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on 13 June 2014
Butterflies In November is translated from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon. Butterflies in November is a very interesting read. Although I did need my glasses on as the writing is very small to read in the paperback version.
It has been a tough day. It is not very nice but she has been dumped twice. Then she accidentally killed a goose. And now she is suddenly responsible for her best friend's deaf-mute son.
When a shared lottery ticket turns the oddly matched pair into the richest people in Iceland, I was thinking to myself I wish that was was me winning the lottery and being one the richest people in the country. She and the boy find themselves on a road trip across the country. With cucumber hotels, dead sheep, and any number of her exes on their tail.
Butterflies In November is a comic and uniquely moving tale of motherhood, friendship and the power of words.
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on 1 May 2017
I bought this book for 50p in my local charity shop. It is one of the best second-hand novels I've ever purchased, and was (obviously therefore) a massive, massive bargain. It's funny, touching, and exceptionally well written. Audur Ava Olafsdottir has an outstanding eye for detail, which always helps to bring things to life, and she applies it consistently and comprehensively. Virtually nothing escapes her perceptive eye. The central character is hugely likeable too.
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The narrator of this quirky and unique novel is a thirty three year old woman with a gift for languages, who works as a translator and proof reader. When we meet her she has been both dumped by her lover and told by her husband that he is leaving her for another woman, who is soon to have his child. Her friend, Audor, (my apologies for not being to type Icelandic names with the appropriate letters/typeface) is, like her, something of an outsider. She already has a young son, Tumi, who is hearing and vision impaired, and is pregnant again, but not married. When she comes to visit to console her friend on the end of her marriage, she slips and hurts herself - while she is taken to hospital, she asks her friend to collect Tumi from kindergarten. To add to the recent upheaval, after being told that she should buy lottery tickets, our narrator soon finds that she has won twice - firstly the prize of a prefabricated cottage, which she asks to be placed in the location where her grandmother once lived, and secondly for the astounding amount of forty million kroner. She had already decided to take a trip, but now she must do so with a four year old boy in tow, when she has no experience of children.

Everything I have described so far is also mentioned (pretty much) in the blurb and happens in the first couple of chapters. The novel is concerned with the trip itself - a bizarre road trip through a frozen landscape. On this journey some animals will die, many ex lovers will appear unexpectedly, and our narrator must come to terms with something which happened to her as a young girl, as well as discover what motherhood really means. Unprepared for what lies ahead, her dashboard stuffed with cash, she finds herself responsible for another person - a vulnerable and intelligent child - for the first time in her life. This trip will change her profoundly and alter the course of her life forever.

This is a difficult novel to describe. It is quirky, often funny, sometimes a little shocking and profoundly moving. I have not read anything by this author before, but I am sure that this just made it into my list of favourite books. Set in an amost alien landcape, it is completely different in attitude and approach, and will challenge the way you think. I am extremely glad that I read it and Pushkin Press are becoming, more and more, a publisher that I trust for quality and original books.
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on 26 January 2014
Given my love of Iceland, and all things Icelandic, it seems fitting to start the year off with an Icelandic book. This one had been on my wish list for a while, having read about it in the airline magazine after my most recent trip in October, so when I saw it was reduced to 99p I downloaded a copy straiight away.

The narrator of the book is a thirty three year old woman with a gift for languages. When we meet her at the beginning of the book, she has been recently dumped by both her lover and her husband, who tells her that he is expecting a child with another woman. When her pregnant best friend and already single mother Audur is on the way over to help her commiserate, she slips and falls on the ice, necessitating a stay in hospital. Our heroine is then given the task of caring for Audur's five year old deaf-mute son. Following, not one but two lottery wins - one monetary, one a pefabricated summer bungalow, the two of them set off on a road trip around Iceland's coast to claim the bungalow.

The remainder of the book is about this road trip and the things that the two of them encounter - including yes, a cucumber farm, a dead sheep and several exes. During the journey our heroine learns what motherhood really means and makes some life changing decisions.

