About the Size of the Universe

Author of Review: 

About the Size of the Universe

(Eitthvað á stærð við alheiminn, 2015)

Although About the Size of the Universe is labelled as a stand-alone sequel to Fish Have No Feet, the book follows close on the heels of the previous novel, continuing its scattered-through-time approach to storytelling.

In these two books we are presented with three generations of a single family at opposite ends of the twentieth century. In Norðfjörður, a narrow fjord on the easternmost part of Iceland, we find the forebearers: proud folk crushed under the weight of their fatalistic lives, living off the sea and in constant threat from the elements and each other. Their story is reflected in the lives of their twenty-first century counterparts living on the other side of the country a century later, who all seem lost in the gap of their ill-defined identities as “modern Icelanders”. As the story progresses, the novel’s elusive narrator – an undefined “friend of the family” who seems to be always present to bear witness to the family’s complicated dynamics and history, gradually sheds his corporeal existence, preforming an Ishmael-like disappearance between the pages.

This ambiguous narration may seem jarring at first but, as with Jón Kalman’s previous books, the reader soon learns to let go and trust the narration, at which point the novel opens up into a startling feat of storytelling.