Black Cat for this ARC.

This novel has an expected publication date of June 16th 2020.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,022 followers
June 6, 2020
Hekla is a writer living in Iceland in the 1960s but because she is a woman, everyone around her keeps trying to tuck her back into more traditional roles of wife and mother. She is beautiful and pursued relentlessly by men who want her to compete to be Miss Iceland with somewhat questionable promises. The other key characters are her father, who is obsessed with volcanoes so much so that she is named after one and their conversations and gifts tend to revolve around whichever volcano is currently active; her close friend who is not straight and gets seasick, leaving him without a lot of options for work or relationships; her other close friend who has her own writing muse but is trapped in a basement apartment (no sun, no room) as a housewife and seems destined to be the mother of many children, close together.

Hekla has kept her writing life a secret and manages to do so even after moving in with her boyfriend who fancies himself a writer, a poet, and joins the other self-declared poets to have coffee and be seen writing in the cafes. In this way the author manages to capture the creative spirit of people living in Iceland but with a somewhat mocking way of revealing how people see themselves vs. where the true talent lies.

After reading Icelandic literature for a year, I'm still drawn back to it - it's a place I still haven't visited and want to, but I learn more about it in every book set there. This one has a lot about the culture of Reykjavik in the 1960s, where whale carving would take place down the block from a bookstore. The post-war years play a role, for instance did you know that an entire island was created by a volcano around the same time JFK was assassinated? There are a lot of place names and it's clearly translated by a British-English speaker because of some of the word choices, but all these things just work together to make it feel more Icelandic, of a certain time and place.

This video is a nice little summary of Icelandic literature featuring several authors I've read and liked, and they do a good job explaining why literature is so important there, and what it is that fuels their creativity. They are all speaking English; I would like to learn Icelandic!

I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher through NetGalley. It comes out June 16, 2020. The author teaches art at the University of Iceland, writes song lyrics for a band, and has won several awards for her fiction and plays.
Profile Image for Ines.
316 reviews185 followers
December 20, 2019
I would say that for this is book there is just a NO,I let myself be convinced after listening to an online podcast of literature and book advices, maybe it is better that I continue with my eclectic method to choose from.
It’s a NO book because the narrative is dry, super synthetic, direct.... sometimes it seems to be in a manual for use's instructions and the narration in first person is really heavy.
The most annoying aspect is this jump from one story to an other of the various characters, without eventually arriving to a clear and solid connection, or a why of the existential questions exposed....
A book brimming with the usual good-hearted clichés, just so as not to revert to the dominant worldwide thought...
Helka can also be nice here and there.... But it remains a bothering woman, a continuous whining....
For those who love boring books that never arrive to a point.



Direi che questo è un libro proprio NO,mi sono lasciata convincere dopo aver ascoltato un Podcast online di letteratura e consigli dei libri,forse è meglio che continui con il mio metodo assolutamente eclettico.
E' un libro NO perchè la narrazione è asciutta, super sintetica, diretta....a volte sembra di essere dentro una brochure di istruzioni d'uso, l'utilizzo della narrazione in prima persona è veramente pesante.
L'aspetto piu' fastidioso è questo saltare da una storia all' altra dei vari personaggi senza che alla fine si arrivi ad un nesso chiaro e solido,o ad un perchè dei quesiti esistenziali esposti....
UN libro infarcito dai soliti clichè buonisti, giusto per non far torno al pensiero unico dominante...
Helka può risultare anche simpatica qui e là....però rimane una zavorra di donna pazzesca, una lagna continua....
Per chi ama i libri pallosi che non quagliano mai
Profile Image for JimZ.
972 reviews423 followers
December 14, 2021
This is the second novel I have read by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir. I read this in one sitting. Overall 4.5 stars, and so that gets elevated to 5 stars in my book, so to speak. 🙂 🙃

I thought it was going to end in a certain way, and it didn’t, and I am glad for that.

I read it in one sitting because in part I found it hard to put down. It was a quick read. It was thought-provoking, a bit sad, a bit uplifting (potential hope for some of the protagonists) ...

