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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvels of Twilight
In the prelude to this tale we follow a hunter on his way home from hunting some colossal and huge tusked boar, "the most savage brute the north has ever snorted from it's icy nostrils", although the traditional way is to leave the carcass where it fell, the hunter is carrying it home to demonstrate to his father, which of his sons labours the hardest. Home, we the...
Published on 16 Mar. 2012 by Amazon Customer

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Found it very hard going
Perhaps this just isn't my type of book. I have tried to think how I would describe the writing and can only think of the words "crowded" or "dense" (anything but a light read), that alone is not always a bad thing if you can see where the book is going, but it failed to grip me or stimulate my interest, which made it very tough going and I found it difficult to...
Published on 23 Aug. 2012 by Paul Froddie


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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvels of Twilight, 16 Mar. 2012
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This review is from: From the Mouth of the Whale (Paperback)
In the prelude to this tale we follow a hunter on his way home from hunting some colossal and huge tusked boar, "the most savage brute the north has ever snorted from it's icy nostrils", although the traditional way is to leave the carcass where it fell, the hunter is carrying it home to demonstrate to his father, which of his sons labours the hardest. Home, we the reader, learn is called "Seventh Heaven" and all is not well, the gate guards are silent, there's no sound of merrymaking from the banqueting hall and

"Conditions in the chamber were sickening; many of the angels were laughing with fear, others were weeping with hollow laughter, still others laughed and wept at once. The Ophanim* had cast off their robes and knelt with brows pressed to the cold steps of the throne, letting fly with knotted scourges on their blazing shoulders".

The hunter, we learn, is Lucifer and he is standing before his father who is holding something that is outlawed in heaven: there laying in his hand was man.

" there you lay in his hand, with your knees tucked under your chin, breathing so fast and so feebly that you quivered like the pectoral fin of a minnow.Our Father rested His fingertip against your spine and tilted His hand carefully so that you uncurled and rolled over on to your back. I stepped forward to take a better look at you. You scratched your nose with your curled fist, sneezed, oh so sweetly, and fixed on me those egotistical eyes - mouth agape. And I saw that this mouth would never be satisfied, that its teeth would never stop grinding, that its tongue would never tire of being bathed in the life-blood of other living creatures. Then your lips moved. You tried to say your first word, and that word was: `I'."

This was Lucifer's introduction to man and his father wants him to join his brothers and bow before him. He refuses to bow before what he sees as his fathers pet and is cast out of heaven, but leaves Man a parting gift - a vision of himself.

In the main section of the book, we are in 17th-century Iceland, and our hero is Jónas Pálmason the Learned, a self-taught naturalist, poet and healer, who has been sentenced to a strange form of exile, stranded on an island with the threat of death on any who helps him leave. As the book unfolds we learn of his life, of how as a youth, who having learnt from the writings of a Dr Bombastus (Paracelsus), was acquainted with and knew the prescription for most female maladies. He bartered that knowledge for Ravens heads, which according to Bombastus, contains a special stone that can cure most blood illnesses, called a bezoar.

In a country that had violently became Lutheran after the reformation, Jonas with his mix of book learning & pagan lore, falls foul of the authorities and is charged with sorcery and necromancy, although these charges appear to be have been the most convenient ones to silence him with, as the main problem is that he threatens the status quo with his ideology.

Whilst researching for this book, I learnt that it is based in part on the autobiographical writings of Jon Gudmundsson, also known as "the Learned", he was a farmers son from the Strandir region (Northwest Iceland). At twenty years of age he was an excellent scribe and seems to have been well known for paintings and carvings, although nothing has survived to the present. Today he is known for his autobiographical writing, including works mentioning the arrival of Spanish (Basque) whalers and the killing of a group of whalers by the Icelanders**.

