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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very different from "Independent People", but just as good..
The justly famous opening sentence sums up the book's quirkiness: "...next to losing its mother, there is nothing so healthy for a child as losing its father." Alfgrímur ("Elf-guest"), the novel's narrator, has indeed lost - or at least mislaid - both his parents, and is being raised by his loving grandparents (who turn out not to be his real grandparents, or...
Published on 7 Dec 2004 by Dr. Kenneth W. Douglas

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Singing Enough
Having read and loved 'Independent People' I put 'The Fish Can Sing' forward to our Book Club. I found the book full of absolute gems of those small transactions of everyday life that remain with you for a long time. However, I did get frustrated with the book's lack of continuity and at times complete irrelevance. If it had been written as a series of anecdotes about...
Published on 19 July 2008 by M. Robinson


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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very different from "Independent People", but just as good.., 7 Dec 2004
This review is from: Fish Can Sing (Panther) (Paperback)
The justly famous opening sentence sums up the book's quirkiness: "...next to losing its mother, there is nothing so healthy for a child as losing its father." Alfgrímur ("Elf-guest"), the novel's narrator, has indeed lost - or at least mislaid - both his parents, and is being raised by his loving grandparents (who turn out not to be his real grandparents, or indeed married to each other) and an extraordinary but always supportive crew of archetypal Laxness characters who are boarders in his grandparents' house. During the opening chapters, we are gradually introduced to the child Alfgrímur's world: Laxness brilliantly evokes the way a child's initially limited understanding gradually deepens, so that the reader is learning the real truths behind the characters and events in Alfgrímur's Reykjavik at the same time as he himself is discovering them. This part of the book is deceptive - it can at the time feel slow-moving (though always quirkily charming), but in fact there is deeper and darker stuff going on than meets the eye.
The second half of the book becomes increasingly focussed on Alfgrímur's cousin, the internationally famous Icelandic tenor Gardar Hólm ... what, you haven't heard of him? Now, why might that be? This section of the tale suddenly and unexpectedly darkens, as Gardar's true circumstances are gradually revealed; and there are some utterly unforgettable moments - particularly Gardar's impromptu concert in the virtually empty cathedral, for the benefit of his aged and near-blind mother - this moment comes after Alfgrímur, and the reader, have been waiting all through the novel to finally hear Gardar sing, and it's undoubtedly worth the wait. The final few chapters combine high tragedy and low comedy in typical Laxness style: this is a slow-burner of a book that really blazes up towards the end.
This novel is perhaps the ideal introduction to Laxness' work - though less craggily monolithic than "Independent People", it is (for all its idiosyncrasy and charm) just as deeply serious. It is ultimately, like so many great books, about growing up - both Alfgrímur's own journey to adulthood, and his country's journey to modern, independent nationhood. Both processes involve as many losses as gains.
As usual, Magnus Magnusson gives us an unobtrusively idiomatic translation, which is a delight to read. This is an utterly unique book - highly recommended.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful, warm and often funny book, with a slow pace., 25 Jan 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Fish Can Sing (Paperback)
"The fish can sing" tells the story of Alfgrimur from childhood to coming of age. Abandoned by his mother at birth, Alfgrimur is raised by his "grandparents" - an elderly couple who take him in. The centre of the tale is Brekkukot - their humble but hospitable turf cottage - which is a free and ever-open guest house for those who need it.
The book is set in Reykjavik at the beginning of its transition from an unremarkable town in a traditional society to the capital of Iceland. The characters of the "grandparents" represent the past of Icelandic society - with values which are sometimes amusingly irrational but which nevertheless are full of humanity. Through these characters, and those of some of their guests at Brekkukot, a picture of Icelandic rural life is presented with humor and lyrical beauty.
Modernity is represented by the mysterious character of Gardar Holm, who has achieved fame in the outside world as an opera singer. He is the hero of the new merchant class, who have opened department stores and newspapers and who threaten the livelihood of the old time fisherman with their trawler fleets. Through his contact with Gardar Holm, Alfgrimur is drawn towards that world.
Laxness succeeds in immersing the reader in the life of Brekkukot. This is a sometimes funny book, sometimes full of pathos. Memorable scenes come back to you many days after you have put the book down. Some might find the book a bit on the sentimental side, but it is much more than a sentimental tale. Just as it beautifully describes the change from childhood to adulthood, it describes the transition of a society - both with their own inevitability. Written in 1957, it is ahead of its time in its awareness of the environmental issues which result.
A thoughtful, warm and often funny book, with a slow pace. It's not for everyone, but many will find it a rewarding read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Singing Enough, 19 July 2008
By 
M. Robinson "maggietheviking" (Bristol, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Fish Can Sing (Panther) (Paperback)
Having read and loved 'Independent People' I put 'The Fish Can Sing' forward to our Book Club. I found the book full of absolute gems of those small transactions of everyday life that remain with you for a long time. However, I did get frustrated with the book's lack of continuity and at times complete irrelevance. If it had been written as a series of anecdotes about the author's life it would have been far more palatable.

