The Greenhouse Paperback – Oct 11 2011
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About the Author
Audur Ava Olafsdottir was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, in 1958. She studied art history and art theory in Paris and is a lecturer in history of art at the University of Iceland and a director of the University of Iceland Art Collection. She has curated art exhibitions in Iceland and abroad, including the Venice Biennale, and written about art and art history in various media.
Audur Ava is the author of three novels, a book of poetry, and a play. The first novel, Raised Earth, was published in Iceland in 1998. Rain in November was published to rave reviews in 2004 and received the City of Reykjavik Literary Award. The Greenhouse, published in 2007 and forthcoming in English from AmazonCrossing, won the DV Culture Award for literature and a women's literary prize in Iceland and was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Award. Since The Greenhouse was published in France in the autumn of 2010 under the title of Rosa Candida, the book has attracted a great deal of coverage in the French media and received unanimously good reviews. In September 2010, it received the Prix de Page literary award as the best European novel of 2010. The Prix de Page award is determined by a group of 771 bookstores in France where the book was on the bestseller's list for five consecutive months. The novel was also nominated for three other literary awards in France, including the prestigious Femina award. In January The Greenhouse was shortlisted for the Canadian 2011 Prix des libraires du Québec award. Audur Ava Olafsdottir published The Hymn of Glitter, a book of poetry, in 2010, and her first play will premiere at the National Theatre of Iceland in September 2011.
Audur Ava Olafsdottir's middle name, Ava, was adopted a few years ago as a tribute to the blind medieval French saint, Ava. Audur Ava Olafsdottir lives and works in Reykjavik.
As a translator and playwright, Brian FitzGibbon has a particular passion for the translation of fiction. With experience that spans over twenty years, he has translated a vast array of film scripts, treatments, stage plays, and novels, working exclusively into English from Italian, French, and Icelandic. His translation of the Icelandic cult novel 101 Reykjavik by Hallgrimur Helgason, published by Faber & Faber in the UK and Scribner in the US in 2002, was hailed by the Guardian as "dazzling" and the New York Times as "lucid."
Brian's one-act play, The Papar, was staged by the Abbey Theatre at the Peacock in Dublin in 1997, and subsequently adapted into a short film called Stranded, premiered at the Tribeca Film Center in New York one year later. An Icelandic translation of the play was broadcast on Icelandic radio in 2005 and nominated for a Gríman Award the same year. His full-length play, Another Man, was a finalist at the Playwrights Slam at the 2005 Chichester Theatre Festival in the UK. A radio adaptation of the play was broadcast on Icelandic State radio in the spring of 2008 and nominated for an Icelandic Gríman Award.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
On the surface it is a first-person narrative that tells the coming of age story of Arnljótur (or "Lobbi"), a 22 year old from Iceland who goes on a journey to find himself. He is a thoughtful boy who studies in the family greenhouse "to be able to read close to the plants" and who thinks about what it might mean to "spend one's entire childhood waiting for a single tree to grow".
His journey takes him from Iceland, which he sees as dominated by moss, tussocks and swamps, to a cliff-top monastery in an intentionally unnamed country that provides a stark contrast to his homeland. We hear him think through his bodily longings, what it means to be a man, fatherhood, faith, death, and our connections with the planet and the plants around us. And beneath all of this there is the question of how we relate to people, and how those relationships make us whole. There is the ever-present memory of Arnljótur's mother and the unforgettable final conversation that he had with her, as well as his evolving closeness to his daughter, Flóra Sól.
Olafsdottir makes liberal use of symbolism, and most significantly there is the precious Rosa Candida, the violet-red, thorn-less, eight-petaled rose.
Richness also comes from Olafsdottir's beautifully drawn minor characters. She captures monastic life wonderfully; in the absence of sustained contact with a broader community the small details of daily routines and of relationships mean so much to the monks. The villagers also are simple yet colorful. And there is Arnljótur's father, about whom you learn a lot from this one line: "When he's finished asking me about the weather and the traffic conditions on the roads, he tells me that seven depressions have crossed the country in about as many days."
Finally, there is Father Thomas. If you're a fan of Indie and Art House films then you might enjoy this list of mentioned movies:
1. Cesar & Rosalie
3. Trois Couleurs: Bleu
4. The Seventh Seal
5. Eat Drink Man Woman
7. Babette's Feast
8. Like Water For Chocolate
9. Chungking Express
10. In the Mood for Love
11. Je vous salue (Hail Mary)
He Also mentions Michelangelo Antonioni and Jean-Luc Godard.
His recommendations range from the bizarre (the movie with Yves Montana and Romy Schneider is César & Rosalie) to the more expected (Trois Couleurs: Bleu, in which the heroine, like Arnljótur, witnesses a horrific car accident, obsesses about death, and goes on a journey of self-discovery).
Arnljótur emerges as an everyman with whom we can identify, and I hope that we will see more from Audur Ava Olafsdottir.
The translation of the novel is very well done. The writing is luminous and captivating and several themes are explored: the meaning of life, death, coincidence vs. fate. There is rich symbolism. This is a novel that one can get lost in; it is not terribly plot focused and it's really more about the journey than the destination. Reading it was sort of like taking a train ride through beautiful country-- with each page you could just savor the moment and the lovely writing. Lobbi's character is quite compelling, human and believable. As another reviewer noted, the story is somewhat slow at first, but as his character develops and deepens, you'll be rewarded for sticking with the story. The growing bond of this reluctant young father with his child is tenderly portrayed. This was a thoughtful and touching story well-deserving of the praise it has received.
The main character, Lobbi, (the nickname for Arnljotur Thorir), is a red-headed 20-something Icelandic country-boy. As the result of what he calls a "half-night stand", he has a young daughter with a woman he doesn't even know. His father is widowed due to the accidental death of his mother and he has an autistic twin brother. He inherited his love of horticulture from his late mother, especially roses. He's been offered a job in a monastery in a near-by European country (never named in the book), so he takes this chance to cultivate his love of growing things and leaves Iceland.
Lobbi tells all this in his own voice, which is pretty matter of fact and frankly, a bit boring. He comes across as a very weak character, coming across as a little colorless and passive.
The book jumps around a lot and the story told without quotations around the dialogue, which I find to be irksome, but that might just be a personal preference - I usually won't even read books written that way as it takes a very talented writer to pull it off.
All in all, I think I would give this author another chance, since I'm such a fan of Iceland and foreign literature. But this particular book was a little bland for my tastes.
There are mystical elements in this book, as one might expect in a setting like this. Flora Sol is alarmingly advanced for a nine or ten month-old, to a point that sometimes felt unrealistic. But her father's amazement at his daughter is charmingly told with fetching details, and it's quite moving. Flora is meant to be a blessing to those around her. This is very subtly handled and never overplayed.
It is true, as another reviewer said, that the secondary characters (aside from Flora) are a bit flat. I think this is because the book is told in first person present, and the reader must rely on Lobbi's perceptions of those around him. Lobbi is an odd one; he's consistently confused by what others might be thinking or feeling, as if some basic wiring hasn't quite connected. There's a language barrier as well, but his basic emotional perception is lacking. His twin is autistic, so Lobbi may have a slight bit of spectrum disorder going on, but diagnosing him is beside the point.
What matters is the careful illumination of his journey from boy to man. This book tells the story beautifully.