Butterflies in November by Audur Ava Olafsdottir

A bookish observation

“there is a moment at the heart of every moment” [p150]

Source: Audur Ava Olafsdottir, butterflies in November Page 150

Reading is an amazing magical thing! One minute you can be in your real world, my world is Sydney Australia, then pick up a book and find yourself walking through a graveyard, feeling cold and wet in Reykjavik Iceland, in the middle of someone else’s life.

Over the last year I’ve read many books and listened to many more. Mostly I finish one and quickly move to the next one without looking back.  As I read, I write blogs in my head, these blogs mostly never work their way from my busy mind to print. Butterflies in November by Audur Ava Olafsdottir was different.  Some months ago I’d read Audur’s previous book The Greenhouse and enjoyed it immensely.  It was one of the few blogs that made it from my imagination to the page.  I wrote about it because it stood out from the crowd. The publisher, having read my blog about The Greenhouse, wrote to me to see if I’d be interested in reading Audur’s next book, obligation free and I wrote back and said I would love to. Although there was no obligation to the publisher, Pushkin Press, their gift gave me an extra incentive to write.  I decided I would write a blog about the book  if I liked it.  I don’t write blogs about books I don’t like. What’s the point! After all, the beauty of a book is different for all readers.  The good news is, I liked the book very much, so today I sat down with pleasure to share my thoughts about it.

The book is set in Iceland.  If you don’t know much about Iceland, before you read the book or after you are a short way in, I’d get a general picture of Iceland from Wikipedia before you start, so that you don’t miss out on the book’s backdrop, the wonderful atmosphere, the light, the weather, the geography.

Keen to find out whether or not the book would be a “good-read”, I settled down in a comfortable spot to skim through the first few pages, after a few minutes it was clear, I could tell immediately, I was going to enjoy the story. Early on I learned the main character earns her living as a translator, proof reader and editor, from my point of view, a fascinating career because she’s probably well read and intelligent. Experience tells me a main character conversant with a wide knowledge of literature gives the author scope to divert into interesting musings. I love diversions.

The main character is dis-engaged from her married life and life in general. She is immersed in her work as an editor and gently sensitive in a misty way to the natural world. She’s a very vague character. When her marriage disintegrates, she is about to drift off somewhere, anywhere, to sort herself out, and then a couple of surprises occur.  I’m not going to spoil those surprises by telling you what they are, the book is full of quirky surprises which makes the book a delight.

Memories and imaginings are sprinkled throughout the book like breadcrumbs. I was never quite sure where they where going. Some bits were obviously memories but other pieces may or may not have been imagining the future. This added to the impression of moving through fog. Gently, gently the story moves toward where it is going.

There’s a sound track to this book (no you don’t get a free CD). The main character refers to music throughout the book. I made a list of some of the tracks so I can listen to them later. The character also cooks, so for you foodies out there this is another aspect of the story giving it a wonderful texture. Reference is made to the music she likes to listen to while cooking, while driving and living day-to-day.  Listening to the music mentioned in books quite often leads me to new musical discoveries. I discovered Chopin’s piano pieces from a book I read recently. Audur’s book pointed me toward Mendelssohn but I couldn’t find the piece referred to, that is, “Summer Song”.  I’ve listed some of the music mentioned in the book within this blog so I can search it out some other day, maybe there will be a little music you too will discover.

  • Khalid Sahra is mentioned,
  • Pinetop Perkins,
  • Ruben Gonzalez,
  • Gianmaria Testa,
  • Dvorak,
  • Liszt,
  • Strauss ,
  • Bjarni Thorsteinsson,
  • Prokofiev orchestral suite
  • Clara Haskil
  • O mio babbino caro – Puccini
  • Taboo – Perez Prado
  • Astor Piazzolla bandoneon

The blurb of the book describes the book as hilarious. I guess some things are hilarious to some people and not others. It took me until Chapter 47 to laugh out loud which was followed by many chuckles to the end of the book.  Though dear reader I warn you, do not peak, Chapter 47 will not be as funny if you haven’t read the book and become fond of the characters.

I take life pretty seriously and so my impressions of the main character, till well into the book, was of a woman who had never really grown up. She is vague, disconnected, a little promiscuous and lives life viewed through a blurry lens and then she’s given an unexpected responsibility. Taking her new responsibility very seriously she delightfully shares her view of life through a fog which becomes a mist until she can see clearly where she is going.  The story is sprinkled with moments only a person closely in-touch with “their child within” would imagine doing, for me that is part of the magic of the story.

As I read on, I experienced through the story her sense of displacement. I identified her as having too much “child-within” hindering her ability to find happiness and meaning in life. I believe, in reality, choosing the path determined by the child-within gives moments of brilliant short term happiness, happiness that fades in the blink of an eye. The trick (and life is full of tricks) is to find a balance between the child-within and the adult-within. My interpretation of the story is not so much a coming of age journey but one of finding maturity which, from my point of view, is a pathway to happiness, a story of an age-old struggle, a human story worth reading.

A good read!  The pace is gentle, the writing is full of good tuneful prose with unusual (quirky) delights. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed if you choose this book for your next read.