Let’s look at The Blue Fox by Sjón, tr. Victoria Cribb, for a few minutes. It is a little folkloric Icelandic novel from 2004. In an odd stunt it was released in the United States last April simultaneously with two other Sjón novels. I do not know why. Probably to distract from what a huge ripoff the book is.
There are only 115 pages to begin with, and several of those are section breaks. Then the first third or so, in which a hunter stalks a blue fox, is told in tiny chapters, no more than a page; the top third of the page signifies that it’s a new chapter, so that’s blank; then the chapters are so short that the bottom third is typically blank as well, and once in a while there is a chapter like this:
The night was cold and of the longer variety. (14)
with almost nothing on the page at all. I guess "longer" is ironic. Mentally add in huge patches of blank before and after that single line. The Blue Fox is almost as poor a value as a book of poetry, and we all know what a waste of money those are. I might as well buy a Moleskine for the amount of ink I am getting.
As if the empty pages weren’t bad enough, somewhere after the halfway point the action turns into a survival-in-the-wild plot with a supernatural element so exciting that most readers are likely to race through the last forty pages at maximum speed, greatly increasing the dollars per hour of entertainment. No wonder fantasy fans go for twelve-volume series of a thousand pages per volume. Speaking of whom, Neil Gaiman readers ought to get a lot out of this book, maybe even their money’s worth.
Yes, he wept sorely for the evil fate that had left him alone, with no one to share the entertainment that is to be had from a dried cod’s head. (92)
But not as much as they would get from a dried cod’s head, apparently. That might be my favorite line in the novel – in context, it is not especially absurd – although there are a lot of other good ones. This is an Icelandic cemetery in 1883:
The churchyard at Botn stands on the banks of the Botnsa River. This is a middling-size, smooth stream, of a good depth and high-banked, bordered by spongy patches of marsh, with plenty of good peat land and enough of that deceptive surface rust. After a winter of heavy snow the river runs wild, bursting its banks with such demonic force that the dirty gray meltwater surges out of its course, flooding the marshes and forming lakes in the graveyard, leaving the church stranded on an island in its midst. The water-ringed house of God remains cut off until the graveyard has swallowed enough of the mountain milk for the water to just cover a maiden’s ankle; by then the sanctified ground is drunk and wobbles underfoot until well into summer. (70-1)
The next bit is as good or better, but this is enough. We see a common Sjón move here, starting with something clear but prosaic that becomes stranger as a series of little metaphoric surprises are piled up. He does something similar with the characters, and with the story, and with the magical blue fox.
I will have to track down those other Sjón novels. The Blue Fox is not even the right one – the other two have to do with Icelandic sagas. One of them is even about, or connected to, William Morris, if you can believe it. That is a Wuthering Expectations must-read if there ever were such a thing.