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History. A Mess

History. A Mess
Sigrún Pálsdóttir
Open Letter
New York
English translations
Review Author
Björn Halldórsson

(Kompa, 2016)

In the archives of an elite European university, a young PhD candidate stumbles upon a 365-year-old diary entry that offers proof of the world’s first documented professional female artist. For the young woman, it is the chance of a lifetime; an opportunity to establish her career at a time when society is ripe for rethinking women’s role in history.

Six years and six hundred pages later, when the young academic returns to the source that sparked her research, she makes a devastating discovery, the strain of which causes emotional issues from her past to resurface. Struggling to maintain her composure, too ashamed to seek comfort and guidance from her loved ones, the narrator gradually loses faith in her own senses, causing her narration to spiral out of control.

This novel provides a startling insight into the strain and isolation of academia, so that one might wonder whether the author, an Oxford educated historian and biographer, is exorcising a few demons of her own in this, her first work of fiction. Ask any academic and they will tell you: this book is a horror story at heart.