From the Mouth of the Whale

 sjon - from the mouth of the whale

sjon - from the mouth of the whale

The third of Sjón's novels that--if one considers their cover art--may or may not be part of a series. According to his Wikipedia page (the clear source of all credible knowledge on the internet), this is his most recently published novel, published in 2008. The Blue Fox was published in 2003, and The Whispering Muse was published in 2005; so apparently, I've read them in order. Hooray?

One thing I can say with certainty of Sjón's work--from The Blue Fox to From the Mouth of the Whale, the stories have become more complex, more magical, more dream-like. There's always been an element of the magical, an element of "that's not what really happened...or is it?" to his work, but From the Mouth of the Whale is an extreme in this case.

Part of me thinks the protagonist is mad, and once you learn what he's endured, how unhinged he seems is understandable. He endures loss, death, hallucinations, abandonment, exile, persecution, accusations of sorcery...the list goes on and on, and his only crime is being a self-taught philosopher, a self-taught academic. Even when a super credible and honorable professor  defends him, his countrymen still throw him in irons.

The narrative goes back and forth between zooming into the protagonist's head--thoughts, feelings, ideas written in the first-person and, in some places, as a stream of consciousnesses--and zooming out into a third-person omniscient narrator, even if the focus is still on the protagonist. The protagonist's personal accounts are extraordinary, unbelievable, but the expression of them seems lucid, so the reader suspends their disbelief and buys into the tale...until he spirals into delusion and loss and has clearly been alone for far too long.

What I liked best about the narrative was that it kept me guessing about the protagonist. There were times, even when told from his point of view, the reader could understand the view point of his persecutors. Was he a sorcerer? Was he mad? Was he just a really good story-teller with way too much time on his hands? His name (which I'll leave out because it could be considered a spoiler of sorts) and the title of the book draw to mind some biblical parallels, especially in certain scenes, but the work as a whole doesn't seem a reworking or reinterpretation. It just seems like a work of fiction that draws a little bit on these themes.

Like all of Sjón's work, the dream-scape of the narrative is its strength. It quickly ensnares the reader and keeps them locked in for the length of the story. This piece was longer than either The Blue Fox or The Whispering Muse, so if neither of those struck your fancy, I would recommend steering clear of this work--it requires more of a commitment of time and mind than the other two titles. It's also more abstract, and more convoluted. I, however, enjoyed it, and as a developing writer, felt this was a worthwhile endeavor.

P.S. -- How freakin' cool do these books look all together? Seriously! That's some awesome cover art. :)

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