I picked up this book because a friend talked about From The Mouth of the Whale by the same author and promised that he would give me a copy. It was a while until we were due to meet up so, last week while I was lurking around a the back of Ben Aaronovitch’s Broken Homes signing at Waterstones in Piccadilly, I scanned the shelves and bought a copy of Blue Fox. Until my friend mentioned him I’d never heard of Sjón but reading up on him he sounded fascinating (he’s written lyrics for Bjork!). Isn’t it wonderful when a friend introduces you to someone completely new. A new author who immediately opens up your view of the world, whose very presence changes what you thought about writing and the literary scene. With rave reviews from Hari Kunzru, Junot Diaz and A.S. Byatt and every paper you could think of how had I not come across him before? There are always new writers to discover.
The Blue Fox is not even 110 pages long but packs as much mystery and magic into those pages as some 800 page fantasy epics I could name. Set in Iceland in the 1850s and evoking that harsh and beautiful landscape precisely and fully with a sparse poetry it is the story of a priest hunting a fox. But it is also the story of the brief life and death of a woman with Down’s syndrome. The complexity and richness of her life is described as fully in those few pages as the tensions and strange transformation of the fox hunt. This is an elusive and allusive tale, shot through with moments of real beauty, deep wonder and visceral change. You never quite know what is coming and are never really sure what has just gone. But the emotions are real and powerful and the world described astoundingly real. This is poetic and astounding stuff.
If you love the work of Angela Carter, Margo Lanagan, Bruno Schulz, Mikhail Bulgakhov do give Sjón a go. Yes he’s that good. Happily I met up with my friend the day I finished The Blue Fox so I was able to move on seamlessly to From The Mouth of The Whale. Which begins with Satan witnessing the birth of man and moves swiftly on to a vivid and dark account of life in Iceland in the 17th century. A world of different beliefs and powerful myth. And if anything, it’s even better than The Blue Fox.
Sjón’s books are published by Telegram and translated (brilliantly) by Victoria Cribb.