Books of Literature by Nobel Prize Winning Authors: 2020 Challenge discussion

World Light
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Tracey (traceyrb) | 365 comments This Icelandic Nobel Prize winner has written several books that look good but the one chosen as a group read for June is World Light.

Please post comments and links about the book and/author below. As much input as you can will be much appreciated as my typing skills are severally effected by my illness.


message 2: by Brian E (last edited May 30, 2018 11:39AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brian E Reynolds | 39 comments I will be reading World Light sometime in June. I'm just not sure when as I don't have the book, yet.
I read Laxness' Independent People several years ago and, while not an easy, enjoyable read, it was a very affecting reading experience and a truly great novel.
Since then, I have been wanting to try a second Laxness novel and could never decide on which one. I considered Under the Glacier and Iceland's Bell but am extremely happy and relieved to have someone else choose another good candidate, World Light, for me.


Brian E Reynolds | 39 comments I have started and am midway through Part 2. World Light was written in 4 Parts, published annually in 1937, 1938, 1939 and 1940. It is a 600 pages. longer than I initially thought. I just tell myself its only half of War & Peace.
I enjoyed the first Part, in the same way I enjoy Hardy and Hamsun, but find myself occasionally a bit lost since the main character has regained mobility for Part 2. I know it is a Bildungsroman novel of a young poet in 19th century Iceland, but I am not sure of the intended tone in Part 2, whether it is serious, satirical or magical. Right now, I will just go with the flow, enjoy the writing and see where the story and Olafur take me.
Olafur's parents' callous abandonment of him is similar to the callous attitude Bjartur, the main character in Independent People, had toward his children.


Tracey (traceyrb) | 365 comments Brian wrote: "I have started and am midway through Part 2. World Light was written in 4 Parts, published annually in 1937, 1938, 1939 and 1940. It is a 600 pages. longer than I initially thought. I just tell mys..."

I too am now on part 2. The novel has a lot of satire in it and yet at the same time some of the most beautiful spiritual moments. I think it is a very Icelandic view of how hard life is in northern lands; trying to obtain sustenance from the earth and the cold and dark of large parts of the year. However, life is made more bearable by these transcendental moments of communing with a higher reality, which is filled with light and wonder. The stuff of poetry indeed and not surprising that poets are a main theme in the book. The novel is thus bleak, bizarre and beautiful.


message 5: by Brian E (last edited Jun 13, 2018 10:31AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brian E Reynolds | 39 comments I have finished Part 2. I agree with your alliterative description of "bleak, bizarre and beautiful" but would add the word "baffling," at least some of the time.
I do enjoy the book. I partly agree with a reader who said the first part story was like Hardy and then Part 2 is more like Don Quixote. I haven't read Don Quixote, but I understand the comparison. As the back cover blurb says "what might be cruel farce achieves pathos and genuine exaltation."
I am interested to see how Olafur develops. I don't always see him as truly human and can't decide if he is more selfless or self-centered.


message 6: by Tracey (last edited Jun 13, 2018 01:11PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tracey (traceyrb) | 365 comments Brian wrote: "I have finished Part 2. I agree with your alliterative description of "bleak, bizarre and beautiful" but would add the word "baffling," at least some of the time.
I do enjoy the book. I partly agre..."


I agree that the 2nd part is somewhat baffling; reading it feels like the author is documenting a surreal dream he had.

If we take each part as a stage of life then the first is a rather stifling but introspective childhood and youth where Olafur is confined and greatly limited. The 2nd is young adulthood let loose on the world; similar to what students have when they first leave the confines of home and go to university. He is trying to make sense of the world and his place in it but really has no compass by which to determine things by. He seems to flip between what he thought was right and what those around him are saying/doing; again first time leaving home for the wide world can have a similar effect. He is a little bit of a blank canvas right now, unsure and severely handicapped having no good mentors prior to this.

I am not enjoying part 2 anywhere as much as part 1 but want to carry on reading to see how things develop.


message 7: by Brian E (last edited Jun 19, 2018 11:06AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brian E Reynolds | 39 comments I am 115 pages into Part 3 and enjoy it much more than Part 2, The plot and characters in Part 3 are more straightforward and less baffling than the episodic Part 2. It may also be that, as a labor arbitrator/mediator, I view any story with labor issues, such as Zola's Germinal, with more personal and professional interest.
I need to remember this novel was written as 4 separate novellas, so a slight variance in tone in each is to be expected, However, the character of Olafur is consistent through the 4 novellas and, while there is still a slightly satiric tone, it maybe that I'm just getting used to it. I feel better about the book at page 430 than at page 300. While I can't say I particularly like Olafur, I do have some interest in what happens to him.
I would probably rate Part 1 as 4 stars, but Part 2 closer to 2 stars, with Part 3 getting back closer to 4 stars again.