The setting is 1963, Iceland, where it rains horizontally, there are lava fields, and there are wetlands to be drained so more of it can be farmed. Men rule the roost. Men are allowed to be poets and writers, and women should get married and have babies, and tend to the house, but before getting married men are allowed to sexually harass unmarried women. Rampant blatant discrimination against gay men (gay women did not figure into the novel). Gay men were forced to marry to put on the patina of being normal (otherwise tongues would be wagging). As mother of a gay man JJ told Hekla “He was shunned (growing up). Children are merciless, but adults are even worse.” As I read this, I am aware I am making this a bleak read. It is and it isn’t. I did not walk away from reading this all bummed out. After all, Hekla is a writer, regardless of the attitudes and views back then. (And she had a supporting father and mother who encouraged her voracious reading.)

Characters are (1) Hekla, early 20s, who is a writer but must hide this fact from even her boyfriend, (2) Starkadur, who is an aspiring poet; the gay friend of hers (3) JJ; and (4) a girlfriend of hers since childhood Isey.

I was pleased to read that Hekla read a book by Tove Ditlevsen, Childhood (although in the book, she calls it Childhood Street). I read that this past year and loved it. 🙂

Note: The book has an earthquake occurring circa mid-60s in Copenhagen (or at least where people there feel it, and stuff falls off shelves), but I can’t find any mention of it when googling it.

Reviews:
https://www.npr.org/2020/06/16/877631...
https://booksandbao.com/review-miss-i...
https://www.popmatters.com/auur-ava-l...
Profile Image for Laura y sus libros.
300 reviews116 followers
August 5, 2021
A pesar de que Islandia es uno de los países con más escritores por habitante (1 de cada 10 islandeses ha escrito un libro) creo que es la primera vez que leo a una autora de allí y diría que no nos llega mucha literatura de tan al norte o yo desde luego la desconozco.

Para mi Islandia tiene un significado personal muy especial así que cuando vi en el reto de Pop Sugar la categoría: Un libro de tu lista TBR que asocias con una persona, lugar o cosa favorita fui de cabeza a buscar un libro que se desarrollara allí y me topé con “La escritora” cuya autora es una superventas allí.

Es una historia narrada de una manera muy peculiar con una prosa sencilla muy mundana que nos permite adentrarnos de lleno en la Islandia de 1963 y conocer un poco de su cultura tan diferente a la nuestra.

Hekla abandona su ciudad natal Dalir (Budardalur) al noroeste de la isla para adentrarse en la “moderna” Reikiavik para intentar cumplir su sueño de ser escritora. Y digo intentar porque en esos años allí las mujeres tenían tantas trabas sociales como en el resto de Europa y su destino estaba abocado a encontrar un buen marido y crear una famila.

Hekla ya ha publicado algunos poemas y artículos bajo pseudónimo masculino pero su sueño es ver publicada una de sus novelas.

En este periplo vital, conoceremos a su mejor amigo John John que la acoge en la capital con el que conoceremos qué es ser homosexual en los años 60 en un país con tan pocos habitantes (183.991 hab. en 1963 368.792 hab. en 2020), conoceremos a Isy su mejor amiga de la adolescencia que se debate en cumplir los designios marcados por la sociedad criando a su hija y atendiendo a su marido y explotar esa necesidad de escribir y contar al mundo lo que siente y ve.

En un libro tan corto se tratan varios temas de actualidad como la homosexualidad, la discriminación, el papel de las mujeres y su falta de igualdad de derechos e incluso el acoso sexual.
Me ha gustado conocer a Hekla y su necesidad de crecimiento, sus pies en la tierra y su firme determinación.

Reconozco que el final me ha dejado un sabor algo amargo pero no deja de ser un final coherente con la historia.