I also learned that in 1617 King Christian IV of Denmark decreed that all sorcery, whether white or black, was evil and illegal. He also decreed that it was to be harshly suppressed throughout his domain. In 1630 this had reached Iceland and was read out in the Althing* in Icelandic translation and became law. It was even debated whether it was a suitable or legitimate subject for scientific study. In 1627 a priest named Gudmundur Einarsson, wrote a treatise called "Hugras" denouncing Jon Gudmundsson as an emissary of the devil, sent to fool the people by habituating them to lesser forms of sorcery and he also castigates The Sheriffs of Iceland (syslummen) for neglecting the 1617 decree. In 1637 Gudmundsson was sentenced in the Icelandic parliament to permanent exile for practising white magic & misuse of God's name, but King Christian IV, stepped in and lightened the sentence, permitting him to reside in eastern Iceland.

*Sjon seems to have taken these dry historical facts mixed them up with the natural lore of his country, then spun the lot through some giant kaleidoscope, not once but many times, that he is a poet is also beyond dispute the writing is wonderful,

"I first glimpsed my future wife by the will o' the wisp light of the eclipse. At the very moment when the sun was halved, Sigrídur captured my gaze with her eyes - eyes that were a haven of peace amidst the storm of madness that raged on the farm."

Although Victoria Cribb, also deserves high praise for her translation from Icelandic, with her use of words like "Helpmeet" & "Braggart" making the book appear grounded in an older form of English, allowing me to get a taste of the period, yet in my native tongue. I have discussed before in another post, about when you meet someone for the first time and there is a certain formality to it, like a polite introduction, followed by a period of time where you size each other up, are you going to like this person, do you have anything in common etc. Then there are those that cut straight through that process, beyond the initial introduction, you're already smiling/laughing at some shared humour, as though you've known each for an eternity. Jonas Sandpiper is such an individual and although he may be a "rogue, sly, a disreputable fellow, a liar and a foolish dreamer" ...

I could quite happily sit in a bar somewhere with a glass of some fermented herb/ whale blubber etc, listening to his inane or impassioned warbling all night long.

This is a strange and wonderful book, it's also harsh, weird, comic and magical, we have walking corpses (ghosts ?) kicking butt, and yet it has horror, cowardice & cruelty, as Jonas says himself

"When did a skilled craftsman first fiddle with a nail between his fingers, then happen to glance at the hammer that hung heavily at his side, and see not the carpentry job in front of him, but his brother nailed to a cross?".

Sjón was born in Reykjavik in 1962. Poet, novelist and playwright, he has received numerous literary awards, including the Nordic Council's Literature Prize for The Blue Fox, which was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2009.

He was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Brit Award for the music, which he collaborated on with Bjork, for Dancer In The Dark.

From The Mouth of the Whale is his second novel to be published by Telegram. His work has been translated into twenty-two languages.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strange tales from 17th century Iceland, 17 May 2011
By 
Thomas Cunliffe "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: From the Mouth of the Whale (Paperback)
From the Mouth of the Whale consists of a set of fictional 17th century Icelandic myths, based on the life of the Jónas Pálmason, "a poet and self-taught healer" who has been exiled to a barren island for his heretical conduct.

Jónas Pálmason seems to have been a natural healer. As a young boy he would explore the corpse of a brd, probing into the internal organs and learning similarities between bird and human - "man and bird, man with a bird's heart, bird with a man's brain, bird with a man's heart, bird with bird brain . . . We are alike in most things . . . And why should we not be?". Before long he had developed healing gifts and by reading the works of Paracelsus had "acquired so great a knowledge of the abdomen that there was scacely a female malady in existence that I did not have a nodding acquaintance with".

But 17th century healing was not merely an analytical science. A knowledge of the world of the spirit was a vital part of understanding the causes of illness and deliverance from it. The borderline between Orthodox belief and magic was a thin one and there were those in the community skilled in seeking out those who trod close to witch-craft and sorcery. After experimenting with a "walking corpse" Jónas Pálmason went through a trial for running a school of necromancy and was banished to the barren island from where he writes his stories.

I know little of 17th century Iceland, but it all sounds very plausible as an example of Icelandic tales. A land of mountains, icy seas and ancient stories. Jónas Pálmason is a believable character, reflecting on his troubled life from his remote island fastness and sustained by Christian imagery mingled with a belief in the mysterious powers of birds, plants and fishes.

