I came across this gem at an independent bookstore in Denver, Colorado called Tattered Cover. It was nestled away--spine out--on the bargain shelf. The title intrigued me, so I pulled it off the shelf and read the back cover. "Hm. Icelandic fiction. Neat." As a bibliophile with a chronic issues of impulse control, the super low price made it impossible for me to say no. They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but at the Denver Publishing Institute, it was made clear that the cover must be true to the book--its themes, content, or even a particular scene. And, seriously, that's some awesome cover art.
Turns out Sjón is a poet, novelist, and lyricist. It's a small book, so it seemed a quick read. Cheap, easy to burn through, not much of a loss if I didn't enjoy it. But these aspects that seemed so appealing in the beginning became my bane--BECAUSE I LOVED IT.
The book bounces back and forth between two plots: one of a hunter pursuing an elusive blue fox, and the other of an herbalist mourning the loss of a woman with Down syndrome. It isn't initially clear how these two plots intertwine, but the reveal gives the reader a very satisfying "ah-hah!" moment.
What I enjoyed most about the piece was the formatting and structure of the hunt. It's told from both the perspective of the hunter and the perspective of the vixen he's after. Each character in this sequence has only a paragraph or two (usually less), and each character's 'section' is centered on a single page. This keeps the reader physically turning pages as the text is read, burning through pages as quickly as you'd imagine the hunter chasing the fox. It does wonders for immersing the reader in the scene even when the text is sparse.
The characterization of the herbalist, once the reader meets him, was also done particularly well. His actions, and what written correspondence with other characters the reader is exposed to paints him as cold, distant, aloof. And because it takes some time for the reader to finally be in his head, his true character and his history with the townspeople immediately recolors the reader's initial impression of him. He's a dynamic character, but a gentleman of the late 1800's; he maintains his composure when in the company of others, but expresses his emotions in solitude. His compassion and facade, and the balance between the two instantly won me over.
I would recommend this book to anyone who's looking for something quick but engaging. The structure of the hunt alone is noteworthy enough for any writer to check out, regardless of taste in genre or culture of origin.