Si nunca habéis leído nada desarrollado en este país os invito a hacerlo y a conocer esos paisajes fascinantes llenos de colores a pesar de no haber apenas vegetación y esos nombres imposibles de pronunciar. Y por supuesto si no lo habéis visitado no lo dudéis.
Profile Image for A..
331 reviews48 followers
January 23, 2023
"-Estoy viva. Soy libre. Estoy sola"-dice Hekla, que no sabe muy bien si debe alegrarse o no por eso. Es que Hekla quiere ser escritora en la Islandia de los años 60, esto es, en un lugar y un tiempo donde las pocas mujeres que publican lo hacen bajo pseudónimos masculinos. Hekla es devuelta una y otra vez hacia el espacio de femineidad y domesticidad en el que debería moverse con pericia, pero ella prefiere su vieja máquina de escribir, las historias y las charlas con sus dos mejores amigos: un hombre homosexual condenado a la clandestinidad (recordemos que está ambientada en los años 60) y una mujer casada y con niños que, al igual que Hekla, aspira a ser escritora. Ambos tendrán sus propias luchas personales, su propias angustias existenciales y sus propios gozos efímeros.
"La Escritora" es una novela introspectiva y lenta que, sin ahogarnos en el monólogo interno de los personajes, consigue conmover con una escritura objetiva, parsimoniosa y melancólica. En inglés se ha mantenido la idea original del título en idioma islandés: "Miss Islandia" que define con ironía el objetivo lógico y máximo al que podría aspirar una mujer hermosa en aquellos años y cuya posibilidad se le plantea a la protagonista en un segmento de la historia. Un alma al borde de la erupción constante a la que no se le permite estallar.
(3,5 estrellas, pero merece el redondeo hacia arriba) :)
Profile Image for Holly R W.
315 reviews21 followers
January 16, 2022
"Miss Iceland" transported me back in time to 1960's Iceland. What I enjoyed most about the book was learning about the country and its culture. I was intrigued with the Icelandic language, which is incorporated into the story - its words and sounds.

The Iceland pictured here is a small island holding 300,000 people who are homogeneous. They are accustomed to a harsh climate of cold, wind and very little sunlight. The island is full of contrasts: volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs and barren land without trees. Iceland has only one city, Reykjavik. Working as a fisherman, sailor or in a concrete factory are jobs done by the characters in the book. One character uses art prints as a way to bring some color into her dark apartment, due to the lack of windows and sun. Nearly all recipes involve fish - A standout is fish balls in pink sauce.

The story itself revolves around four characters who are in their beginning 20's. Hekla is the central character. She is stunningly beautiful, self-composed and works at writing novels and poetry. She comes to Reykjavik to find employment, but can only find a poor paying job as a waitress. She must contend with sexual harassment on her job. She is also not taken seriously as a writer, as this is considered men's work.

Hekla's friend Isey is living in a basement apartment in Reykjavik. At 21 years old, she is married with a small daughter and is pregnant with her second child. She loves being a mother, but also yearns to be a poet. She keeps a diary of made-up events, due to the lack of stimulation in her life. Her letters to Hekla are most creative and quirky.

Hekla's friend Jon John identifies himself as queer. He has a difficult life due to being constantly harassed. At times, he gets beat up and hurt. Jon John and Hekla have a genuine appreciation for each other. Just as Hekla pours herself into writing, Jon John's creative outlet is sewing. At one time in the story, he sews Hekla an evening gown in the shade of the northern lights.

Lastly, Starkadur is Hekla's boyfriend. He too, has aspirations of being a poet. He gets frustrated that Hekla is not inclined towards traditional feminine roles. For Christmas, Starkadur gives her a book entitled, "How to Cook".

The story itself meanders a bit. What stands out is the author's creative prose, which sometimes can read like poetry. Thank you, Ms. Olafsdottir, for introducing me to the charms of your country.

4.5 stars


Here is an Icelandic comic talking about his country. Enjoy!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0yxI...
Profile Image for Story.
847 reviews4 followers
June 28, 2020
I really enjoyed this novel, set in 1963 Reykjavik, about an aspiring young author and her gay best friend who leave their rural community with hopes of finding a place to be themselves in a sexist and homophobic world. Though the flat, understated prose took me a while to get used to, it soon became clear that much of the story was taking place between the lines and was filled with dark humour and a surprising amount of tension.

