Angels of the Universe
(Englar alheimsins, 1995)
The winner of the 1995 Nordic Council Literature Prize, Angels of the Universe has since been adapted into an award-winning film by Icelandic director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson and continues to be a foundational document when it comes to increasing awareness and understanding of mental disorders in Icelandic society.
Due to its concise language and startling insights into the lives of those who walk among us carrying the burden of mental illness, the book is still taught in Icelandic schools today. It’s narrator, Páll, tells the story of his whole life: his happy childhood, his difficult teenage years, when his illness first begins to manifest itself, until he finally joins the hordes of people who spend their lives in and out of mental institutions being confined and drugged to relieve their families of the burden of their care. There, we get to meet his fellow inmates, other lost souls who all have their own stories to tell.
The strength of this bleak yet wonderful novel, which is based on the life of the author’s brother, is Páll’s narration, which is laced with charm, humour, and blunt sincerity. His voice swells and dips as his moods fluctuate from manic episodes to periods of deep depression inflicted by the chemical imbalances of his brain and the drugs administered during long stays in psychiatric institutions.