Others on the web have described this novel as the "pathetic narration" of an "emotionally retarded slacker whose most intimate relationship is the one he cultivates with his porn collection" (Baltimore City Paper Online.) A little bit harsh -- the lead character, Hlynur Bjorn Hafsteinsson does indeed enjoy porn, like many people in the world now. But I think Hlynur's absolute obsession -- his core obsession -- is what he calls the "theatre of the real". He likes movies, but not to follow the stories -- just to check up on what the actors are doing these days. In one scene he watches a video of live births in American hospitals. In another hilarious part of the book he invades a bedroom where two young people are having sex, pulls up a chair and starts making critiques! This is how he describes it:
I gradually realize this is the first documentary I've seen about the Icelandic species. And I've got to say it reminds me a bit of Icelandic movies. CHILDREN OF NATURE. There's no plot in it. No angle variation whatsoever. Looks like we're in for an epic feature. Talk about dragging it out. Start to think about the zapper in my inside pocket. Saw a nature documentary the other day about those cameramen who make wildlife movies. Some British pony-tailer who dug himself into a hole for a fortnight in the hope of catching a shot of a hare shag. But he didn't even so much as get a hard-on in those two weeks. Maybe I just don't have the patience.
According to The Guardian: "this lusciously deadpan narrative - dazzlingly translated by Brian Fitzgibbon - is more than funny. It is not so much peppered with gags as infused with a wild, anarchic take on the world that is caustically, worryingly truthful." And according to this other site I found: "Hlynur (the protaganist) is a true product of our postmodern global culture. Well beyond slackerdom, he lives at home with his mother and depends on social welfare. He's a quick-witted and articulate young man, and there's nothing wrong with him -- other than a total lack of ambition, an off-kilter sense of morality, and a nagging set of existential woes. Against the backdrop of Reykjav・ｽE・ｽE・ｽE・ｽk's storied nightlife and amid the swelling global presence of Icelandic culture, Helgason portrays with brutal honesty and humor a young man who takes uselessness to new extremes, and for whom redemption may not be an option. 101 Reykjavik is a spectacularly inventive, darkly comic tale of depraved and inspired humanity."
The story is basically this: Hylnur is living in Reykjavik, one of my favourite parts of the world, with his mother, who later turns out to be a lesbian. His mother gets a sexy new live-in girlfriend, who Hylnur also sleeps with. "I guess now we're fucks-in-law," he muses. Apart from that, Hlynur's life revolves around going to wicked pubs and parties, and regular trips to the unemployed office. One of the reasons I decided to buy this book was to get an insight into Iceland's nightlife, since I was unable to go out when I was there last. He has an idyllic, if aimless life, I think -- why do you need an aim anyway? That's the trouble with the world, there are no many people with aims, everybody aiming for the top. I'd rather be a bottomfeeder, fill the space that others leave behind. So, I guess I have this in common with Hylnur. We're both bottomfeeders.
The novel is written in a brisk, cascading, stand-up-comedy kind of way -- dark and cynical but also pretty clever in the wordplay department. Here is an extract:
The Castle at midnight. Not exactly wicked. Despite the name, it is just a cellar. "The Dungeon" might have been more apt. You step down into the past. A dire bluesy little piss hole: a murky cave, phoney brickwork on the walls, complete with (fake?) swords and armour. Prehistoric rock music spurting through the speakers, a tinny sound, like the records have been dug up in some archaeological find: Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin. "Eye of the Tiger", as it happens, when we walk in, myself, Throstur and Marri. A trip down mythology lane. Feel like I am in one of those QUANTUM LEAP episodes. Ancient Greece, except everyone's wearing jackets. Bacchus behind the bar cracking his whip, the old master torturer, fat and furious, thrashing the mob -- eternal slaves to alcohol with blistering wounds on their backs -- impressively equipped: the beer taps like levers on the torture rack, the thumbscrews tightening each time they're pulled. He can afford to laugh with the arsenal he has behind him: Hot Shots on the shelf, Black Death. Juggling his bottles like guns, he levels them at his victims, metallic spirit measures screwed to the nozzles like silencers. Uncapping the beer bottles with his teeth, he hurls them into the room like grenades, shakes Molotov cocktails. Pours boiling acids into poisoned goblets, and the customers sign their credit-card slips like they were signing their own death warrants. A highly combustible situation.
One of the things I like about Iceland is that it is so small, it is easy to get the hang of it. If you have been to Reykjavik, if even for a weekend, you have probably visited half of the sites visited in this book. It is the kind of place where everybody knows everyone, and everybody experiments with everybody else's scene. After spending some time in the heavy metal Castle, Hylnur and his crew move on to a place with a totally different scene and style of music -- Duran Duran is being played. Can you imagine young people in England or America being so promiscuous about their choice of music. Later, Hlynur confesses a love of Lionel Ritchie's 80s ballad "Hello". In Iceland they seem to give everything a try; they mix and match; it's a big melting pot of influences and creativity. There is none of the fashion snobbery I was brought up with in Australia: "I like techno -- there's no way I am going to that headbanger crap!" contrasted with "I can't stand that techno shit. Give me music with a bit of guitar in it!"
Anyway, here are some of the cooler extracts from the book, the ones which struck me as particularly funny:
We're in a queue in front of the K-bar. There's a new bouncer who obviously hasn't done his homework. Doesn't know us. I've never seen him before, apart from the tattoo on his neck. A little bit more originality, please...
Guildy is telling the story about when he met Bryan Ferry in Amsterdam. Good story. Good music. Good view. There's a kind of Polaroid atmosphere here. One that calls for instant developments. If only Rosie would shut up. He's still trying to open himself to me:
I have only been to Iceland once -- it was in late summer. Very pleasant I thought it, if a little too windy at the time -- and it amazed me with the most amazing skies I have ever seen. I will always remember that crystal clear Icelandic sky -- the sun hanging like a jewel in the blue, the clouds whizzing by just hundreds of metres off the ground. One night I saw the aurora. Next time I go to Iceland (estimated late 2005 or early 2006) I want to go in the middle of winter, like January or something. I have already started my saving campaign. I want to see what real Arctic dark and cold is all about, and I want to stay a long time -- at least six weeks. Plenty of time for hanging round boozy pubs and hotsprings -- I can hardly wait!
Here is how Reykjavik in the winter is depicted by Hallgrimur Helgason:
Reykjavik on a dark winter morning: a small town in Siberia.
One other site I visited (from Sweden) also provided this pithy review: En ung manns seksuelle f・ｽE・ｽE・ｽE・ｽlelser g・ｽE・ｽE・ｽE・ｽr amok n・ｽE・ｽE・ｽE・ｽr han oppdager at han har hatt sex med morens lesbiske elskerinne, og at hun antageligvis er blitt gravid I am just trying to guess what this means in English. How about: "A young man"s sexual fantasies run amok after he has sex with his mother's lesbian girlfriend." After Hlynur eventually has sex with his mother's Spanish lover, he ponders: "I guess that makes us fucks-in-law." There's plenty of great wit and pathos in this book!