Andri Snær Magnason was born in Reykjavík on July 14, 1973. His family has lived in the Reykjavík suburb Árbær, where ge grew up, through four generations but his family roots are also in the North of Iceland. Andri studied Icelandic literature at the University of Iceland and finished his B.A. degree in 1997. His final paper on the poet Ísak Harðarson was published by the University in 1999. Andri Snær worked for the Árni Magnússon Institute, researching its collection of taped Icelandic folk poetry. This project received an award from the President of Iceland and the poetry was later published as the CD Raddir (Voices) by the publishing house Bad Taste, in cooperation with the Árni Magnússon Institute. The CD contains Icelandic folk poetry collected throughout Iceland from 1903 – 1973, performed by various Icelanders.
In the year 2000, Andri initiated and edited the first book published in Iceland that year. It is called Bók í mannhafið (A Book for the People) and is a poetry collection containing poetry by young Icelandic poets. The book was not for sale, instead it is public property, meant to travel among people without any single person owning it. Andri Snær has published poetry collections, short story collections, novela and the children's book Sagan af bláa hnettinum (The Story of the Blue Planet). It was the first children's book to receive the Icelandic Literature Award, and has now been translated to number of languages, as well as being adapted for the stage. It was staged at the National Theatre of Iceland in 2001 and the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People in Toronto yearly year 2005. He has also written the play Náttúruóperan (Opera of Nature), staged in Iceland in 1999, Úlfhamssaga (Úlfham's Saga) that was staged by the Hafnarfjörður Theatre in 2004, and the play Eilíf hamingja (Eternal Happiness) in 2007 Andri's first novel, LoveStar, received the DV newspaper Culture Award for Literature in 2003. His non fiction book Draumalandið: Sjálfshjálparbók handa hræddri þjóð (The Dreamland: A Self Help Book for a Scared Nation) from 2006, where he tackles the issue of aluminium plants and heavy industry in Iceland, received great attention and popularity. It won The Icelandic Literature Prize for non fiction in 2006. In 2019, Andri published the book Um tímann og vatnið (On Time and Water) where he deals with climate issues, among them the melting of glaciers. The same book was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize.
Author photo: Christopher Lund.
From the Author
From Andri Snær Magnason
Why am I an author? I am not quite sure of that myself, all of a sudden I had become an author and I have looked for reasons in my upbringing, genes, environment, and in the positioning of the stars.
As far as I know there are no poets in my family. According to Decode [The Icelandic Genealogical Institute] I am able to trace my ancestry back to Egill Skallagrímsson and Snorri Sturluson. My grandfather on my mother''s side of the family is a surgeon, my sister is a brain surgeon, my father is a lung specialist, my mother a surgical nurse, my wife is a qualified nurse, so is my mother-in-law. My brother is studying computer science, his girlfriend is a student nurse. I am told that my great-great-grandmother had a way with words and I have read poems she wrote to the nursing staff at the nursing home. My father''s side of the family is full of strange characters and the border between poetry and reality is sometimes blurred with them. My grandfather for instance took a taxi from Reykjavík to Neskaupsstaður [c.700 km] in 1947 to ask for my grandmother''s hand in marriage and then left for the honeymoon on his own, north to Melrakkaslétta. My mother''s parents enjoyed their two-week honeymoon on top of the Vatnajökull glacier in 1954. The highest point of the Kverkfjöll mountain ridge is called Brúðarbunga [Bridal hill] in her honour.
Perhaps I am an author because I once travelled back in time. Those who travel back in time see things in a different light and have a different perspective from those who have never broken the connection with the present. For six years I lived in USA, until I was nine years old. There you had cartoons in the morning, the first computer games where played in the homes and most people could choose from 30 television channels, equally many radio stations and sometimes my classmates would celebrate their birthdays at McDonald''s. I had a burning interest in reptiles, bugs and whales, my favourite television programme was the four o''clock movie which showed cheap Japanese B-films with Godzilla or the gigantic BLOB which devoured whole cities. Teenagers wandered aimlessly around shopping malls and men watched boxing matches and drank beer.