Recommended for lovers of international literature and anyone with an interest in the creative process, feminism and LGBTQ+ stories.
Profile Image for Sara Lit.
11 reviews26 followers
May 20, 2020
Je me suis totalement identifiée à Helka ! Cela faisait longtemps qu'un personnage de roman ne m'avait pas tellement parlé. Très belle lecture.
Profile Image for Ms.pegasus.
687 reviews130 followers
September 30, 2021
Set in 1963 this novel presents a striking contrast to contemporary images curated by Iceland's tourism board. In this book dormant volcanoes simmer building a powerful explosive pressure, as the opening journal entry by the 19th century nationalist poet Jónas Hallgrímsson reminds us.

Three painfully alienated people on the threshhold of adulthood are the focal points of the book. They have moved from the insular culture of the rural northwest to Reykjavík to what they imagine will be a freer society. They are disappointed.

Hekla is a talented writer. Her early works have been published under a male pseudonym. Driven by literary ambition, she is now determined to complete a full novel. We see this story through Hekla's eyes.

Ísey is also a talented writer with literary aspirations. However, she married a semi-literate dyslexic laborer and has a toddler to care for. Her husband is frequently absent due to his job. Her poverty of both finances and stimulation are quietly allluded to. She gleans poetry from the newspapers their fishmonger uses to wrap their purchases. Instead of visiting art galleries, she immerses herself in the luminous landscapes given to them by her mother-in-law. She confides to Hekla that she has been writing a secret journal. She describes it with penetrating candor: “'I write about what happens, but since so little happens I also write about what doesn't happen. The things that people don't say and don't do.'” (p.31) She interprets a series of vivid dreams – auguries of a life of never-ending pregnancies. Yet, she is eager to renew her connection with Hekla. After coffee she reads Hekla's cup: “'There are two men in the cup....You love one and sleep with the other.'” (p.32)

The third character is Jón. He is gay and tells Hekla about the homophobic violence and humiliation he has experienced as a sailor. It was the only job he could get. First he was on a whaling ship. Then he sailed on a rust-bucket trawler. (We have already viewed the brutality of whaling as Hekla describes the port where her bus stops). His secret hope is to save enough to become a costume designer for the theater. He is as attached to his sewing machine as Hekla is to her typewriter.

The masculine entitlement that pervades Icelandic culture is crushing the spirits of these people. When Hekla takes a job as a waitress (at a fraction of the wages earned by the waiters), she is subjected to lewd comments and groping by the regular clientele of old men. One persistent harasser insists she should enter the Miss Iceland beauty pageant. He insists that she would be a sure winner under his management and grooming. As I read these passages the indelible image of Donald Trump's creepiness immediately took hold in my mind.

Hekla and Ísey were both named by their fathers. Hekla's mother had wanted to name her daughter Arnhildur, inspired by the eagles she kept seeing during her pregnancy. Instead, Hekla's father, fascinated by volcanoes, named her for the dormant volcano which erupts four and a half years later. As it turns out, both names would have been fitting. Ísey's name means “Ice Island,” an unintentional prediction of her future.

Reykjavík is filled with numerous literary cafés. A big difference from the Parisian establishments they seem to be aping: women are excluded. An early chapter heading says it all: “Poets are Men.” An Icelandic Simone deBeauvoir would be unthinkable.

Unfortunately, I never felt the characters in this book come to life. Moreover, I did not understand Hekla's attraction to “the Poet.” The social critique felt heavy handed, and much of the plot was predictable.

I wondered why the author was telling this story. Was she connecting this past with an unacknowledged foundation of Icelandic culture? Part of my problem may have been that the novel is filled with allusions to Icelandic authors and painters. Had I been familiar with them, I might have felt more of the novel's flavor. I read this book because it was the selection of a local book club. It has been widely praised so I will be interested to hear how other members reacted to the book.

