Storytellers by Bjørn Larssen – Book Review
Storytellers by Bjørn Larssen – Book Review
Author – Bjørn Larssen
Publisher – josephtailor
Pages – 292
Released – 28th March 2019
ISBN-13 – 978-9082998528
Format – ebook, paperback, hardcover
Reviewer – Tina
Rating – 3.5 Stars
I received a free copy of this book.
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In March 1920 Icelandic days are short and cold, but the nights are long. For most, on those nights, funny, sad, and dramatic stories are told around the fire. But there is nothing dramatic about Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith who barely manages to make ends meet. He knows nobody will remember him – they already don’t. All he wants is peace, the company of his animals, and a steady supply of his medication. Sometimes he wonders what it would feel like to have a story of his own. He’s about to find out.
Sigurd – a man with a plan, a broken ankle, and shocking amounts of money – won’t talk about himself, but is happy to tell a story that just might get Gunnar killed. The blacksmith’s other “friends” are just as eager to write him into stories of their own – from Brynhildur who wants to fix Gunnar, then marry him, his doctor who is on the precipice of calling for an intervention, The Conservative Women of Iceland who want to rehabilitate Gunnar’s “heathen ways” – even that wicked elf has plans for the blacksmith.
As his defenses begin to crumble, Gunnar decides that perhaps his life is due for a change – on his own terms. But can he avoid the endings others have in mind for him, and forge his own?
The novel tells the tale of Gunner, a misanthropic blacksmith living in Iceland in 1920. He finds an injured old man, Sigurd, and brings him into his hut. Gunner is an alcoholic and a loner but allows Sigurd to stay with him. To distract Gunner from his true goals, Sigurd begins to tell him a story. The side story is set four decades earlier, following young Arnar and his American bride Juana as they settle in Iceland.
The two plots that eventually come together. The first narrative is an omniscient third-person focused mainly on Gunner but also dipping into the thoughts of Sigurd, the town doctor, and Brynhildur (who is interested in Gunnar romantically). The “past” sections are told by Sigurd presumably, but still in omniscient third-person focusing on Arnar, Juana, Arnar’s brother Bjarni, and a few others.
Unfortunately, there is a major shift in one of the character’s personalities that occurs without any build up. While the unreliability of the narration is revealed to be purposeful, it leaves you feeling as if you’ve missed some events or personality developments.
Likewise, while there aren’t that many supporting characters, they are only given minimal description, so I found I was often confusing them. Especially later in the story, when characters reappear, I was left feeling as if I had missed something subtle because I was trying to remember who the person was.
That being said, it is a very enjoyable read. The jumps between the present and the past help keep the story moving. Both narratives share themes of isolation and entrapment. Gunnar’s alcoholism and depression are artfully crafted in a way that generates sympathy. You are forced to watch him spiral again and again, but you hope he will make the right choice next time.
There are moments of comedy in the story as well, which helps lighten the sombre mood. It’s clear there was a great deal of research done on customs, blacksmiths, and the social climate of both time periods.
It is an enchanting and compelling read about trying to hide from the world while still wishing to be part of it.
Book Reviewer – Tina
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About the Author
Bjørn Larssen – writer, blacksmith, mathematician, graphic designer, model (not all at the same time) was made in Poland. He is mostly located in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one. Since then his short stories and essays were published in Rita Baum Art Magazine, Writer Unboxed, Inaczej Magazine, Edurada.pl, Homiki.pl, and Holandia Expat Magazine. He is a member of Alliance of Independent Authors and Writer Unboxed.
Bjørn used to speak eight languages (currently down to two and a half). His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland, even though he hates being cold. He has only met an elf once. So far.