I found this book to be very entertaining - a quirky story of times past in a strange culture. It works on the level of "story-telling" and it would be a great book to read aloud. Sjon's stories had me in their grip for a couple of days and planted images in my mind which will I will probably recall when next I hear of the that northern land, more in the news these days for banking disasters than adventures with whales and walking corpses.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Original novel from a fearless writer, 25 July 2011
By 
Ms. Mary O'donnell (Kildare, Ireland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: From the Mouth of the Whale (Paperback)
This is a very brilliant work, original, linguistically vibrant, and with several interesting back-stories. The historical and geographical setting (Iceland, 17th century) are unusual and the story of the central character's desolation and unusual gifts is extremely seductive. I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys lyrical, original writing in their fiction, as well as a rounded tale that explores the desolation, bleakness and peculiar radiance of being alive.
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5.0 out of 5 stars From the Mouth of the Whale, 10 Aug. 2013
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: From the Mouth of the Whale (Paperback)
"... the bottomless well of information and useless ideas that book-reading had etched in the leaf-mould of my mind ..."

In Iceland, in 1635 Jónas Pálmason is banished to exile on an island. His grandfather had taught him to read as a boy, and the power of the words of Paracelsus (Bombastus) and Bishop Jón Halldórson have led Jónas to become a self-taught healer, as well as a poet. This much is evident to the reader in the first few pages of the book, where we are privy to the musings and remembrances of Jónas as he talks to a small sandpiper, comparing their situations in life. Time passes, and Jónas tells us of his life. And what a life it has been and still will be. We hear of his triumphs and his tragedies; of how he has been misunderstood and mistreated, but also of the joys of his life and his family. He has exorcised unrestful ghosts; he has witnessed the deaths of innocent whalers; he has shared his hut with a small mouse.

This book is a tale told by a talebearer; the writing in which Jónas' words are encompassed is beautiful, magical, lyrical. This is a magical story, told beautifully, sad, funny, utterly wonderful and extraordinary. A book to be cherished, and a tale to be told and retold.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Weird and wonderful, 29 April 2012
By 
nyonya (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
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It is not easy to describe this book, whose protagonist is Jónas Pálmason, a talented healer, natural scientist, and poet in a backward and superstitious 17th century Iceland, who has been exiled to a barren island by his envious and powerful enemies. We hear of his trials and tribulations, but also of his triumphs and joyful discoveries. There is also an interesting episode about the massacre of Spanish whalers, which is based on historical fact.

It is simply marvellous, and perfectly matches the Iceland of my imagination. Highly recommended.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Found it very hard going, 23 Aug. 2012
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Perhaps this just isn't my type of book. I have tried to think how I would describe the writing and can only think of the words "crowded" or "dense" (anything but a light read), that alone is not always a bad thing if you can see where the book is going, but it failed to grip me or stimulate my interest, which made it very tough going and I found it difficult to concentrate and keep track. Whilst I found some of the imagery evoked by this book quite good, I wondered what the point was of some of the descriptives; such as the description and explanation of genitalia, and how a horse will try to deceive a virgin......maybe I missed the subtle metaphorical descriptives, and maybe because I found the book so sluggish I lost concentration, but these things, of which there are many, made it appear to me as though the book is one long ramble that crowded out the story.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say, and we all have our own tastes; this certainly is not my taste in reading. As a few other people seem to really like the book, I suspect it is just not the type of book I should be reading and maybe there is a good story in there, but sorry, I just didn't get it.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars mostly dull, 26 Nov. 2012
This review is from: From the Mouth of the Whale (Paperback)
I love historical, folksy, pagan and darkly hallucinatory things, which is why I bought this book. Perhaps it is the fault of the translator, but this book, apart from one excellent passage where roasted muttons dance about before starving beggars, is really quite dull. I'm not sure if it is pretentious or not, but suspect that it might be.
I got through this book without caring bout any of the characters, or caring what happened (which was close to nothing).
It's about a gloomy, dull man who lives on a gloomy, dull island, on his own.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the author does not seem to have succeeded in making this gloomy, dull situation into an interesting book.
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From the Mouth of the Whale
From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjon (Paperback - 16 May 2011)
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