I moved to Iceland in 1981. I knew exactly where I was moving to, I was going to the Promised Land where the summers were so great that even the television took a holiday. Back then the States where not unlike Iceland today. When I moved home in 1981 I was travelling at least ten years back in time and even if I was young when I got involved in this time travel I still think it had a formative influence on me and all the changes in Iceland between 1980 and 1990 were like an exciting re-run. While 70,000 people flocked to the opening of the Kringlan shopping mall and prime minister Davíð Oddsson bit into the first Big Mac I had no desire to return to America. I travelled further back in time, buried myself in old books and folk tales and this yearning still haunts me. In 1997 I filled my head with the singing of long dead men and women at the audiotape archive in The Árni Magnússon Institute and that came very close to real time travel.
I was born on the Bastille Day 14. July 1973.
Perhaps I have a bit of the revolutionary in me. Most of the time I am not a violent man and I have rarely been in fights but the positions of the heavenly bodies sometimes makes me want to stick the necks of politicians under the guillotine. I try to divert such feelings into positive channels, if possible poetic ones, but sometimes words fail me and then you never know what is going to happen.
The exile years
I travelled back in time and I was also in exile. I was in exile in America for six years and I have probably never been as firmly nationalistic as during that time. In America we did not move the lips when the stars and stripe was saluted in the morning, we sang spiteful songs about Jimmy Carter and I can still remember the sincere joy when I came home from school and my sister ran joyfully and laughing to me singing: They shot Reagan! They shot Reagan! We did not know the Icelandic national anthem but instead we sang Gekk ég yfir sjó og land [traditional Christmas song]. It thrilled the kids and the coolest guy of them all Jói Ara who later worked at the Kaffibar and was constantly featured in the gossip magazines, screamed resonantly: Iceland the GREATEST! (instead of the good). Iceland was the Promised Land and once I almost got into a fight with a boy who said that Iceland was smaller than Texas. I have mostly recovered from the nationalistic spell but I think that could partly be the reason why I went for old-fashioned subjects as Icelandic and literature.
Education and books
I was in the physics department in MS (secondary school), I took the final exams in 1993 and tried to read medicine the following autumn and I tried to become a flight controller because I was told that they worked for one day and then had a week off and then I could use the time in-between to write. I failed on the personality test. I got a degree in Icelandic in 1997, my dissertation was published in 1999 and is called Maður undir himni [Man under the sky] and is about the poetry of Ísak Harðarson. I wrote my first poem when I was eleven, the second when I was fifteen and with that I won the Ársel [youth club] poetry competition. The panel of judges thought I had stolen the poem and that to me was the greatest accolade, that a real poet could have penned my poem. I wrote poetry in secondary school and I started to write short stories when I was 19. Now I have written two books of poetry, a collection of short stories, an academic text, a children''s book, two plays, a poetry CD with a band called MÚM and hopefully there is a novel about to be born these days.
To me ideas are most important, they are the driving force and sometimes the writing can be very hard work and I just want to blurt out the ideas. Sometimes it is tempting to put one work to the side if other ideas are pushing their way in.
Raddir [Voices] the CD was such an idea as well as Leitin að Mónu Lísu [The search for Mona Lisa] which was a project I did for the Icelandic Tourist Board. But soon I was starting to feel like Björk doing a film; I get a guilty conscience because I know the poetic muse is not too fond of adultery. There will come a time when she taps my shoulder, and tells me angrily to get back into bed with her or else she will leave me. She is tapping right this minute so I better get to work.
Andri Snær Magnason, 2001
Translated by Dagur Gunnarsson.
About the Author
“Have a good day”
In the short story, “Þögn er gulli betri” (Silence is golden), from Engar smá sögur (1996; No Short Stories), the linguist/Icelandic scholar Magni has decided to find out if there really is anything to proverbs; do they stand to reason and are they actually correct. So he embarks on quite a research project where he measures the truth-value of proverbs and finds out that even though some are pretty correct, there are quite many that cannot be called prophetic. As an example it becomes clear after some checking that: “Distance makes the mountains blue (in the summertime, otherwise they are white) and the men very small.” It is a no less impressive discovery that “the grass is precisely as green on both sides of creeks, that is if any grass grew beside them at all, which was a rather rare occurrence in this ravaged land.”