NOTES: Author asks us to consider how many creative women were stifled by the attitude prevalent at the time (use a translation app, the article is in Icelandic). https://www.ruv.is/frett/samfelag-sem...
Profile Image for Moonkiszt.
1,922 reviews205 followers
February 12, 2020
Miss Iceland

Wear a sweater and your Uggs when reading this lovely book. The characters are quirky, unexpected and in a place that is as foreign to me as may be possible, despite the DNA connection I have to the North Countries. Surrounded by sea and sharing acreage with active volcanoes, Hekla and Jon John are attempting what many do – they run away to somewhere foreign to see if they can fit in there. Both have a few hot spots of friendship, but none that can sustain, only distract them. Throughout, the narrative is hung on webs of the most beautiful language, words looped onto words. Chapter heads are mini poems, on their own.

Atmospheric, foggy, wet, frozen, rainy, slippery, and with contrasting hot, bright weather, Hekla makes her way through all of the challenges of her time. As a beauty in a world of men, she is groped and poked at; in her ears are placed whispers about what she “ought” to be doing with herself, and even women try to keep her in a woman’s place. All she wants to do is write, and she carts her tools everywhere, fighting her battles with keystrokes. She resists, pushing back . . .until she. . . .quits . . .or did she? I was bereft at her choice. This is one of those reads that needs revisiting – I know I will be revisiting.

3.5 stars. . . tucked in a plate of haddock, with a side of potatoes.

A sincere thanks to Audur Ava Olafsdottir, Grove Atlantic / Grove Press / Black Cat and NetGalley for providing me an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Antoinette.
716 reviews32 followers
January 22, 2021
I certainly seem to be on a roll reading about repressed women. This book takes place in the 1960’s, in Reykjavik, Iceland. Hekla, named after a volcano (interesting how they choose names for their kids), has moved to Reykjavik to find work and to pursue her dream of writing. She meets a poet, who is as of yet unsuccessful. She does not tell him she is a writer as well. We are at a time where women’s place is in the kitchen, where she is subservient to her male partner, where his needs and wants should come above hers.

Hekla has a best friend, Jon John, who is gay. Of course, that is another no no in the 1960’s. He is another outsider, struggling with his desires and choices.

Isey, is Hekla’s other friend. She is married, having children and wishing she could write as well. From her, we learn the traditional expected role of women at that time.

The author (and translator), have brought these 4 people completely to life in this short novel. This being the 1960’s, we of course deal with the issues of that time in Iceland- the expectations of women and the homophobia.

I think this may be the first book I have read by an Icelandic writer. Very much enjoyed it.

“ I can’t let it go Isey. Writing. It’s my lifeline. I have nothing else. Imagination is the only thing I have.”

Reading is my lifeline- so happy there are so many books and so many wonderful authors.

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher First Grove Atlantic and the author for an advanced e copy of this book.
Profile Image for Marianne.
3,264 reviews114 followers
April 9, 2020
4.5★s
“Eternity isn’t within my reach. Compared to you, Hekla, who are the daughter of a volcano and the Arctic sea, I am the daughter of hillock and heath!”

Miss Iceland is a novel by Icelandic author, Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir. It is translated from Icelandic by Brian Fitzgibbon. She was delivered by the local vet and named after a volcano, quite against her mother’s wishes, by her volcano-mad father. Her mother later said of Hekla: “that there needs to be… chaos in the soul to be able to give birth to a dancing star…” From a very young age, she was determined to be a writer.

In 1963, twenty-one-year-old Hekla Gottskalksdottir, slim and beautiful, takes the coach from Dalir to Reykjavik with a plan: she will find a job, a place to live, and she will write. On the bus though, she catches the eye of a middle-aged man, who feels sure she would do well in the Miss Iceland pageant. No, thank you.

She looks up her two best friends: Isey, married with a baby; Jon John who, with his sewing machine is set to make a name for himself in wardrobe for theatre, but this queer feels very much the misfit in 1960’s Iceland.

Despite the deep faith her two friends have in her work, there’s no instant, or even gradual, success to be had in Reykjavik. In her waitressing job, she is poorly paid and subject to constant sexual harassment. Her manuscripts are rejected by publishers; instead, entry into the Miss Iceland pageant is regularly recommended. Jon John finds he is no freer in the city than in Dalir.

Her new boyfriend, a librarian and frustrated, aspiring poet, who firmly believes “For every thought that is conceived on earth, there is an Icelandic word”, is unaware of Hekla’s literary ambitions: “Does he know about the wild beast that’s running loose inside you and waiting for you to release it? Does a poet understand a poet?”

