The Blue Fox was the first book I read of the Icelandic author Sjón, and it blew me away. I read it many years ago, pre-blog, and while recently sorting out some of bookshelves, came upon it again. Suddenly, I felt like penning some thoughts on it.
The Blue Fox is a haunting, mythical novella, a blend of historical fiction and fairytale, with a very dreamlike vibe pulsing through it.
Set in Iceland in the late 1800s, the book opens with the protagonist Baldur Skuggason, a priest, hunting for the mystical blue fox on the whitened, frozen landscape in the dead of winter.
Blue foxes are so curiously like stones that it is a matter for wonder. When they lie beside them in winter there is no hope of telling them apart from the rocks themselves; indeed, they’re far trickier than white foxes, which always cast a shadow or look yellow against the snow.
In the throes of a howling wind and a raging blizzard, the action in this section feels like watching a slow motion film, as the Reverend stealthily moves across the snowy slopes in his quest to trap the enigmatic vixen. When he thinks he has spotted it, the Reverend fires his gun and sets in motion an avalanche that blankets the region.
Like a camera angle zooming to another scene, we are then transported to a different storyline, where the spotlight shines on Fridrik Fridjonsson, a naturalist, who must bury a young girl he has been caring for. This young girl was called Abba and was afflicted with Down’s Syndrome. The story, then, moves backwards to give us a glimpse of the girl’s life up to moment she dies. It’s a heartbreaking tale showcasing Abba’s hard life, and the heavy burden that Fridrik shoulders as he is unable to turn a blind eye to her suffering.
What is remarkable is how Sjón masterfully interweaves these two seemingly disparate storylines, to reveal a surprising twist in the final pages.
With concise prose that is both gorgeous and sinister, The Blue Fox is an impressive interlacing of lives, a spellbinding fable that is part mystery part fairytale that displays the dark recesses of the human heart. In the Baldur sections, Sjón takes us inside the minds of the hunter and hunted as they try to outmaneuver each other. More often than not, the reader’s sympathies lie with the blue fox as we secretly hope it escapes the Reverend’s mode of attack. With the Abba story thread, the book delves into the themes of human cruelty, the stigma associated with a genetic disorders and how society is so unkind to people born with them.
Sjón’s prose is as sparse, crisp and still as the glacial surroundings depicted within. There is a lot of white, empty space around the printed words on most pages, which is symbolic of the stark, icy and wintry backdrop against which the book is set. Much of the prose throughout the book reads like lyrical poems.
It is a novella of surreal beauty interspersed with moments of volatile darkness that can strike as suddenly and violently as the avalanche triggered by the Reverend’s gun.
I simply adored this atmospheric novella, and I’ll end with a quote from the book that describes the stunning Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis), a natural phenomenon I was lucky to witness a few years ago, north of the Arctic Circle.
In the halls of heaven it was now dark enough for the Aurora Borealis sisters to begin their lively dance of the veils. With an enchanting play of colours they flitted light and quick about the great stage of the heavens, in fluttering golden dresses, their tumbling pearl necklaces scattering here and there in their wild caperings.
Subsequently, I have gone on to read his From the Mouth of a Whale, which I remember liking immensely at the time, but do not recall much of it now, unfortunately!