In his early novels, the Icelandic Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness portrayed troubled individuals beset by familial, societal and economic challenges within an unpredictable and often unforgiving landscape; his later work addressed humanistic concerns regarding a well-lived life and the harmony of individual and environment. His 1957 novel The Fish Can Sing lies at the cusp of these preoccupations. Laxness contrasts the economic privations experienced by hard-pressed Icelanders with the ostentatious displays of their Danish colonial overloads; he also portrays individuals afflicted by psychosis, alcohol use disorders and medically unexplained physical symptoms, and delineates the path towards a ‘celebrity’ suicide. The novel warns against self-deceptive vanity and community-endorsed illusions, and celebrates the persistent benefits of nurturing relationships, all within a lyric contemplation of individual adaptive resilience and quotidian domestic pleasures.
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