The story illustrates well the play on language that is the hallmark of Andri Snær´s fiction. And it is not only language, but also literature, legends and folktales that Andri makes use of in his fiction: In the short story collection, Engar smá sögur, one story recites the tale of Gunnlöð and her love affairs with young poets, but the games of love all end with the barfing of the young poets into various containers. “Sérkennarinn” (The Special Educator) tells of the Danish civil servant´s unexpected gift of poetical inspiration, but he happens to be buried in the burial site of much beloved poet Jónas Hallgrímsson at Þingvellir. In his poem “Fuglinn trúr sem fer” (The Trusty Thrush Messenger) a shamefaced thrush asks for a further description of the angel with the red tassel, but that angel (a girl) appears in one of Jónas´ most popular poems.
In the latter part of the short story collection, titled “Lögmál árstíðanna” (The Law of the Seasons), Andri Snær works with the Biblical legend of the tower of Babel, but in his version the tower has been transformed into a computer; the narrator of the poem “Bíóferð” (A Trip to the Cinema) from Andri Snær´s book Ljóðasmygl og skáldarán (1995; Smuggled poems and pilfered poets) is sitting behind an intolerable man with webbed fingers, who smells of rotting seaweed and laughs in the wrong places in the film. This is a reference to the folkloric sea creature Marbendill (a kind of a merman), who has a particularly prophetic and nasty laughter. In the story of “The Sailor and the Mermaid” Andri plays around with fairy tales and legends of mermaids.
This discussion of literature not only appears in the subject matter of Andri Snær´s fiction, but also in a comprehensive usage of quotations and references to literature, fairy tales and legends that build his text. “The love of fish is surely cold as they are themselves,” muses the sailor when his cohabitation with the mermaid turns sour, but “Ástin fiskanna” (The Love of the Fish) is the title of Steinunn Sigurðardóttir´s novella from 1993. “ An old man in a yellow dress walks over the unsuspecting flowers on Austurvöllur” in the story of the summer, but in Steinn Steinarss´s poem it was the sun that walked in yellow shoes. In the poem “Tanka um vorið á öðrum sumardegi” (Tanka on spring in the second day of summer) the poet is irritated because the singing birds are interrupting him when he is “trying to/write a poem about the spring”.
Andri Snær is not content with referring to other literary writings, he also aligns his fiction with daily reality. Thus, his publication of the book of poetry Bónusljóð (Bonus Poems), sponsored by supermarket chain Bónus and sold in its stores, gained a lot of attention.
Considering Andri Snær´s approach to the interplay of fiction and reality it is interesting to reflect on how certain traces of fictionality can be tracked in the author´s career, but one could say that a narrative formula appeared when Andri received The Icelandic Literary Award.
The narrative formula is known to all who read many books or see many films. Fewer perhaps, realise that this formula is not exclusive to fiction but has a considerable influence on our daily life, which, despite clear fictional elements, is rarely categorised along with fiction. And this formula appeared so happily in the decision of the committee for the Icelandic Literary Award in 1999, when Sagan af bláa hnettinum (The Story of the Blue Planet) was chosen for the award. A children´s book had never before been nominated in the history of the award and thus the selection came as a surprise to many; but in fact this had been prophesised through the narrative formula. Since this award was first founded, a lively discussion on the status of children´s literature has been ongoing, this discussion reached a certain peak around the nomination in 1998, when many missed Þorvaldur Þorsteinsson´s children´s novel, Ég heiti Blíðfinnur en þú mátt kalla mig Bóbó (My Name is Butterby But You Can Call Me Bóbó). However, it turned out that the book had never even been a part of the original selection for the nomination. After all this excitement it was clear that children´s books must be reimbursed after the persecution they had been subjected to, and when the nomination was secured there was no other option than to award.
This does not mean that it was only because of this formula that Andri Snær and Blái hnötturinn where awarded, on the contrary the narrative formula generally and mostly implies a positive and logical conclusion to the events gone on before, lovers are united, evildoers punished and heroes get their just rewards.
