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Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir: Rigning í nóvember (Butterflies in November)

The unnamed heroine/narrator of this story is a thirty-three year old Icelandic woman. Her job is wide-ranging. I provide proof-reading services and revise BA theses and articles for specialized magazines and publications on any subject. I also revise electoral speeches, irrespective of party affiliations, and correct any revealing errors in anonymous complaints and/or secret letters of admiration, and remove any inept or inaccurate philosophical or poetic references from congratulatory speeches and elevate obituaries to a higher (almost divine) level. I am fully versed in all the quotations of our departed national poets. I translate from eleven languages both into and out of Icelandic, including Russian, Polish and Hungarian. Fast and accurate translations. Home delivery service. All projects are treated as confidential. As she mentions, she does provide home delivery. What she does not mention is that she does, on occasion, provide additional sexual services to her clients. She is married but the marriage is falling apart. They had met casually. He had proposed almost immediately. She had accepted at once, not entirely clear why she had accepted and they had since drifted through this marriage for almost five years, neither of them really knowing or understanding the other. (I feel I can’t reach you properly, you’re so lost in your own world, always thinking about something other than me) She does not like children – she is very clear on that – but that seems almost an afterthought as to why the marriage is breaking up. Despite this, she thinks that she might love her husband, though she is not sure. His leaving and his reasons for leaving (he does not know who she is and he has found someone else, a work colleague, who is now seven months pregnant by him) seem quite valid to her.

The narrator does have one friend, who shares her name with her creator, Auður (fun in some ways but a total crackpot). It is Auður who, at the start of the novel, persuades the narrator to visit a medium. The medium offers the usual mumbo-jumbo advice (It’s all threes here,” she says, “three men in your life over a distance of 300 kilometres, three dead animals, three minor accidents or mishaps, although you aren’t necessarily directly involved in them, animals will be maimed, but the men and women will survive) though it does turn out to be true. More particularly she recommends that the narrator buy a lottery ticket, something she does all the time anyway, and, sure enough she does win a lottery, though it is the lottery of the Association of the Deaf and the prize is a a ready-made mobile summer bungalow with an American kitchen, deck and grill, that was built by deaf builders and can be taken apart and transported to any part of the country. She has moved out of her flat – her ex has taken virtually everything, leaving her only the sandwich maker and the DVD player as Nina, his new love, has a new one, and moved to her work studio – and she plans to take a late summer holiday. Taking a late summer holiday in October in Iceland is generally not a good idea. Then Auður intervenes again. Auður has a four year old son – the father has long since moved away – who is partially deaf and has poor eyesight. She is pregnant by another man. When she comes to visit the narrator, she slips and falls, damaging her ankle. When she is taken to hospital, she is found to have various problems, not least of which is that she is expecting twins. The hospital wants her to stay there till she gives birth. She asks the narrator to look after her son, Tumi, despite the fact that the narrator is setting off on her holiday.

Tumi and the narrator set off in her car, around Route 1 (the ring road which goes right round Iceland). The weather is awful, with pouring rain and threatening floods but, despite the difficulty in communicating with Tumi (her communication skills are, by her own admission, weak – Despite my mastery of many languages, I’ve never been particularly apt with words, at least not eye to eye) – and the fact that she does not like children, things go better with him than expected, not least because he is to her surprise (and to the surprise of Auður) able to write. Since her husband had moved out, she had bumped into him several times and again, while on her travels, she bumps into him at a remote inn. She and Tumi have a host of other adventures, some of which are as predicted by the medium. These involve Estonian singers, falcons, biblical floods and other assorted adventures both before and after they reach her late grandparents’ remote bungalow, which has no electricity connection and where they stay. Things go well with Tumi, despite the fact that he considers most men he meets to be his lost father.

As with her her later novel, the heroine in this novel is a quirky Icelander who does not quite fit in but is struggling to find her role if life and, as yet, has not managed to do so, with the role encompassing both professional and personal aspects. Unlike in the later novel, it is not entirely clear whether, by the end of the book, she has found her niche. She already had a profession, which she continues, and her romantic life cannot said to be fully resolved, though she does, at least, have a good relationship with her temporary son. The book ends with a host of recipes, including one for undrinkable coffee. It is certainly a readable book but not, I feel, as good as Afleggjarinn (The Greenhouse) .

Publishing history

First published 2004 by Salka
First published in English 2013 by Pushkin Press
Translated by Brian Fitzgibbon