This is somewhat of a quicky book that would appeal mostly to other women, due to the motherhood theme and will no doubt have a sizeable audience after the success of her previous work. For me though the book seemed a bit lack lustre and lacked that certain spark. Icelandic is a difficult language to learn, so maybe some of the book was simply lost in translation. It is by no means the best book I have read, but no means the worst either, so I would give this an average rating of 3 stars.
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on 27 August 2014
I don't understand what this novel is trying to do, except be annoying perhaps. Nobody in it talks or behaves like a real person, even allowing for the cultural differences. In fact every character talks with the same voice. There is no depth or interest or the slightest believability. Do mothers abandon their deaf-mute children and allow them to go on a road trip with a flaky friend? Do women have sex with complete strangers by the side of the road whilst supposedly caring for a child? The novel is often poorly translated into the bargain ('cream' instead of 'lotion' after a shower, 'overalls' instead of 'snowsuit'). The only slight spark of interest it aroused in me was its glimpse of Iceland and the Icelandic recipes it includes at the back. Apart from this it has nothing to say. Not recommended.
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'Butterflies in November' is an unusual and very engaging story, first-person narrated by an unnamed linguist, in her early thirties, who has been discarded by both her husband and her lover in the same day. Newly single (although her ex-husband seems to find plenty of excuses to keep calling in regularly) our heroine, after some very good fortune, decides to leave her old life behind and take a road trip around her native home of Iceland. Just before she leaves, however, her best friend, Auður, has a nasty fall and is unable to take care of her four-year-old disabled son, Tumi. Before she knows it, our heroine has agreed to take Tumi with her on her trip, and deciding she will take: " a picnic, two bottles of water, some books, two favourite fluffy animals, optimism, an enthusiasm for travel...and a glove compartment stuffed with thousand-kronur banknotes" she sets off with her young charge in tow, having no previous experience of being responsible for a young child. During the trip, as our heroine begins to bond with Tumi, a variety of things happen along the way, and whilst we are reading about these and the people she meets, the reader also gradually learns about an incident from our narrator's past, which helps us to understand a little of why she seems to have drifted through part of her life in a rather detached and passive way. At the end of the trip, after some rather unusual experiences, our narrator ends her journey of self discovery with a rather different view on life.

Perceptively observed, darkly humorous and rather idiosyncratic, I found this a strangely compelling read and when I arrived at the end of the book I was surprised to find forty seven rather unusual cooking recipes (which the author admits may work better on the page than the plate) and one knitting pattern, which would be very useful should you feel the need to pick up some knitting needles after finishing the story. As I was reading this novel I kept thinking how it would make a very quirky film and I have just learnt that the film rights have already been sold - I do hope the film version is as engaging and off-beat as the book.

4 Stars.
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on 11 January 2014
Bought this to read whilst on a trip to Iceland to help get a sense of the culture/humour of the country. Found the central characters and the situation engaging and amusing. Was glad it wasn't bleak or depressing. There was a sort of black humour and delightful eccentricity!
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I struggled with this, even though it is a short novel. It was quite an effort to finish.

On the positive side, the style is very quirky and extremely humorous. The setting, in Iceland, is impressive.

It starts off very well indeed. But then I found myself losing interest. The theme is the well worn one of the main character going on a journey to rediscover herself/himself. The problem is, that apart from the unusual style, there is not much here that I have not read many, many times before. I was hoping for some unusual twist to justify yet another novel on this particular theme, but no twist came.
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on 12 September 2015
It was wonderfully odd, and the narrator was interesting but very detatched from everyone else in the novel, which I was never sure whether it was to do with the translation or something intended by the author. For a novel so aware of itself and invested in the power of words and nuances in languages (the narrator translates from and into eleven languages and subtleties in language are often referred to throughout), the translation itself felt rather messy and not indicative of any of the qualities really explored within the narration. Similarly, the narrator didn't feel as clever as everyone else seemed to say.

Only the narrator and the friend's son Tumi felt explored in any depth though, and even then not as much as I'd have liked. Their relationship was sweet but somehow unchallenging to a woman who self-declared herself to have no maternal instincts. Ardur and the narrator's mother were at least recognisable when they weren't named, but I had a hard time telling any of the men in the novel, named or not, from one another (which may be intentional) but also everyone else they met also sounded the same, too. Even down to tone, word choice, odd summarising of some event, sentence structure. At some points, I wasn't sure of these other people she met were real, as they certainly didn't stand out in any way or feel less than props.