This interplay of fiction and daily life further appears in that Andri Snær has also made his mark on the field of literary discussion. He has worked ambitiously to present Icelandic literary heritage in a new and exiting way, and thus attempted to arouse attention to the varied possibilities of Icelandic culture. One of his projects has been to point out the necessity of finding a strong visual symbol and icon for Icelandic cultural heritage, nominating the manuscript Codex regius of the Poetic Edda for the role. Quite correctly, Andri has claimed that because of the lack of accessible and visible cultural heritage in the form of buildings and monuments, Icelanders need something else, and selects the Irish Book of Kells as the model for his project, but the Book of Kells is a kind of a key-symbol of Irish cultural tourism and is viewed by a number of people every day. This idea illustrates clearly Andri´s splendid ability to connect the present to the past, the ancient and the new. This play with time also appears endearingly in his work, particularly as concerns the work with themes of mythology and folktales.
One of Andri Snær´s projects was to take part in the production and publication of Raddir (Voices), a CD with old recordings of songs, rhymes and chants, chanted in a manner now almost extinct. Following upon that he has been actively directing attention to this form of poetry and its unique style of performance. It may be added that whether we can thank Andri directly or not, Icelandic rhymes have had a surprising success following upon the cooperation of rhymer Steinþór I. Andersen and the band Sigur Rós.
In his own writings, Andri has also been noted for his cooperation with other artists and in 1999 he published a poetry CD with music by the electronic band múm, which has recently garnered a considerable critical success abroad for its unique and charming music. It must also be stressed that Sagan af bláa hnettinum was not only noted for the text, but also for the extremely successful illustrations of Áslaug Jónsdóttir, and I believe that this award not only drew people´s attention to the importance of such high quality illustrations in children´s books, but also that they worked towards enhancing the ambition of such publications. In Iceland a certain arrogance towards illustrations has been apparent, as clear from the word ´myndskreyting´ literally meaning ´picture-decoration´, where it is implied that the pictures are ´just´ decorations for the text, something to please the eye and rest the mind in the struggle with words. It is against such an attitude that Áslaug Jónsdóttir calls her pictorial part of the Blue Planet ´myndlýsingar´ (the same word as ´illuminations´, but literally meaning picture-descriptions), not ´myndskreytingar´, and the book is a particularly good example of how the images are interwoven with the text and stand as an integral part of it. To take a few examples of other similarly ambitious projects, one could name Allir í strætó (2000; All Aboard the Bus) and Hundurinn sem þráði að verða frægur (2001; The Dog that Dreamt of Fame) by Guðbergur Bergsson, illustrated by Halldór Baldursson, Sindri Freyson´s Hundaeyjan (2000; The Dog Island) illustrated by Halla Sólveig Þorgeirsdóttir, and Algert frelsi (2001; Perfect Freedom) by writer Auður Jónsdóttir and artist Þórarinn Leifsson, who worked the book in tandem.
All this is particularly pleasing in view of the discussion concerning children´s reading, enlivened by the success of the Harry Potter books, but many claimed that they rekindled interest in reading among children. Reflections as these on children and books follow directly upon discussion on the rapidly changing status of the book in the digitalised-information society. One of the positive things that has happened is that it is now more difficult to section cultural discourses, and literary theorists and critics have felt an increased pressure towards opening up the literary discourse and add to connections between forms and fields, such as those between written text and illustrations. More apparent though, is the concern for the possible weakening status of the book, reading and the written text itself in these times of glamorous advertising and multimedia. But then again, many have pointed out that the book has withstood many a war, and that until now all news of its death have been grossly exaggerated. Radio, cinema, television, videos; all were supposed to place the book in danger of extermination, but none have come close.
A more interesting question concerns the influence of this media on the literature itself, its subject, content and language. As an example it has been pointed out that despite the reduction of traditional reading of books, it may be argued that reading and writing in general has increased due to the Internet. Young people have embraced the Internet, using it as a source of information as well as recreation, and in addition the Internet has become a popular tool for communication, used by many in a variety of ways, from ordinary e-mail to chatrooms and text messages. Some claim that because of the Internet, adolescents probably read and write more than their parents, it is just the form that is different. What interests me is that this activity has until now happened outside the field of fiction and has not contributed to it in any clearly noticeable way.
