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5/8/2013 12:02:00 AM
Book Review: The Blue Fox
Bryan Boeckl

The Blue Fox,

by Sjón

Farrar Straus Giroux, $10.00)

While Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson, aka Sjón, is as unfamiliar to the English-speaking world as the pronunciation of his name, he has been an artistic player in the Nordic world since the 1980s. As a poet, novelist and collaborator of Björk, the Icelander has won accolades and awards in his homeland for many years now, and upon opening this new translation of The Blue Fox, it is clear why. Equal parts fable and wayfaring poem, what begins as an artfully crafted yet seemingly innocuous hunting expedition slowly drifts and narrows into something more acute.

It is the winter of 1883, and the place is Iceland. Closing one eye to line up the iron sights of Sjón's pages, as a reader you expect to, naturally, find the blue fox. Instead, a lyrical sojourn is unbridled where the lines between man and beast, supernatural and ordinary are unwound.

The book consists of two narratives: the first being the hunter and his pursuit of the blue fox. The match up between them takes on extraordinary elements, as both are keenly aware of the other, and both utilize the expansive and rugged terrain to their advantage, however long that might last. As the hunt unfurls, the possibility that the hunter and his target become more and more aligned is certainly present, as they both seem to take on certain aspects of the other in an effort to out-maneuver their competitor. The hunt even dovetails into a debate between man and animal on the merit and morality of electricity, with the shared view that electrical light is channelling an aspect of God.

The second plot line is that of a nearby herbalist who has spent many years caring for a mysterious Down Syndrome girl, whose unknown origins and surprising discovery on a wrecked ship add multiple dimensions to the story. Add to this a funeral under false pretenses and the unwavering warmth it conceals and the two narratives converge in unexpected ways, which produce outcomes that no one could have foreseen.

Sjón is the caliber of writer who cannot pass over a circumstance in which, for example, a predator seeks a predator, without fully realizing how many caverns of thought and nature there are to spelunk. And spelunk he does. By drawing the boundaries of contest that go with a hunt, pairing them off with elements of darkness, adding a helping of cunning, and exploring the greater kindnesses of lone individuals, there is nothing else to do but realize that you have been taken into the peculiarities of the human heart.

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