Isey asks: “’Which do you want the most, to have a boyfriend or write books?’ I give it some thought. In my dream world the most important things would be: a sheet of paper, fountain pen and a male body. When we’ve finished making love, he’s welcome to ask if he can refill the fountain pen with ink for me.”

Ólafsdóttir clearly demonstrates the invidious position, in the early 1960s, of women and gay men within the homophobic patriarchy prevalent in many countries, but especially one as insular as Iceland. Her characters are forced to take pragmatic steps to survive, if not really thrive.

Ólafsdóttir’s prose is quite sparse and understandably has a Nordic feel; the characters are a bit quirky; and the place names will be a tongue-twister for readers not of Scandinavian extraction. Familiarity with the many Icelandic and Danish poets and authors might well enhance the enjoyment of this novel, but it is not absolutely necessary. This is a bit deeper and darker than the cover picture and English blurb seem to suggest, but certainly a beautifully written, moving read.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Grove Atlantic
Profile Image for Krista.
785 reviews59 followers
June 29, 2020
2.5 stars rounded down to 2 stars

I was so optimistic about this book. It is a work of historical fiction (set in the 1960’s). It is set in Iceland. It centers on a woman who has an internal compulsion to write. Three Strikes, ‘You’re In’. I quickly added it to my NetGalley reading queue. Despite those things that attracted me to this book, it just fell a bit flat for me.

We meet Hekla as she takes the bus from her small village to move to Reykjavik. Upon arriving in Reykjavik, she initially moves in with a good friend from her village, Jon John. Jon John is gay, and struggles with his own issues in 1960’s Iceland. He is also out at sea, working on fishing boats, a great deal of the time. Then Hekla meets a guy who has dreams of being a poet, and she eventually moves in with him.

Sadly, in this era and region, Hekla can’t get anyone to take her writing seriously. All sorts of men are constantly complimenting her on her beauty. One creepy guy keeps asking her to be in her ‘Miss Iceland’ pageant. Her writing skills are always discounted. She can’t even share her writing with her ‘poet’ boyfriend for fear of his ridicule, or his emasculation. He talks about writing. She writes.

The plot was just sad to me. When I was picturing the story in my mind, it was running as a grainy Black and White film. It was not in Technicolor. The book’s pace is slow. The people were either full of angst and quiet desperation, or were self-absorbed jerks. Perhaps that is how it really was in the 1960’s in Iceland. I am so grateful that I was not a woman, or gay, coming-of-age in that era and location. There were moments and passages of radiant writing. There were also many times that it felt like the author was just trying too hard to be profound. It turns out that for me, this book should have been Three Strikes, ‘You’re Out’.

‘Thank-You’ to NetGalley; the publisher, Grove Atlantic, Black Cat; and the author, Audur Ava Olafsdottir for providing a free e-ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. ust yet. I'm going to let it settle for a few days.
Profile Image for Michel Jean.
Author 19 books553 followers
March 6, 2020
Quel beau roman... J'aime la plume simple de Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir. Elle nous fait oublier la complexité de ses personnages et de leurs destins.
Profile Image for Whitney.
131 reviews48 followers
July 25, 2020
Overall: I really wanted and tried to like this one, but it just fell flat.. barely finished it and the writing is what kept me going 2/5

Summary: Set in 1963 Reykjavík we follow the story of the heroine, Hekla. Named after a volcano and a woman before her time, Hekla is a strong and interesting character with dreams of being a writer. Unfortunately, during the time this book takes place men think Hekla's place is in a beauty pageant rather than following her drive.

The Good: Beautiful writing- this is a book that transports you to a different time and place. Hekla is a good character with a strong voice. I also enjoyed her two friends which had important supporting roles in the book and were pretty well developed.

The Bad: Not much put and overall this book didn't do too much for me. I felt frustrated and angry most of the time and absolutely hated the poet.

