“Men are born poets. By the time of their confirmation, they’ve taken on the inescapable role of being geniuses. It doesn’t matter whether they write books or not. Women, on the other hand, grapple with puberty and have babies, which prevents them from being able to write.”
Set in 1960s Iceland, Miss Iceland follows Hekla who was born in the remote district of Dalir. She is a budding female author struggling against a male dominated society who would be happier to see her win a beauty pageant than finish a novel. Staying with her queer friend Jón John, the two friends find themselves increasingly on the outside of the community, their bond helps shape and strengthen them for their future.
Don’t let the cover of this book fool you. It makes it look like this is going to be a cute, quirky chick-lit story instead of a thoughtful commentary on the way society treats women and minorities. This book is so much more than what I thought I signed up for. Because of the juxtaposition of where I thought the book was going and where it actually went, it took me a little bit to get into it. I wasn’t sure if I was going to even like it at first. However, I found it to be an interesting peek at Icelandic culture, post -World War II Iceland, and societal commentary.
As I said, I thought this book was going to be something else. That said, I am not mad at all with where it went. I thought at some point the main character was actually going to become Miss Iceland and use it as a platform for gender equality or get a book deal. That’s not at all where it went. I thought it might have some cute romantic elements and overall be more fluffy than it actually was. This is a classic case of why you should not judge a book by its cover. It was none of these things. I really enjoyed it after I got over my preconceptions. I originally wanted to read it to learn more about Iceland and it fulfilled that requirement quite nicely.
I found the peek into Icelandic culture absolutely fascinating. I knew that current day Iceland is a book lovers paradise. One in ten Icelanders publish a book in their lifetime, which I find absolutely amazing. I wish the ability to publish the more traditional route was more widely available. In the book, kids skip school to pretend at becoming a poet. They dream of becoming poets and authors. When I was young, kids skipped school for non-literary purposes and did things that I find less appealing than pretending to be an author. Almost all of the characters have some sort of literary aspirations at some point in this book and they heavily reminded me of my friend group in University.
I really enjoyed the characters in this book. They reminded me of my own friend group in University because they all have such high literary aspirations or are very supportive of each other. Jón John is everything pure and good in the world. He is by far my favorite character in this novel. He is the right mix of sarcastic, serious, dramatic, and dreamer. I loved all the scenes with him in it and wish there were actually more. I enjoyed Hekla too. She’s determined, knows what she wants, and no man is going to get in her way. The whole cast is quirky, unique, and yet relatable. I can see friends and family members in these characters.
Overall, I would recommend this if you like determined women who are not satisfied with the status quo. Those interested in Icelandic culture and history will probably find this interesting as well. If you’re looking for a short chick-lit book, like the cover suggests, you will be disappointed. I don’t subscribe to the idea that a book is chick-lit because it is written by a woman or about a woman. This book has a more serious message at it’s heart and I think readers should sit up and listen.
Thank you to Grove Atlantic and Netgalley for providing me with an e-ARC for my reading pleasure. The thoughts and opinions in this review are entirely my own. I know that this is really early review because Miss Iceland does not come out until June 16th, 2020.
Are you interested in reading Miss Iceland? Have you read any other books by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir? Have you read any other books set in Iceland? Let me know in the comments below!
Translated By: Brian FitzGibbon
Length: 256 pages
Published: June 16th 2020 by Grove Press, Black Cat
Also by: To my knowledge only two others have been translated into English: Butterflies in November (2004) and The Greenhouse (2007).
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