March 2017 Club

Fish Can Sing – Halldór Laxness

This is a gentle tale of a boy abandoned at birth at the door of his “grandparents”- a kindly couple who take in all manner of waifs and strays, from a former shipping captain of the Danish fleet to a dying woman, welcoming them into their tiny cottage at Brekkukot, near Reykjavik.

Álfgrímur Hansson grows up in the arms of a wealth of wise older folk who lived their lives according to Icelandic tradition – stoic, not given to strong emotion, compassionate, using under-stated language, not seeking to accumulate wealth or education, reading the Icelandic sagas, knitting, fishing, surrounded by the hidden people – in short, he has a humble upbringing and dreams of becoming a fisherman, just like his adoptive grandfather.

Álfgrímur is intrigued by a character who elusively pops in and out of the narrative, world famous singer, Garðar Hólm. Music wasn’t much valued in Iceland in those times, but his international fame indicates a wider world outside the harsh confines of his home country.

The philosophical beliefs portrayed through this eclectic collection of characters offers a poetic meditation on life and death.

For all I loved Magnus Magnusson in his television career, I wasn’t 100% convinced on some of the translation in this novel – bits didn’t quite scan as I was reading, but perhaps that’s a foible of the Icelandic language – other parts were beautifully poetic.

I was recently lucky enough to pass by the author's fairly humble abode in Iceland where he lived with his filmmaker daughter as a neighbour for many years.

Colourway inspiration

For the semi-solid colourway, it couldn’t be anything other than a mossy, grassy green. The moss-covered roof of the cottage surrounded by docken clumps and grass, seemed typically Icelandic. I took tansy yellow and mixed it with a mountain blue and added in some earth brown. As always, there are differences between batches but the yarn you receive will be from the same batch if you ordered more than one. I called it Brekkukot.

For the variegated colourway, I wanted to try to capture the tones of the lumpfish “gliding among the seaweed”, so central to the story.  “The male is one of the most beautifully coloured fish to be found” – so I used blue, grey, olive, yellow, brown and red-orange dyed randomly to capture the colours of their scales. I called it, somewhat unattractively, Lumpfish.

Yarn type – ideally, I was going to get some undyed Icelandic wool sent directly from my Reykjavik trip in February, but as I didn’t get to go until after I dyed the yarn in April, I thought an equally good option would be a hardy sock yarn and chose Crush.