What is the best-known book set on Iceland?

See note on methodology

Some difficult judgements to be made here. A famous 1864 SF novel must be disqualified because only a short but memorable section is set on Iceland, the main action taking place in an underground setting completely implausible to today’s geologists. It is of course:

Journey to the Center of the Earth / Voyage au centre de la Terre, by Jules Verne

Ruling that out, the book that topped the Goodreads ownership by quite a long way was very far behind on LibraryThing, so far behind that I can’t really consider it today’s winner. It was published only in 2013; I wonder if this reflects a recent surge of relative popularity for GR? Anyway, it is a novel about the last woman to be executed for murder in Iceland, in 1854:

Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent

Second on both LibraryThing and Goodreads is one of the great works of ancient Norse literature. I fear I must disqualify it also, because it too is not set on Iceland, concentrating instead on the great issues of cosmogony and literature – though I’m willing to be persuaded about this. It is:

The Prose Edda, by Snorri Sturluson

Jockeying for position with it are the third and fourth volumes of Iceland’s most famous series of crime novels. I’m going to proclaim the former of these today’s winner, because it is top on LT, whereas the latter is only third on GR. (Each is fourth on the other system, respectively.) They are:

Jar City / Mýrin  (Inspector Erlendur 3), by  Arnaldur Indridason
Silence of the Grave / Grafarþögn (Inspector Erlendur 4), by  Arnaldur Indridason

But it’s close at the top. Third on LT and fifth on GR is the most famous novel by Iceland’s only Nobel laureate writer:

Independent People, by Halldór Laxness

And not very far behind is the best known of the works of Norse literature actually set on Iceland:

Njál’s Saga / Njáls saga, possibly by Sæmundr fróði

Many more sagas and detective noves fill up the lists.

One thought on “What is the best-known book set on Iceland?

  1. I have just watched “Remembrance”, which I have to admit I score below both “Paradise Towers” and “Dragonfire”. There are good things about it: Ace, lots of Daleks getting blown up, the levitating coffin, and some effective special effects (the levitating Dalek and the Dalek shuttle landing in the playground). But a lot of of it is just plain lazy: the pre-credits sequence in the first episode, the pupils in school uniform, the wrong book in the chemistry lab on the French revolution, the lack of any mentions of the Kennedy assassination (surely this could have been combined with the Dalek attack to create more tension – is it all part of the Dalek invasion plan?), the strange fact that it is still light at 17:15 on a late November Saturday. (I think the easiest explanation is that the story is set in April 1964 and the Association are the kind of incompetently run organisation that does get round to changing the month on its calendar, but that’s not, I think, the intent of the production.) And the “No Coloureds” sign would have been even more shocking had it said “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish”. (Ace could have turned out to be of Irish descent.)

    Which others have you seen and thought hadn’t aged so well?

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