Gunnlöth’s Tale

Author: Svava Jakobsdóttir
Translator: Oliver Watts
ISBN-13: 9781870041799
Pages: 232
Published: 2011
Series: B No. 42

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This spirited and at times sinister novel ensnares the reader in a tangled encounter between modern-day Scandinavia and the ancient world of myth. In the 1980s, a hardworking Icelandic businesswoman and her teenage daughter Dís, who has been arrested for apparently committing a strange and senseless robbery, are unwittingly drawn into a ritual-bound world of goddesses, sacrificial priests, golden thrones, clashing crags and kings-in-waiting. It is said that Gunnlöth was seduced by Odin so he could win the ‘mead’ of poetry from her, but is that really true, and why was Dís summoned to their world?

The boundaries dissolve and the parallels between Gunnlöth’s circle and the strange company into which Dís’s mother is drawn as she fights to clear Dís’s name grow ever closer. The earth-cherishing goddess seems set on a collision course with strategic thinker Odin who has discovered that iron can be extracted from the marshes where she resides, and environmental disaster also looms in the modern context, brought into sharp focus by a shocking world event.

At the same time the novel is a moving, under-the-skin portrait of a mother in crisis, cast into a maelstrom of conflicting emotions by seeing her daughter under arrest and in prison. Dís’s father has refused to get involved, claiming he is too busy. Her mother is left to tussle with lawyers and fight to clear Dís’s name. She goes to Copenhagen in order to be near the prison where Dís is on remand. The couple’s business ambitions for a government contract will be in shreds if the prosecution accuses Dís of involvement with a terrorist group, but on the other hand, how can any mother willingly pursue the option of agreeing that her own daughter is mentally ill? Particularly when she has followed Dís into the depths of legend in her quest for the truth?

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Svava Jakobsdóttir

Language translated from



Oliver Watts