Having already read 'Independent People' I think I had the advantage over others in the Book Club who couldn't make head nor tail of it - only 2 other people managed to finish it. I scored it 4 out of 10 at the Book Club, and that was higher than anyone else!

Perhaps it's just the translation?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A house full of welcome and warmth, 8 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Fish Can Sing (Panther) (Paperback)
I had just read Independent People by the same author and turned to this novel not wanting to leave Iceland just yet. Where Independent People is dark and brooding in The Fish Can Sing the story is warm and humorous. The former's characters have impoverished lives yet we can identify with their universal feelings and emotions. The main characters in "Fish" are no less poor but seen through the eyes of the main character this financial poverty is almost a virtue, counteracted by the emotional wealth.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book, 27 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Fish Can Sing (Panther) (Paperback)
This novel of Halldór Kiljan Laxness "Brekkukotsannáll" / Fish Can Sing
is a wonderful story of a young man who is growing up in the
"village" of Reykjavík at the dawn of "present age"
I read this book long ago, and again now and I found it a very good litterature.
I would say that this is one of the best books of H.K.L. along with "Íslandsklukkan"
Iceland Bell.
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5.0 out of 5 stars yes it can, 13 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Fish Can Sing (Panther) (Paperback)
the song is icelandic though and not everyone will like it.
I did. Some stories don't need too much drama or action.
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4.0 out of 5 stars an introduction to Icelanders ., 1 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Fish Can Sing (Panther) (Paperback)
I chose this book following a recent visit to Iceland which I enjoyed very much and wanted to learn more about the culture and the people , I find novels are a good way of doing this , our guide and some other travellers recommended this . A simple unsophistcated start thet set the local scene, as the book went on the humour became apparent and a greater depth of understanding the local philosophy ... rather like Charles Dickens in the details of the characters . It is the charming story of a boy who has been brought up by an old couple living in Rekyjavik, his reactions to the people he meets as he grows up and their part in his journey towards adulthood
I am now going to read Independent People by the same author
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4.0 out of 5 stars Someone speaks of remarkable things, 21 May 2012
By 
Philoctetes (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fish Can Sing (Panther) (Paperback)
You might have guessed my title is a ref to a rotten book I once read which was written in the manner of a screenplay and there was absolutely nothing remarkable about the persistent banality of the community under observation. Iceland, however, is such a wild and windswept and wondrously weird place that the reader is in no way repelled by a scenario that ought to reek of fishy odours. I'm nearing the end and to be honest I've quite forgotten the exact time period, probably early twentieth century; in any case, it doesn't seem to matter when the home world of young Alfgrimur has so much of the eternal about it.

Laxness' Iceland is a character haven full of eccentrics who trust themselves and their own endearingly oddball opinions to get them through life. A bildungsroman as entertaining as any you might have already followed, the narrator's honesty, modesty and loyalty; the snapshots of the uncanny, curious coincidences and clear-eyed portraiture; satire tempered by humanity; the feeling one is embracing a nation as well as a loft full of refugees. It's a book that inspires affection but not passion.

My 6th Laxness novel, it fits with Under The Glacier and The Atom Station, short books written in the first person: a misfit's perceptions of other misfits. Independent People, Iceland's Bell and The Great Weaver OF Kashmir: these are grander narratives full of journeys and bold saga-like decisions.
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4.0 out of 5 stars an unusual and enjoyable book, 5 Nov 2011
This review is from: Fish Can Sing (Panther) (Paperback)
This is the only book I have read by this author, so I can't compare it to his other works. I enjoyed the narrative style, which I likened to a conversation, - the main character (Alfgrimur) addressing the reader in a chatty sort of style and telling them various anecdotes about his life.

It is a very quirky and intriguing book. It is not fast-paced (!), and we are introduced to a number of characters and situations. One reviewer about sums it up in my opinion when he mentions the 'mad hilarity of the Icelandic sensibility'.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "The Fish Can Sing" but does the book?, 3 July 2002
By 
James R Myles (BELFAST, Down United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Fish Can Sing (Panther) (Paperback)
"The Fish Can Sing" I purchased having recently visited Iceland. I was interested in finding out some more than my day visit allowed me about Icelandic life and culture. Laxness paints a quaint world of simplicity and good manners practised by the Icelandic people. However, as a novel, I found the beginning chapters, about the various people who visited young Alfgrimur's house, slightly monotonous and somewhat detatched from the story. It was not until about halfway through the 246 page novel that a story actual began to emerge. It is difficult not to think of the book as an autobiography or biography while reading through although the book does not sell itself as such. Laxness has managed to make a story out of what the modern, Western world would consider insignificant events and chance meetings in young Alfgrimur's life. As you can imagine, living in a small, closed community on the island of Iceland, at that time, did not make for much drama or excitement. The novel is not for those looking for pace, intrigue, mystery or suspense but is a glimpse into the recent past: the life of a young island boy who sees (and makes) adventure and discovery in the everyday things of life.
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Fish Can Sing (Panther)
Fish Can Sing (Panther) by Halldor Laxness (Paperback - 28 Sep 2001)
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