William Heinesen, trans. by G.W. Jones (Dedalus Books)
William Heinesen was a 20th century author, painter and poet from the Faroe Islands, and is perhaps the most well-respected literary figure to come out of the small Atlantic archipelago. This might sound like an achievement akin to being the best basketballer in Wales, until one actually reads his books. Often difficult to track down in English translations, Dedalus Books ought to be commended for keeping the flame alive of one of the 20th century’s most interesting authors.
The Black Cauldron tells the story of one small community in the Faroes during British occupation in World War II, ravaged by U-boats raids, profiteering businessmen getting fat from the high price of fish, and creeping religious hysteria. What initially appears to be a satire-inflected slice-of-life realist novel, akin to fellow Scandinavian August Strindberg’s The Red Room, quickly devolves into something much darker and more sinister. Tonally, it commands the line between mysticism and realism, between hysteria and restraint, and between sharp critique and warm embrace. It certainly captures the edge-of-the-world feel of the Faroe Islands, as well as the pointed sense of lingering paranoia and isolation that World War II must have bought to the islands. Though Heinesen occasionally overstretches his hand – this is a difficult-to-read novel at times, with too many differing POVs, the author even switches from character to character within the same chapter, confusing perspectives further – but what remains is a work of frightfully still-relevant and lurid modernism, ripe for reinterpretation in today’s age of communal outrage and mass political psychosis. Excellent.
words FEDOR TOT
Price: £9.99 Info: http://www.dedalusbooks.com/