After absolutely devouring The Blue Fox, I was quick to return to Tattered Cover (the downtown location, this time) to pick up Sjón's other title--also on the bargain shelf--The Whispering Muse. Once again: irresistible price, amazing (and matching) cover art, hardcover (sweet!)--but this time, I was well acquainted with Sjón's style and hints of magical realism; I was utterly in love.
The Whispering Muse, like The Blue Fox, has two simultaneous plots that the reader is wrapped up in. But unlike The Blue Fox, these stories are not, chronologically, occurring simultaneously. The protagonist of the main plot is an older gentleman who is a guest aboard a ship that belongs to an associate of his. The gentleman writes and studies the effects of seafood consumption on human development, and believes this is why the Nordic race is superior to all others (the very beginning of the story, and an entire chapter of the book is dedicated to this concept--not one of my favorite parts, though it was interesting). He's aboard the ship to continue his studies. The second story line is introduced through the ship's Second Mate who, every night at dinner, recounts his sea-fairing adventures with Jason, son of Aeson, on the Argo in search of the Golden Fleece. The story's conclusion offers the reader a "Hmm. I see," moment that isn't necessarily as satisfying as the conclusion of The Blue Fox. However, I did find the parallel stories far more interesting in The Whispering Muse because of how much I enjoy mythology.
I really enjoyed the plot within a plot system Sjón employs here, especially because the set up is so plausible. The gentleman is on a ship with ship-fairing folk--a professional and experienced crew--and the Second Mate is recounting adventures of his youth. Both voices of narration--the gentleman and the Second Mate--weave interesting tales of their adventures, and I found that I was never particularly disappointed when the attention of the narrative switched between them. The two stories could also be considered parallels, I'm sure, if one took the time to read the piece as an academic, looking for the symbolism and meaning behind the images Sjón uses.
What Sjón does so seamlessly in both books of his I've read is present a completely implausible scenario--a magical blue fox, a mythical adventure on the Argo--and leaves the reader questioning whether these things exist within the reality of his book. Even his characters question the validity of the claims made. And his endings leave the reader wondering, because his conclusions can, honestly, be taken either way. I choose to consider his work a type of magical realism, but I suppose that's up to interpretation.
Again, I would recommend this book to anyone looking for something new, something outside of their normal reading habits, and anyone who already enjoys Sjón's work.
I'm on the hunt for his third novel, From the Mouth of the Whale. I think Tattered Cover had that one as well...