Brian E Reynolds | 39 comments Another thing. I first thought the novel was probably set in the late 19th century, but now with talk about an airplane and telephone, it's probably sometime the early part of the 20th century, just prior to the book's writing in the 1930's.


Tracey (traceyrb) | 365 comments I am reading part 3 now. One thing the book has brought to my attention is all the sagas about this country. I would love to read some of them in the near future.


message 10: by Brian E (last edited Jun 24, 2018 03:09PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brian E Reynolds | 39 comments Its interesting that an isolated country with a small population like Iceland could produce writings as famous as the Icelandic Sagas. I've read about them and various reasons get advanced.
More importantly, the Guardian magazine recommends this 2005 Penguin edition as a good entry into the sagas: The Sagas of Icelanders by Jane Smiley. The stories have different translators so I don't know what Pulitzer winner Jane Smiley's role is.


Tracey (traceyrb) | 365 comments Brian wrote: "Its interesting that an isolated country with a small population like Iceland could produce writings as famous as the Icelandic Sagas. I've read about them and various reasons get advanced.
More i..."


Thanks for that recommendation. I will give it a go in the near future.
My thoughts on small and somewhat isolated communities; long winters, isolation and a hard scrabble existence leads to story telling as a pastime and rejoicing in the good things when they come. Peoples from such regions tend to be more inward thinking and contemplative and sensitive to nature and her magic including the seasons and cyclical nature of things.


message 12: by Brian E (last edited Jun 30, 2018 03:47PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brian E Reynolds | 39 comments I finished this several days ago and have been pondering how to rate it. I've fluctuated between 3 and 4 stars for reasons cited before. Some of the bizarre conversations and occurrences made me feel "lost" as to what was really going on; not a feeling conducive to full enjoyment. I did understand it all through Part 3 and 4, but I sometimes scratched my head over the events.
I partially agree with a Goodreads reader that it "is a novel about truth, beauty and art, to put it simply. It is abstract and often bizarre in both style and content," I am not sure about the truth part.
I am a bit mystified about Icelandic treatment of children and prisoners as portrayed. It seemed like an early 19th Century culture is set in the 20th century. I'll say more when Tracey finishes.

My quandary is because there is some beautiful writing, as with this passage from Ch. 18 in Part IV:

...the next morning, the sun was dissolving the white mists of the night. The land which emerged, green and blue, from this magic shroud was the kind of land which had nothing to do with functional things but was first and foremost ornamental. The bustle of the quayside and the clatter of the ship's winch had no part in this world. The breasts of the hovering gulls gleamed like silver over the mirror-white smoothness of the sea. The gods create the world everyday, to be sure, but never had they created a morning like this one. This was the one true morning. The poet stood apart from the crowd and gazed entranced at the green mirage of haze where this immortal morning-land was being born.


Tracey (traceyrb) | 365 comments I have finished and here is my review. I did find it to be disturbing at times and most bizarre, but it was worth reading for the haunting and sublime writing. Your quote above is an good example.

A quote from the author:

Human beings, in point of fact, are lonely by nature, and one should feel sorry for them and love them and mourn with them. It is certain that people would understand one another better and love one another more if they would admit to one another how lonely they were, how sad they were in their tormented, anxious longings and feeble hopes.

I think this sums up this book. It seems to me to be an attempt by one man, Olaf, who is a sensitive soul in this insensitive world, to find beauty and truth.

I can't say I found this book easy to read or at times enjoyable, and yet at other times the book lifted me up with sublime descriptions of the country and how Olaf felt when he was as one, communing with, his God. Life is made more bearable for Olaf by these transcendental moments of communing with a higher reality, which is filled with light and wonder. The stuff of poetry indeed and not surprising that poets are a main theme in the book.

Overall I would say the novel is bleak and bizarre, but more importantly, also beautiful. There is a lot of satire in it and also some of the most beautiful spiritual moments in literature. This author knew how to write about such with a poet's heart and soul. There are so many places where this incredible writing of Laxness is quotable, too many to type, so I will quote just one:

“But whoever thinks that beauty is something he can enjoy exclusively for himself just by abandoning other people and closing his eyes to the human life of which he is part—he is not the friend of beauty. He who doesn't fight every day of his life to the last breath against the representatives of evil, against the living images of evil who rule Sviðinsvík—he blasphemes by taking the word beauty into his mouth.”


Brian E Reynolds | 39 comments My determination of a 4 star rather than 3 star rating is based on beautiful writing trumping plot and tone problems.

When I think of this book in the future, when my memory of it fades, I think I'll reflect and remember your 3b's: "bleak bizarre and beautiful."


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Books mentioned in this topic

World Light (other topics)
Independent People (other topics)
The Sagas of Icelanders (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Jane Smiley (other topics)