One exception from this apparent lack of interest, among writers, in the place of the book in the glamour-world of advertisements and multimedia is Sagan af bláa hnettinum. The story itself describes a society of wild children that live on the blue planet and are visited by the pleasure-providing Gleði-Glaumur (Noisy-Joy) who quickly manages to rob them of their eternal youth in return for relentless advertising hype. Not only the pictures but also the typography and lettering take an active part in propelling the story onwards; changes in typography reflect events within the story and pictures are woven into the written text as an important part of it. In this way the story makes good use of the possibilities of modern media, while at the same time criticising the same media. It is worthy of note that it is in a children´s tale where the main and most successful experimentation on the novel´s form appears, in 1999 Sagan af bláa hnettinum was without doubt the work that illustrated innovation and audacity to the greatest extent. In addition to that the story appeals to both children and adults, as all good children´s books should do.
The text is full of interesting undertones, it is striking that Andri Snær does not hesitate to keep his gallery of characters full of nuances, the children are not divisible into traditional groups of good and bad children, and the main protagonists are both good and cruel. When Gleði-Glaumur lands on the small island on the blue planet and offers the children the ability to fly by the power of butterflydust and eternal sunlight, the children do not hesitate to give him percentage of their wells of eternal youth, and when they hear that by nailing down the sun over the island an eternal darkness and cold reigns elsewhere on the planet they do not care. The old life that was so full of simple magic is suddenly dated when flying and cool materials like dirt-resistant Teflon are available. But finally the children change their minds for the better, and Gleði-Glaumur, the king of consumption is turned into a real king – “A King is like an ape in a cage. He requires nothing but to be fed and it is fun to go and have a look at him, but apart from that there is no need to worry about him”. The children return to their earlier simple lives, where they kill seals for food, grilling them whole, find wishing-stones and watch the unique flight of the butterflies.
Sagan af bláa hnettinum is thus clearly studded with a critique towards the society of consumption, while the story is also self-consciously the product of that society. The same can be said about Bónusljóð, they can be simultaneously viewed as a critique of the consumption-culture and as a certain way to go with the flow of its habits. The collection is linear, describing “a divinely pleasant journey through the wondrous world of the modern supermarket”, as it says on the cover of the book. The journey begins in the “Garden of Eden” where the primal instincts of modern man blossom in the act of marching with the trolley, gathering fruits. Butter drips from every shelf in this ubiquitous world of plenty, “Eve in the fruit-department/is tempted to bite/into a succulent apple/on special offer” and a young man can´t beat that feeling of the coca cola ads as he rubs accidentally against the “girl with the white arm/who is shelving the coca cola bottles”. Next stop takes us down to “Niflheimur” (the cold hell of the Norse mythology) and in there the narrator is stuck behind the plastic curtain of the cooler, the look of the sheep´s head is icy but the narrator does not recall having told him that “those who die in a battle go to Valhalla” (the glorious abode of dead heroes). A man with a beard “produces/1000 portions from only/5 fish” and the last words of the little yellow hen are as ever “not I”. In “Purgatory” it becomes clear that it is thanks to cleaning products that Iceland is so clean and pure and “considering the blue blood/in the sanitary napkins” “all women are princesses”, at least “according to the ads”. Old truths, but always valid. Finally the reader walks out of the doors of the store/book:
Og sjá! Þegar Pétur eða engillinn
hún Guðrún hefur rennt öllum
freistingunum gegnum geislann
og skráð þær á hið gullna kort
opnast gula hliðið og maður
labbar út með fulla pokana út í
óvissuna og lítur um öxl til þess
að sjá helgisvipinn og fjarrænt
brosið sem segir:
Eigðu góðan dag.
[And see! When Peter or the angel
Guðrún has passed all
the temptations over the laser beam
and put them on the golden card
the yellow gate opens and you
walk with full bags out into
the open and you look back to
see the priestly face and the distant
smile that says
Have a good day]
© Úlfhildur Dagsdóttir, 2002
NOTHING CAN STOP AN IDEA – A REVIEW OF THE WORKS OF ANDRI SNÆR MAGNASON
Andri Snær Magnason has written a multiplicity of works, having tried his hand at all sorts of literature, such as: novels, short stories, poetry, plays, social critiques and children’s books. They are, in turn, of a varied nature. LoveStar and The Coffin of Time (Tímakistan) are science fiction and fantasy respectively, while his short story collection Sleep my Love (Sofðu ást mín,) tends towards realism. Andri Snær has won multiple awards. The Story of the Blue Planet (Sagan af bláa hnettinum) was the first children’s book to win the Icelandic Literature Prize, an award he also won for The Dreamland (Draumalandið) in 2006 and The Coffin of Time (Tímakistan) in 2013, as well as having been nominated for Lovestar in 2002.