Favorite quotes:
"When a man lives with a volcano, he knows there's glowing magma underneath."
Profile Image for Britta.
314 reviews30 followers
May 26, 2022
Perfect (feminist) summer read!
Profile Image for Jocelyn.
236 reviews1 follower
March 7, 2020
Don't let the whimsical cover and writing style fool you, this book packs a serious punch within its short pages. It's a meandering story that follows Hekla as she tries to pursue a writing career in mid-20th century Iceland.

The book is written in a detached way, only letting us get glimpses of Hekla and the cast of characters in her life. These glimpses do tell us a lot about them, though. Her best friend is a self-loathing homosexual man who is at constant war with himself over his attraction to men and to his desire to one day be a costume designer.

Her other closest friend is finding that marriage and motherhood are not what she dreamt it would be and is obviously suffering from post-partum depression, although I'm not sure those around her would realize it, let alone the poor mother herself.

There's a boyfriend, a man who is extremely self-involved with his projected image as an up and coming poet. He seems to treat Hekla almost like an accessory for the life he wants rather than seeing her for who she is. Although in his defense Hekla does keep things close to her chest. We don't learn much about her, yet at the same time we also learn a lot about her. We know she writes constantly, but we never get to see any of her writing. We can tell she loves her friends and family, but we never see her explicitly express it. We learn she is beautiful, but we never get a description of what that beauty looks like.

It was an odd dynamic with the short sentences and chapters that seemed to constantly change direction it was often hard to see where this book wanted to go or what it was trying to say. It was a dynamic that ultimately worked, however, even if I'm still not entirely sure what the ending meant!

The writing style was certainly unique and unless you were really paying attention you might miss the darker undertones between the lines. The more I think about it, the more grim I realize the book was and that's not just because of the volcanic landscape the characters live in. I enjoyed what I read and look forward to reading more about this author. I love Scandinavian literature but Iceland is not a country I've read many books from. I'm glad to have been given a chance to read Miss Iceland and would recommend it to anyone looking for an introduction to Icelandic literature.
Profile Image for Abbie | ab_reads.
603 reviews453 followers
April 25, 2020
(#gifted @pushkin_press) I was pleasantly surprised by this refreshing historical fiction novel set in Iceland during the 1960s! I've not read anything from any Icelandic authors before, and really don't know much about the country except that the landscape looks beautiful 🙈 But in Miss Iceland we see a different side to the usual tranquil nature and Northern Lights - rather, we see a tight-knit community that is proud of its literary heritage and yet resistant to change.
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One such change is women writing. Enter Hekla, named after one of Iceland's volcanoes and harbouring dreams of being an esteemed author. But her country is reluctant to allow her beyond the traditional roles for women: raising a family, or working in retail or hospitality environments where sexual harassment is part of the daily norm. Hekla takes such a job in a hotel, where she avoids the advances of older men, including one stubborn man determined to convince her to compete in the Miss Iceland competition. At night, she writes.
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As well as Hekla, we follow the lives of her two friends Ísey and Jón John. Ísey succumbed to the pressure to marry early and is now expecting her second child at 21, utterly overwhelmed by motherhood and turning to writing in secret to sort through her feelings. Jón John is a gay man, putting his life in peril every time he is forced to take a job on a fishing trawler, while dreaming of a life abroad as a costume designer. I think I was most moved by Ísey's storyline, as I'm a sucker for any exploration of motherhood, but all three were well written.
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The translation by Brian FitzGibbon is smooth, and Ólafsdóttir's prose is simple and straightforward - maybe a bit too simple on occasion. There's no flowery language or anything like that, which I'm sure will be a positive for many readers, but I am partial to a bit of purple prose if I'm honest! Still, it's refreshing and it gets the job done.
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I highly recommend this one if you're looking to read something a little different in the historical fiction genre!
Profile Image for Fei.
380 reviews42 followers
December 11, 2019
Coup de coeur.

A beautiful and poetic writing that transports us to Iceland in the 60s, grey and cold, patriarchal, homophobic but this book is also about feminism, hope, freedom and literature <3
I didn't know what to expect when I started this book, I was very surprised but charmed.

+ This book made me want to look at Icelandic literature even more!
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