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The Library of Babel

A Spin-off of http://bookwormshead.blogspot.co.uk

Independent People - John A. Thompson, Halldór Laxness This book has 630 pages.
Yet it could have easily been two times longer.
Believe me.

Laxness could have written more and probably did while working on this masterpiece by him, but I guess how it's better leaving some details out of the main frame, letting readers wonder about parallel individual stories crossing the main one.

As other reviewers pointed out here and there, this is the kind of novel that puts you really into its story, creating a sort of empathy between the reader and a whole world of characters. Once I finished "Independent People" I felt disappointed as I would have wanted to know even more about Bjartur and his son Gvendur, Asta Sollilja and Ingolfur Arnason, young Nonni and the old grandma.

Given such an appetizer, which are the main ingredients making this first course novel that irresistible? Well, there is plenty of them.

From the perfect characterization of Bjartur the shehperd, the stubborn, unlikable and yet captivating protagonist, to magnificent descriptions of hard and beautiful Icelandic landscapes as well as daily poverty. From a sociological and political fresco of Iceland took between 19th and 20th century to an astonishing black humour. From shining examples of mastery in dialogues to moments of touching romanticism. From an overview on the universe of old local sagas to an extremely poignant way of describing a rape from both points of view.

Whatever shoe Laxness puts on, he's always incisive in speaking with the chosen character voice. There is no camouflage in this: when he narrates about Bjartur he's Bjartur, when he focus on a young girl he's that young girl, when he explores the world with a four years old child he is thinking like him being fascinated by the tiniest details around.
I think, not so many novelists got this level of identification with their characters.

Moreover Laxness never loses his orientation albeit it may have been easy in such a richful canvas as "Independent People".
I didn't skip any single page and I read twice some, especially the ones talking about the "discovery of religion", the brief romance of Gvendur on his way to America and all the lines as seen by young Nonni.

And through this enjoyable, attentive reading process I learned so much about Iceland I can't resist being that far from that place anymore.