Monday, December 12, 2016

Saga Land (the book)

I'm delighted to announce that Richard Fidler and I have signed a contract for the publication of Saga Land, a book that has developed out of a four-part radio series about Iceland that he and I made last year. Saga Land (the book) will be published by HarperCollins/ABC Books in late 2017.


I'm writing this post in Reykjavik, where Richard and I are now doing further research for the book. We've spent less time on the road, and more time in town, than on our last visit. Most days, we write until afternoon and then go for a walk to find somewhere to eat, or to buy local lamb or haddock to cook ourselves.

But last week we drove to Snaefellsnes, for a second time in pursuit of Gudrun from Laxdaela Saga, whose story we told in the radio series. That time, we didn't get to see Helgafell, the farm where Gudrun ended her days - quiet days that she spent in prayer and contemplation as Iceland's first nun. Where her son Bolli came to ask her a question, one which I think must have been on his mind for a very long time before he asked it: which of the men in her life did she love the most?

I was worst to the one I loved the most, was all she'd say in reply.

Helgafell today

In the radio show, I talk about how I love Gudrun, and how I want those who hear her story to love her, too. I've felt that way towards Gudrun since I first read the saga twenty-five years ago, and the feeling has only strengthened over time. Gudrun causes the death of the man she loves most. The reader of Laxdaela Saga is not made to love her: the author does not manipulate us in that way. But, for all that, there's a tender recognition of her spirit, and her wound.

And yet, during this trip, I've realised I don't know what she looks like. My image of her must be of my own making, for in the saga she's described in terms of her virtues rather than appearance:

She was the loveliest woman in Iceland at the time, and also the most intelligent. Gudrun was a woman of such courtliness that whatever other women wore, they seemed like mere trinkets beside hers. She was the shrewdest and best-spoken of all women; and she had a generous disposition.

That's all we get, and I would love to have more detail: her hair colour, her height, perhaps a sentence about her eyes.

But then maybe it doesn't hurt not to be told.


It's early evening as I write, and time to cook the lamb I bought earlier today. It's been dark since around 3:30, but I've been in Reykjavik for nearly a month now, and I think I'm getting used to it, or rather getting used to only having a kind of combined sunrise/sunset for what gets called light.

In fact, it never fully becomes day, just as the sagas never fully reveal what's going on inside the minds of their characters. The sun climbs just above the horizon, and stays there, as though that's all the light you need. The right light for a journey to Helgafell, and into Gudrun's last days.

A view from the apartment towards the State theate

At Berserkjahraun (Pic: Richard Fidler)

With Richard Fidler (Pic: Kari Bergsson)