This article will continue from where the preceding article by Úlfhildur Dasdóttir left off, going over the works published since then, with reference to the author’s previous works.
IF THE DEPARTMENT OF CHEER HAD FREE REIGN
In his social commentary, The Dreamland, Andri Snær talks about some of the ideas that fueled his dystopia in LoveStar, which that centered around a giant corporation in the future:
The CEO of the company was supposed to be the greatest innovator of all time, a so called serial-innovator that jumps from one idea to the next. In the book I wanted to create a company that worked by the motto “nothing can stop an idea,” and the ethics of “if I don’t do it then someone else will,” and then see what would happen. One of the main components of the company was LoveDeath, whereby dead people were shot into the atmosphere and allowed to fall back down to earth in the form of a shooting star… The idea was to see what the head of marketing at FM 957 (Icelandic radio station) would do about death if he had free reign to create the most cheerful atmosphere possible around it. (The Dreamland, p.23)
These ideas are at the forefront of LoveStar, a book about a dystopian future and the entrepreneur LoveStar, who has, through his idealism, managed to completely revamp everyday life as we know it. Since he managed to make people hands-free using bird frequencies, humanity has taken incredible leaps forward.
The story mainly takes place in Iceland, Reykjavík and in Öxnardalur where the LoveStar headquarters are located. In spite of the innovation that LoveStar has brought humanity, he feels that his work is nowhere near done. He has plenty more ideas for how to improve life and these ideas must be followed through. If he doesn’t do it then someone else will – and probably someone with a less developed sense of morality.
There is nothing that doesn’t concern the LoveStar Empire and their marketing and cheer department “íSTAR” has an exuberant amount of power. Their main tasks are to analyze target groups and create cheer to increase consumption, using various tricks to get people to buy more and more. Love has its own department, “inLOVE,” where bird frequencies are used to calculate people’s soul mate, the two of which are then sold a magnitude of extremely “necessary” products and experiences. Relationships that have not been calculated are only temporary and íSTAR makes sure that everyone is cheerful and up for being calculated. LoveDeath takes care of death and funerals for the whole world, whereby the bodies of the deceased are shot out of the atmosphere in little rockets.
At the onset of the story, we follow LoveStar home from one his grandest expeditions so far, as Andri Snær paints a detailed picture of the society LoveStar has created. But that very empire is at a breaking point. A particularly competitive man from the Cheer Department has had an idea that even LoveStar considers to be going too far – but as LoveStar knows, there is no stopping an idea.
As LoveStar travels to his headquarters, we get interchanging glimpses into his past, and the love story of Sigríður and Indriði, an uncalculated couple who are convinced that they have found true love despite having no official confirmation of said love. When Sigríður gets calculated with another man, the couple decides to ignore the new information, but the system doesn’t allow for exceptions. íSTAR makes every attempt to make sure everyone follows through with the calculations, and eventually the couple’s rebellion creates an error that topples the entire system.
As is the case with so much of Andri Snær’s work, there are plenty of references in LoveStar. It carries on the dystopian tradition, in which a seemingly perfect society is in fact one in which none of its subjects are truly free. One can see the influence of well-known titles, such as 1984 by George Orwell, on LoveStar, but one can also see references to A Boy and a Girl (Piltur of Stúlka) by Jón Thoroddsen, the poetry of Jónas Hallgrímsson, the Icelandic National Anthem, The Symposium, and others. These references serve to add layers of depth to the text and expose the flawed society in the story, the folly of man, and ideas getting out of hand.
Now, sixteen years after the publication of LoveStar, one could observe parallels between fiction and reality. The technological advances in the the story mirror our own. Corporate giants have access to everyone’s information, much like íSTAR, and use that information for the same sort of mischievous target advertising. Contemporary man can indeed be hands free and live in a virtual world, much like the characters in LoveStar. Although the technology there is exaggerated for effect, or perhaps it’s simply more advanced.
