The Swan


The novel Svanurinn, translated to English by Bernard Scudder. Published by Mare's Nest in London in 1997 and by JPV in Reykjavík in 2006.

From The Swan:

Her mother wrote letters to her regularly, every fortnight, generally about how healthy it was for her body and mind to stay in the countryside until autumn. She said she could tell from her letters how quickly she had grown up and learned lots of manners – ‘and now you’ll never do anything naughty ever again’.

Just before she ended the letter with ‘All the best, Yours, Mother’ she somehow began to ramble, probably feeling obligated to soar a little to show how genuine her emotions were and how much maternal love was contained in her words. For this reason she mixed them with the word of God. She only did that in letters. She also told her that the country people never stole from shops, since they cultivated the land and their souls at the same time, just as they did the fields, so that the innocent lambs would have hay to eat in the winter: ‘The sweet-scented angelica-green hay from the meadows in our souls: all the teachers and vicars say this is integrity and healthy thought for our nation.’

Then she told her how everyone knew that a mixture of sea air and country air was by far the healthiest air in Iceland, the health books said so. ‘There are two vitamins from the lap of nature that God has mixed and can be used to improve weaknesses in little girls and their behaviour. Here there is no countryside outside town, just heahtland, and that must be what turns people into thieves. Everyone robs everyone else.

‘Dear daughter, you have been apprehended twice for having stolen sandwiches from eight shops, but without going uot into the street with your booty, you were caught in the act, you were found gobbling them down behind the shelves. As if you never get a bite to eat from your father and me . . . Did you polish everything off from those empty marmalade jars that were found under the shelves too? I think it’s bad enough stealing sandwiches without you going off straight afterwards to eat your booty in secret, right in front of the customers. My darling, proper thieves never do that. You just set a bad example. What would happen if people just stormed into shops when they were hungry, grabbed sandwiches from the fridge and opened the tins on the spot, because you don’t need tin openers any more, and gorged themselves secretly between the shelves, then left with innocent expressions and didn’t buy anything? . . . You ought to live in harmony with nature in the countryside – that’s the great demand which is made of everybody these days – and uproot from within you, with God, all that is evil in your own bad nature.

‘I wish and ask you all this, your dear and loving mother,’ she wrote at the end.