The novel has plenty of quirks and ideas that got me thinking. I wasn't fully sure how to respond to the frequent generalisations about things (examples being disabled children and women), especially coming from a female narrator and author; they didn't offend in the way they would have from an American or British author, but somehow gave insight into Icelandic culture and how it too is trapped in these old ways of thinking about people, wih less influences to affect change on them. I did find the narrator's conflicts between her passive need for a man, the idea of fate, and her own discovery that she enjoyed independence and could change her 'fate' to be with a man though her will do do other things, to be interesting and somehow arresting though. I myself often feel rather old fashioned for enjoying the image that I might have a man and family and that cliched unit one day, while also enjoying independence, so the attitude of the narrator despite her other huge generalisations, felt close to myself in this at least. A strange but realistic depiction of an everyday woman, maybe? We might all know feminism to be a good and powerful thing and some of us act accordingly, but if you're raised in cultures with little regard for it and are tied up in the random everyday stuff and people, do you really live what you certainly know or believe, in your everyday life?

As much as I loved the totally random (and at the same time realistic sort of random) events and actions and thoughts throughout this story, and the insight into a culture and a maybe on-the-fence-contravertial viewpoint I've never read about before, I think I was expecting much more of this novel from reading the first quarter than what actually transpired in the story. The ending didn't feel like an ending, but another pause between chapters. The snippets of backstory italicised throughout never really came togather or anything either, leaving a smoggy mystery over the point of them and whether I might have missed something. The hints aren't strong enough to say for certain, and if this story lacked anything, it was perhaps some grounding in a point or direction tying things together. Too much was only 'hinted' at and never explored. But perhaps this was intended, as real life and our recollections and reflections while on such journeys also surely lack those things? I do wish I could read Icelandic however, and read this novel as the author wrote it. Despite my criticisms here, the novel was easy to read and enjoyable, even if just for it's sheer and often entertaining randomness and how it gave me plenty to think about.
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on 28 April 2016
First of all, this book is first person, narrated by someone whose name isn't revealed. It's an odd way to write but there's always an authorial reason for it, usually because the character feels unnoticed. I don't this protagonist necessarily unnoticed, she just feels lacking in identity. We never learn her name.

This is the story of a woman who, to be quite frank, has a crap day. She got dumped twice (her husband and her lover); she murdered a goose; and her best friend (Auður-Perhaps a hint of something autobiographical) has been taken to hospital. She, agreeably, says she will look after him over the weekend. She promises herself a six week break, travelling around Iceland. But then the weekend turns into three months - the time her friend will be in hospital. And the trouble with Tumi... well, he's a lovely boy, but he's deaf-mute, only speaks minimal sign language (which she doesn't speak), he has to come with her on the trip (his mother is very blasé about it), and also he's incidentally been promised a pet. So, they have to find a pet than can travel, shattering Tumi's dreams of a horse. And one of the key reasons her husband broke up with her is she cannot deal with the idea of children.

It's really not going well.

It's a real mix, this book. It's very funny in places. The people she mets upon the way are often laughable, to the point of being caricatures. In this zany book where 'nothing is as it should be any more' and butterflies are flying in November, there a lots of powerful moments. Yes, it great fun when she wins two lottery tickets and they splurge out on fun things; it's cool (literally!) when they go swimming in the icy waters of Icelandic lakes; the contrast between her life in Reykjavík and the countryside.

But there are serious issues here: what does it mean to be a mother? What really makes a marriage? (Her husband says that it does not include '[coming home] On Tuesday [and] you've cooked a four-course meal on a total whim, a Christmas dinner in October.') What importance is your job; how much does it affect your quality of life? (That's an interesting one - the author works partially as a translator, and that is the character's mine job.) And there are the flashbacks to her childhood, which are very touching.

Overall, though, it is an quirky fun book at heart. It's quite simply, and somewhat touching. It ends with 'Forty-Seven Cooking Recipes and One Knitting Recipe.' There's a word of caution in there -'certain of these dishes may work better on the page than on a plate...' Prime example" 'Undrinkable Coffee.' Hmmm.

She goes to a medium at the beginning of the novel, who gives her these words of advice:

"...it's all threes here. Three men own your life over a distance of 3000 km, three dead animals, three minor accidents... animals will be maimed, but the men and women will survive. However, it is clear that three animals will die before you meet the man of your life... and it would be good to buy lottery tickets... two..."

I'll stop going on; I seem to have much more to say than I thought! Sorry for such a long review. And even despite the rain and the cold and the desolateness, I still definitely want to go Iceland. One day.

And, as always, thanks to Mr B's, and a shout out to Brian Fitzgerald, as translators are always underrated.
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