THE RECIPE FOR DREAMLAND
Although quite different from Andri Snær’s fictional works, The Dreamland was well received, netting the Icelandic price for literature in the category of non-fiction. The subtitle, “A Self Help Book for a Scared Nations,” is descriptive enough, as the author critiques everything from Icelandic society, to its peoples’ way of thinking, politics and its international position. The main critique is of increased industrialization at the cost of the Icelandic nature.
The Dreamland discusses both the Icelandic zeitgeist and explicit political arguments about industrialization vis-a-vis the job market, and the author proposes different solutions. He is in favor of production and innovation rather than the gathering of raw materials at the cost of nature. He also dissects the nature of ideas, specifically language and how it relates to selling people ideas.
Andri Snær references tv-interviews, news and websites, some of which are still active, but if not, then you can look them up on the website-collection of Landsbókasafnið: www.vefsafn.is. There you can see them as they were when the book was written. Even though The Dreamland is non-fiction the author makes good use of prose and imagery to evoke the readers imagination.
The book is written shortly before the 2008 financial depression and is an interesting documentation of the zeitgeist at the time, when industrial reforms were prominently discussed, but everything seemed to be moving in a positive direction.
NO MORE FEBRUARY
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to skip Mondays and February? To be able to sit around and watch the tediousness of life whiz past you without having to spend your valuable time on it. In a word: to skip everything that isn’t fun. This is the idea that Andri Snær explores in The Coffin of time (Tímakistan.)
The story is set in an unknown city, in an unknown future. Andri tells us about the corporate giant, Tímex, who bombards the cities’ residents with slogans like “Monday blows,” and “Did you do anything productive today? Wasted time is lost time!” (p. 13) to remind them about all the time they waste. Economists and politicians, who cannot agree on anything, talk about economic depression and lack of time. Tímex has the solution. They have developed a time coffin into which a person can disappear. The inside of the coffin is timeless, meaning a person can wait for better times without wasting any of their own time. Furthermore, it can be set to open at a certain point in time. One by one, stressed out, overworked, and tired people get in them, until there is no one left. Before long, the city starts crumbling down out of sheer entropy.
At the onset of the story a little girl, Sigún, wakes up from her time coffin. She meets a few other children in this sleeping world and they gather at the home of an old woman: Svala. She is the only one who didn’t get into a time coffin and has figured out a way to release the world from its slumber.
She tells the children the story of the princess of Pangea. In it, King Dímon didn’t want his daughter Hrafntinna to experience anything bad. He got his hands on a magic coffin in which time stood still and whenever something bad happened, anything from bad weather to a war, the princess was put in the coffin to wait it out. Eventually the king didn’t feel any time was good enough for the princess and she started spending more and more time in the coffin. Dímon waged war and the kingdom crumbled and was forgotten. Eventually two scientists discovered a strange ancient coffin in which they found a young girl. She was alive.
Both the story of the princess and of the future world are made to make us think about how we prioritize our time, what’s important and, what we sacrifice to do everything we “have” to do. In the story it is the children who save the day, because they still understand what’s truly important. They don’t want to wait for better times. They don’t care if it’s February or July. They just want to enjoy pleasant times with their parents and friends, and for the adults to relax a little and stop listening to stress inducing economists. The same can be said of the story of the Princess in which the king misses out on a life with his daughter.
Luckily the story ends well. The adults get out of their coffins and start rebuilding society. They seem to have learned their lesson.
SHORT STORIES AND POEMS
Among the first of Andri Snær’s published works are his poems and short stories. In 1995 he published smuggled poems and stolen poets (Ljóðasmygl og skáldarán,) and Bónus Poetry (Bónusljóð) and No Short Stories (Engar smá sögur) in 1996. Bónus Poems has since been re-published twice, in 2006 with the subtitle 33% more, and in 2017 with the subtitle 44% more. Andri did in fact add to the book in these subsequent editions, as well as re-write segments. The first poem in the second edition, for example, “Homo Consumus,” is new. It deals with how contemporary man has distanced himself from food, especially its origin. In it a man runs through the corridors of a supermarket, throwing food into his cart, much like prime man gathered his necessities in a much different environment. The comical parallel shows how far we’ve come from our origin.
