Trolls´s Cathedral


The novel Tröllakirkja (1992), translated to English by David McDuff and Jill Burrows.

Published by Mare's Nest in London in 1996 and by JPV in Reykjavik in 2006.

From Troll's Cathedral:

For Sigurbjörn Helgason the architect the worst embarrassment imaginable was to be seen in public improperly dressed. Come winter and come summer, whenever the weather was fine, he would take long walks with his son Thórarinn. Father and son were very close, and it made people smile to see them, out walking together, wearing their smartest clothes, deep in conversation.

'Whose side are you on, Mother's or mine?' Thórarinn asked.

'Give it a rest, lad,' said his father.

It was a mild eveing early in June 1953 and they were heading north across Skólavörduholt. Sigurbjörn was wearing a black tweed overcoat. He had a peaked cap over his thick hair. His cheeks were coarse and scarred. He was tall, and walked with his head held high. A broad, black bow-tie was knotted beneath his chin.

His eye was caught by a man in a ragged, flapping anorak sitting on a bench under the statue of Leif Eiríksson, the great midieval navigator. He looked at the man's paunch and stocky thighs with distaste. The man was wearing large rubber boots. His legs were splayed and his blue jeans had frayed in the wash. He turned his face away from the father and son and looked towards Frakkastígur. His cheeks were flabby and his face wore a dazed expression.

A new green Dodge drove slowly by. As the boyu gawped at the car, his father looked across to the bare mound of sand and grass and the stony slope where the chancel of Hallgrímskirkja stood, under its temporary roof. All construction work had stopped. For years Sigurbjörn Helgason had worked on designs for the Gothic church to be built on Skólavörduhæd and at this point on his walks with his son he was in the habit of stopping and visualizing the completed church.

Suddenly he remembered a long-forgotten sketch. As a first-year architecture student in Copenhagen, purely for his own pleasur, he had drawn up plans for a cathedral on a hill. He squinted up at the sky and grimaced as he saw that very idea take shape before him.

Now he turned back and glanced once more at the man sitting under the statue. Now he was leaning forward, glowering at the father and son. His expression took Sigurbjörn aback. He looked behind him, expecting to find the object of the man's animosity, but there was no one there. Why was the chap in the anorak looking at them like that? Had he noticed Sigurbjörn sizing him up? Was there something wrong with Thórarinn? He looked at his son.

Thórarinn Sigurbjarnarson was nearly twelve years old. He was wearing a light-green double-breasted coat, a light-brown peaked cap and shiny black patent-leather shoes, just like his father's. His prominent forhead gave his face a stubborn look. His eyes were blue, his face broad and the light glinted in his cropped red heair. He was short for his age and thickset. His schoolfriends, sensing a remoteness about him, sometimes called him 'Sir Professor'. Sigurbjörn stole another glance at the stranger, who was now sitting right on the edge of the bench, staring at the two of them, open-mouthed and intense. He seemed angry.