On writing: Decent People
Sigurbjörg Þrastardóttir (born Iceland, 1973) is the author of ten poetry collections, two novels and a few staged plays. Amongst her publications is the poetry cycle Blysfarir (Torch Marches), nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2009, later released in German and Swedish. Further titles include the poetry collection Brides, and the short story collection The Fearful Trumpeter and Other Stories. Most recently the Reykjavik Arts Festival partly stage-read her play Seven Women Murdered at a Sauna, at the Reykjavik City Theatre.
Halldór Kiljan Laxness was born in 1902 in Reykjavik but brought up in the countryside. From the age of 17, he travelled and lived abroad in the European continent, and was particularly influenced by trends there, such as Expressionism. During his twenties, he went through a religious period, where he converted to Catholicism, and wrote about his spiritual experiences in his work; most notably his book Under the Holy Mountain, 1924. After a visit to the US, he became interested in Socialism, and there is a noticeable shift in his later writing, which is influenced by his socialist viewpoint.
Laxness’s most famous work are his novels written in the 1930s, dealing with the people of Iceland. Þú vínviður hreini, 1931, and Fuglinn í fjörunni, 1932, (both translated as Salka Valka), tell the story of a poor fisher girl; Sjálfstætt fólk (Independent People), 1934-35, speaks of the experiences of small farmers, and Ljós heimsins (The Light of the World), 1937-40, whose hero is an Icelandic folk poet. Laxness’s later works were grand historical sagas: Íslandsklukkan (The Bell of Iceland), 1943-46, Gerpla (The Happy Warriors), 1952, and Paradísarheimt (Paradise Reclaimed), 1960.
Gljúfrasteinn, situated not far from Reykjavík, was Halldór’s home and workplace for many decades, and it is now open to the public as a museum. The modern house, built in 1945 and designed by architect Agust Palsson, was very popular with guests; it often attracted foreign sovereigns who would stop by on their way to Iceland’s popular shrine, Thingvellir national park. Halldór enjoyed throwing concerts in his living room, and invited many famous artists to come and perform for fortunate attendees. Nowadays, during the summer months, concerts are still held in that living room, offering a wide variety of events by artists such as Hlín Pétursdóttir Behrens and Pamela de Sensi. Gljúfrasteinn remains unchanged since Laxness resided there, giving visitors an insight into the Nobel Prize winner’s extraordinary life.
Guests can also enjoy walking across the enchanting countryside and along the river Kaldakvísl, as Laxness himself did many times, often searching for inspiration for his latest work. This has been highlighted by Icelandic playwright Sigurbjorg Þrastardóttir in his production, as he depicts a distracted Laxness escaping to the moors in an attempt to find peace and stimulate his imagination. Sigurbjorg’s play has been adapted for performance by GoodDog Theatre Company.
Halldór Laxness is considered to be Iceland’s most notable 20th century writer, and has been described as ‘a kind of architect of Iceland’s national identity’. His portfolio of work is undoubtedly vast, but also incredibly diverse and unpredictable. This could be attributed to the fact that Laxness’ ideals changed over time, as he flitted between Catholicism, Socialism and finally Taoism. It could be argued that the ‘broken window’ in the upcoming play symbolises Halldór’s broken belief; the new window brings him another view of life. Come along to see the performance on September 19th and make your mind up for yourself!