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The Blue Fox by Sjon
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The Blue Fox by Sjon

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Reviewed by Scott Pack from Me and My Big Mouth  

I shall cut to the chase. This is an exceptional book. Truly stunning. I adored every one of the 112 pages. I strongly suspect I shall spend most of the rest of the year recommending it to anyone who will listen, and probably anyone who won't. Stop reading this review and go and buy it now. You'll thank me later.

The Blue Fox is short, and deceptively simple. On the surface it follows two loosely connected stories set across a few days in Iceland during winter 1883. The priest Baldur Skuggason is on a hunting trip, tracking the elusive titular blue fox through a biting blizzard. The biologist Fridrik Fridriksson is preparing the funeral of his maid, Abba, who had Down's Syndrome.
What makes The Blue Fox so special is both the poetry of the language and the way that the stories build cumulatively, scene by scene. The effect is almost hypnotic. I never wanted it to end, but end it did with a subtle twist that brought the strands together neatly and cleverly.
A great deal is made in literature about the value of a sense of place. I'd take a bloody good story over decriptions of hills and mountains any day but when an author does get it right it can render a novel unforgettable. Sjon does that here. You are not reading about Iceland in the 19th century, you are right there, freezing your tits off.
One fascinating, and haunting, sequence looks back to Fridrik's first meeting with Abba. He finds her tied up in an outbuilding, accused of murdering her newborn child. From his studies in Denmark he recognises her as suffering from Down's Syndrome, a newly discovered condition. For years, doctors had been baffled by white women giving birth to babies with Asian, Mongol-looking, features. They already knew the developmental stages of the foetus: fish-lizard-bird-dog-ape-Negro-yellow man-Indian-white man, but the Mongoloid babies were a mystery until Dr. J. Langdon H. Down discussed them in a paper on the classification of idiots. Fridrik recognises the signs of Down's in Abba, even though babies born with the condition were usually smothered at birth and rarely made it into adulthood. He rescues her and cares for her until her death, which is where we join the story.
Full marks must go to the book's translator Victoria Cribb, from what I can tell she has done a cracking job in retaining the poetry of the original. Sadly we lose some of the inferences to be taken from the character names - the priest's being an important play on words - but there was no getting round that.
The Blue Fox is published by Telegram Books who are quicky becoming a publisher whose books demand attention. I can't wait to read more from them.

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Price: £7.99 £6.99

Product Code: TH95
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