Some of the changes in later editions of the book are strictly about updating the poems for contemporary times. As in changing a reference of a radio station into a more popular radio station at the time, or adjusting the price of food items for inflation. Some poems were given names of specific corporations, such as the poem “Ísfugl,” which is a reference to an Icelandic slaughter house:
were the last words
of the little red hen
(Bónus Poetry, pg. 44)
The direct reference to the slaughterhouse, coupled with the reference to the children’s book “The little red hen,” is bound to evoke the reader’s emotions.
First published in 2016, the short story collection Sleep My Love, is a collection of seven short stories. They are at once more personal, sincere, and down to earth than the author’s previous short stories. They deal with all aspects of life, friendship, love, dreams, betrayal and grief. Our meaning making apparatuses and sense of self is looked at from various angles, as well as how our past shapes and defines us.
The first story, Wasp (Randafluga,) tells us of a roadtrip on the highlands. The main character is a child traveling with his parents and siblings. It doesn’t just tell us about the child’s experience of their travels, the bumping of the car along the road and the static of the radio, but delves into his relationship with his parents, their opinions, and other peoples’ views of them, all seen through the eyes of the child.
Rex deals with two old friends meeting for the first time since they were young. One is an artist and the other a ruthless businessman. They get caught up in the old power dynamic of their youth as Atli, the businessman, tries to dominate the artist. Wild Boys, another story, elaborates on Atli and his associates’ near psychopathic behavior. It is told from the perspective of his wife.
Although spanning a multiplicity of genres, Andri Snær’s work has something in common. An imaginative use of language and unusual points of view permeate and enrich his work, layering it with meaning. Usual things in unusual places and clever references from literature create interesting, engaging works of fiction, simultaneously demanding of the reader and wonderfully entertaining.
María Bjarkadóttir, 2019
Neijmann, Daisy L., ed. A History of Icelandic Literature.
University of Nebraska Press, 2007, pp. 449-50, 501 and 506.
Oliver Lowenstein: “Ice and Fire”
Blueprint 2014, #7 pp. 152-66.
Mad as Hell – Interview with Andri Snær Magnason
Iceland Review, 2006; 44 (2): pp. 24-25
On individual works
Elva Simundsson: “Lovestar : by Andri Snær Magnason” (ritdómur)
The Icelandic Connection 2013, vol 65, #3 pp. 140-1.
Sagan af bláa hnettinum (The Story of the Blue Planet)
Anna Heiða Pálsdóttir: “Den lystige globetrotter.”
Nordisk Litteratur, 2000, pp. 19-21
2020 - The Icelandic Broadcasting Service (RÚV) Writers Fund
2019 - The employees of booksellers award: Um tíman og vatnið (In the category of techincal books and handbooks)
2014 - The Reykjavík Scholastic Children's Literature Award: Tímakistan (The Time Box)
2013 - The Booksellers´ Award, for best young adult fiction: Tímakistan (The Time Box)
2013 - The Icelandic Literature Prize: Tímakistan (The Time Vault). In the category of children´s and young adult fiction.
2006 - The Icelandic Literature Prize (for non fiction works): Draumalandið: sjálfshjálparbók handa hræddri þjóð (Dreamland: A Self-Help Guide for a Frightended Nation)
2006 - The Icelandic Bookseller Awards: Draumalandið (Dreamland). As the best non-fiction book of the year
2003 - DV Cultural Prize for literature: Lovestar
2002 - The Bookseller Award: Lovestar. As the best novel of the year
2002 - The West-Nordic Children´s Book Prize: Sagan af bláa hnettinum (The Story of the Blue Planet)
2000 - Janusz Korczak Award: Sagan af bláa hnettinum (The Story of the Blue Planet)
1999 - The Icelandic Literature Prize (for fiction): Sagan af bláa hnettinum (The Story of the Blue Planet)
2021 - The Nordic Council Literature Prize: Um tímann og vatnið (On Time and Water)
2019 - Honour from "Hagþenkir": Um tímann og vatnið
2018 - Tähtifantasia prize nomination: Tímakistan
2016 - Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire, best fiction in translation: LoveStar
2014 - The West-Nordic Children´s Literature Prize: Tímakistan (The Time Vault)
2013 - The Philip K. Dick Award: LoveStar
2003 - The Icelandic Literature Prize: Lovestar