This year I have been introduced to foreign books. I’ve always been aware of books from other countries of course, but for some reason I’ve never been able to get into them. Perhaps it was the translation of certain books I tried or perhaps it was the original stories themselves that put me off. Maybe I was just so used to the western style of writing that I wasn’t ready to try something new. That all changed this year. I started reading works by Zafon, Jonasson and Backman that opened my eyes to a whole new bank of literature that was ready and waiting to be explored. While hunting for books in a charity shop recently I came across an Icelandic book called “Butterflies in November” by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir. It promised quirky fun, heart-warming emotion and genuine laughs so I was excited to start my commute on a cold morning last week and dive in.
This book takes quirky to whole new levels. It’s like Zooey Deschanel threw up and then started painting a butterfly with her own glitter infused vomit while singing Regina Spektor songs. There’s a cucumber hotel, a deaf kid who wins the lottery, bungee jumping Icelandic mayors, dead geese, a fortune teller and her identical disappearing twin sons, drowned fish and a pitch black sex scene that borders on child neglect. This book should be jam packed with stories to keep your mind flooded with fun right? Right?
Wrong. Amazingly in a book that has so much happening, very little actually happens. All the way through this I was waiting for everything to kick start and really take off but I was left wanting the whole time. The main character wins the lottery twice winning a mobile home and millions of pounds but hardly bats an eyelid. Maybe this is normal for her or maybe the Icelandic lottery is easier to win than our own equivalent. Her Cavalier attitude to big events however, is one of the key things that made me lose patience while reading this. I felt like it was building up to something that was never reached. Imagine watching Inglorious Bastards and having the whole twenty minute conversation at the start not result in the Jew Hunter’s killing spree. Imagine reading an Agatha Christie book and not finding out who dunnit? This is the way Butterflies left me.
If you think I’m being harsh on this book then you’re right. I am. The thing is, there was so much potential here! The writing is beautiful and kept me hypnotised even when the plot was disappointing me. The characters themselves are engaging and well thought out if not a bit comical at times. The main characters ex-husband in particular is a wonderfully pathetic villain who you can’t help but dislike in all of the best ways. The descriptions of the long Icelandic roads and the sense of silence and darkness is reminiscent of Daphne Du Maurier’s Gothic landscapes and added to the overall sense that things were building to a climax, one that, as mentioned, never came.
If you’re looking for a quick read this holiday where you don’t have to apply yourself massively then this could be a good choice. There’s lots of snow and Christmas bits in it which would make it perfect to dip in and out of while letting the copious amounts of turkey and port you’ve digested settle in your stomach. However, if you are looking for something a bit more taxing and fulfilling then probably give this one a miss. There’s a wealth of great Christmas books out there that can be read over the break. Try one of those instead.