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An Icelandic Book Review

About this time last year I was desperately searching for a book. Not just any book, of course, but one that could replace the book choice which I and the other women in our little book club had finally admitted we would never actually read. Six months earlier when we had compiled our list we had all been deeply committed, resolute, enthusiastic and brazenly ambitious. So it is that good intentions pave the road to hell. The closer the deadline came the more we realized that our unfortunate choice was too long and too tedious. It was going to be the death of us all.

The replacement I sought had to be short but absorbing, literary but not heavy, uplifting but not sickly sweet, unusual but not ridiculous, charming but not parochial. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find such a book? It’s like hunting for a unicorn in a forest of sordid, predictable sob stories, unresolved plot lines and pomposity posing as sophistication.

At the time one of my friends had just moved to Iceland to begin a research project. With her on my mind and secretly jealous wanderlust in my heart, I started chasing Icelandic literature and amazingly, against all odds, I found my unicorn:

“The Greenhouse” by Audur Ava Olafsdottir, one of that tiny country’s most loved writers. Translated from its original Icelandic, the book is 260 pages and was published in 2009. The story is about a young man who leaves his native Iceland and travels to a monastery in Europe to revive a ruined rose garden. But actually the story isn’t about any of that. It’s a story about love. Even telling that much is giving too much away. You’re better off not knowing a single thing.

I read “The Greenhouse” tucked up in bed over three stormy nights and was quietly charmed, captivated even. The novel is not perfect – but then perfection is overrated. I’d rather have bliss than perfection. And bliss is exactly what “The Greenhouse” delivered.


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