There was a reschedule of our last bookclub meeting* and it just so happened that the new time fell on the birthday of the author Halldór Laxness, just when the book for discussion happened to be his acclaimed Independent People...I do love these little serendipitous moments.
*Actually since starting this post we have had another meeting...I am so behind with the book reviews.
Not everyone had finished reading the book by the meeting...it is quite lengthy (500 odd pages), some had read it before and were into their second reading and some like me, could not put it down and I read it in a week.
I started the book with trepidation, thinking that this would be a grueling read, one that I would struggle to finish as so many had told me it was very depressing and the main character was horrid and unlikeable. So I entered in to the life of Bjartur of Summerhouses with very low expectations, however I became so involved with the characters and developed such a fondness for Bjartur that I was definitely sad when the story was over...I literally did cry at the end. I could not put the book down, it was an absolute page turner for me and my only regret is that I read it too fast, and all too soon the experience was over. I so wish it had never ended and now all I have is the memory.
The book generated great discussion with some of us extolling the character of Bjartur, whilst others had developed a strong disdain for his personality which definitely seem to taint their enjoyment of the novel. I totally agree that Bjartur is an uncomfortable character, not an easy one to love, bull headed, stubborn, frustrating to the point of tears, misguided and bleak but somehow I developed an affection for him and was rooting for him all the way through.
Independent People was written in the 1930's, Laxness doesn't really commit to an era and I found it difficult to decipher what period of time the book was set until the final section of the story when WW1 is mentioned. I encourage anyone who picks this book up to perservere beyond the first chapter when Laxness explains the curse of Kolumkilli but you will understand the need for the explanation as you read on. Just beyond this section you meet Bjartur of Summerhouses and hopefully are soon hooked.
I like the way Laxness presents the characters to us, warts and all, not condemning or disapproving. Basically Independent People is an intimate look but without judgement at the positive and negative aspects of the human condition through the protagonist Bjartur and his family of Summerhouses.
My favourite Bjartur thoughts/quotes are-
"No, he was determined to keep his land to the very end, the land that he had lived on with his sheep, lived for with his sheep, where he had lived for his sheep."
"My opinion has always been this" he said "that you ought never to give up as long as you live, even though they have stolen everything from you. If nothing else, you can always call the air you breathe your own..."
This novel gets a 5 star rating from me (some will disagree) and makes it into my list of lifetime favourites.