From the Author
A Q&A with Audur Ava Olafsdottir
Question: Are you a gardener yourself, or are the references to growth and cultivation in The Greenhouse intended as a metaphor for the protagonistÕs own growth and self-realization?
Audur Ava Olafsdottir: I would like to be a gardener like my protagonist, Lobbi--"silent in the soil," so to speak. But really, I am just an author using my imagination as a tool. While I was writing The Greenhouse, my own garden in Reykjavik was neglected.
Q: What inspired you to get inside the head of a twentysomething man?
AAO: The novel tells the story of a very young father who is "practically brought up in a greenhouse" and has three main interests in life: sex, death, and cultivating roses. The story focuses on his many complex roles as a son, a twin brother, a lover, and a father. I was particularly interested in fatherhood, which is in many ways an abstract experience--especially when you have a child with a stranger, like Lobbi does--compared to the woman's experience of giving birth. I like to play with traditional gender roles by talking about male sensitivity.
Q: Lobbi tries to move on after his mother's death by taking a journey to restore the gardens of a remote monastery. Is the monastery he visits based on a real place?
AAO: Many people have asked me where the beautiful rose garden in the story is. I answer that the possibility of creating a garden and making it real is always there if you can make it grow in the reader's mind. That's how fiction works. My Lobbi is traveling through an unnamed country. As in all fictional travels, the narrator becomes acquainted with himself, rather than with a place.
Q: Through Lobbi's grief-stricken eyes after the death of his mother, you paint Iceland as barren and desolate place. But how would you describe the country yourself?
AAO: The natural landscape is breathtaking. It is like being lost in space or in infinity, and it gives you the feeling of total freedom. Being an Icelander also means being part of a small community of 317,000 people and being constantly confronted with the unpredictable: weather, volcanic eruptions, bankruptcy. Being an Icelandic writer means expressing myself in a marginal language that no one understands.
Q: You have a degree in art history and also work as a curator. How did you get into writing? Does your eye for art give you a different perspective?
AAO: I think the main impact on my writing of working full-time as an art historian is that there's a longer gap between books. But thousands of pictures have gone through my mind, and they probably have some influence on my writing. There's often a picture in my mind as a starting point, but while I'm writing, it disappears beneath layers of text.
My view of the world has always been slightly skewed. Then, out of nowhere, I had this urge to create fictitious worlds with their own laws. Maybe it comes from a strong need for freedom. Like many writers, I want the world to be different, and writing novels is my small contribution to that.
Q: Lobbi and Anna's daughter is an angelic creature--easy to care for and a positive influence on others. But youÕre a mother, and you know that child rearing can be far from easy. Why did you portray the baby that way?
AAO: Is not any child a miracle and fatherhood a wonderful opportunity?
About the Author
Audur Ava Olafsdottir
was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, in 1958. She studied art history and art theory in Paris and is a lecturer in history of art at the University of Iceland and a director of the University of Iceland Art Collection. She has curated art exhibitions in Iceland and abroad, including the Venice Biennale, and written about art and art history in various media. Audur Ava is the author of three novels, a book of poetry, and a play. The first novel, Raised Earth
, was published in Iceland in 1998. Rain in November
was published to rave reviews in 2004 and received the City of Reykjavik Literary Award. The Greenhouse
, published in 2007 and forthcoming in English from AmazonCrossing, won the DV Culture Award for literature and a women's literary prize in Iceland and was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Award.
Since The Greenhouse
was published in France in the autumn of 2010 under the title of Rosa Candida
, the book has attracted a great deal of coverage in the French media and received unanimously good reviews. In September 2010, it received the Prix de Page literary award as the best European novel of 2010. The Prix de Page award is determined by a group of 771 bookstores in France, where the book was on the bestseller's list for five consecutive months.
The novel was also nominated for three other literary awards in France, including the prestigious Femina award. In January The Greenhouse
was shortlisted for the Canadian 2011 Prix des libraires du Québec award.
Audur Ava Olafsdottir published The Hymn of Glitter
, a book of poetry, in 2010, and her first play will premiere at the National Theatre of Iceland in September 2011. Audur Ava Olafsdottir's middle name, Ava, was adopted a few years ago as a tribute to the blind medieval French saint, Ava. Audur Ava Olafsdottir lives and works in Reykjavik.
As a translator and playwright, Brian FitzGibbon
has a particular passion for the translation of fiction. With experience that spans over twenty years, he has translated a vast array of film scripts, treatments, stage plays, and novels, working exclusively into English from Italian, French, and Icelandic. His translation of the Icelandic cult novel 101 Reykjavik
by Hallgrimur Helgason, published by Faber & Faber in the UK and Scribner in the US in 2002, was hailed by the Guardian as "dazzling" and the New York Times
Brian's one-act play, The Papar
, was staged by the Abbey Theatre at the Peacock in Dublin in 1997, and subsequently adapted into a short film called Stranded
, premiered at the Tribeca Film Center in New York one year later. An Icelandic translation of the play was broadcast on Icelandic radio in 2005 and nominated for a Gríman Award the same year. His full-length play, Another Man
, was a finalist at the Playwrights Slam at the 2005 Chichester Theatre Festival in the UK. A radio adaptation of the play was broadcast on Icelandic State radio in the spring of 2008 and nominated for an Icelandic Gríman Award.