Would you murder your brothers to keep them from telling the truth about themselves?
On a long, cold Icelandic night in March 1920, Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith, finds himself with an unwanted lodger – Sigurd, an injured stranger who offers a story from the past. But some stories, even those of an old man who can barely walk, are too dangerous to hear. They alter the listeners’ lives forever… by ending them.
Others are keen on changing Gunnar’s life as well. Depending on who gets to tell his story, it might lead towards an unwanted marriage, an intervention, rejoining the Church, letting the elf drive him insane, or succumbing to the demons in his mind. Will he manage to write his own last chapter?
Bjørn Larssen’s award-winning, Amazon #1 best selling novel is an otherworldly, emotive Icelandic saga – a story of love and loneliness, relief and suffering, hatred… and hope.
Readers’ Favourite Gold Medal
Discovering Diamonds’ Discovered Diamond Winner, shortlisted for Book of the Month
Coffee Pot Book Club Award Winner
Coffee Pot Book Club Historical Fiction (Modern) Book of the Year – Honourable Mention
Readers’ Choice Best Cover Award Winner
Note: British English conventions, spelling, and grammar were used in this book.
The author is an ex-blacksmith, lover of all things Icelandic, physically located in Amsterdam, spiritually living in a log cabin near Akureyri. He has published stories and essays in Polish and American magazines, both online and in print. This is his first novel.
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Storytellers, the debut novel by Bjørn Larssen, takes place in a small remote town in Iceland named Klettafjörður in the 1920s. It is filled with evocative language and more than a little humour. A constant feeling of cold and damp pervades the writing, setting the scene and helping the reader sympathize when the characters talk of needing new boots, leather clothing, wool and sheepskins. Larssen is a master of descriptions, as illustrated by the following quotation:
“The dancing shadows behind Brynhildur’s back looked like a ghost army itching to attack.”
The main characters are Gunnar, an alcoholic blacksmith, and his unexpected houseguest, an injured old man named Sigurd who needs a place to stay while his broken ankle heels. Gunnar, an introverted loner, agrees to let him stay despite his lack of affinity with other people. In return, Sigurd begins telling a story to entertain them both during the long evenings. The story within a story concerns Arnar and Juana who meet and fall in love in America and then return to his hometown in Iceland, which just so happens to be the same town in which Gunnar and Sigurd are located, but several decades earlier.
Storytellers is much slower paced than the action-filled thrillers I have been reading lately. This was a welcome decrease in pace, which allowed a full appreciation of the descriptive passages and the time to absorb all the wickedly witty details: ‘She had no hat, only a pale green scarf wrapped around her head, the same colour as her bulging eyes.’ The ‘Conservative Women of Iceland’ are welcomed by Gunnar as ‘the Constipated Women’.
About a third of the way through the narrative, another visitor joins Gunnar – this time an incorporeal elf, visible to both Gunnar and his dog Ragnar, so not a figment of his imagination or a manifestation of his alcoholism. The existence of the elf is never really explained, but we accept his existence since after all we are in Iceland, a country where there is a strong cultural belief in a hidden realm populated with magical beings like fairies and trolls, who exist alongside humans. In Sigurd’s story one of the lesser characters states that his grandmother “knew a lot about the hidden folk, dark magic, witches”. Iceland is a magical country that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting around 20 years ago and fell in love with its beautiful, otherworldly landscapes. I was excited to revisit the country through this story and was not disappointed.
In the first half of the narrative, most of the action appears to take place within the story told by the old man Sigurd to entertain his host, whereas Gunnar and Sigurd appear to have a mundane, repetitive existence. Sigurd quickly regrets beginning to tell the story and comes to the conclusion that he will have to kill his host when he reaches the end of the story. Could his story be true? Could it be some form of evidence of foul play that he doesn’t want anyone to discover? The plot thickens towards the end of the book and the pace picks up, with all manner of loose ends being satisfactorily tied. I recommend this book to fans of whimsical mysteries who like to follow clues and see if they can figure things out for themselves.
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About the author
Bjørn Larssen is a Norse heathen made in Poland, but mostly located in a Dutch suburb, 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, following this achievement several decades later with his first book containing multiple sentences and winning awards he didn’t design himself. His writing is described as ‘dark’ and ‘literary’, but he remains incapable of taking anything seriously for more than 60 seconds.
Bjørn has a degree in mathematics and has worked as a graphic designer, a model, a bartender, and a blacksmith (not all at the same time). 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. He owns one (1) husband and is owned by one (1) neighbourhood cat.