Saturday, 28 September 2013

FROST (from the writer of Valhalla Rising)

When I looked at my reviews of books at Goodreads the other day, I discovered that I almost exclusively give the the books a rating of four or five stars. But the reason is obvious: I only review books that I have finished reading, and I only finish books that I like. Frost was such book.

Frost by Roy Jacobsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Roy Jacobsen
Valhalla Rising
Valhalla Rising
Frost (2003) is a historical novel from the Viking Age written by the Norwegian author Roy Jacobsen, who also co-wrote Valhalla Rising (2009), the popular movie starring Mads Mikkelsen. Frost is translated into Russian and several other languages, but not into English. This is a review of the Norwegian original.

The book is about Gest (Torgest Torhallason), who as a 13 year old boy or man, to avenge the murder of his father, kills Viga-Styr, one of the greatest chieftains in Iceland. He has to flee Iceland, and in Norway he hides among friends. But even in Norway he cannot escape the powerful friends of Viga-Styr.

Gest is a very short and small man, but with cleverness and aggressive surprise attacks, he kills several of his pursuers. He thus gets even more enemies but befriends Eirik Hakonson, the earl of Hladir. After Olav Tryggvason's defeat in the Battle of Svolder, Eirik has become ruler of Norway. The novel tells how Eirik of Hladir, with Gest as adviser, joins up with Cnut the Great to conquer England in 1013.

What strikes me when I read Frost is how Jacobsen manages to create a genuine Viking feel to the story. Jacobsen writes in a variant of Norwegian called Bokmål (Book language), which over the centuries has received strong influence from a lot of foreign languages (German, Danish, Latin, French, English), but despite this influence Norwegian has preserved a large vocabulary based on Old Norse (and Germanic roots). Many more or less forgotten words from the old language have also been vitalized through modern Norwegians translations of Icelandic sagas and old poems. Modern authors thus have a lot of Norse-rooted words at hand when they need to denote and describe old objects, people, customs and actions. Jacobsen knows how to utilize this vocabulary in giving his story a trustworthy Viking tone.

What I dislike in Frost is the author's dealing with religion. When Gest meets Christianity in Norway and later in England, he starts thinking about the Christian faith and wonder if he is going to let himself be baptised. All this musing, however, has to have happened on the background and very much in contrast to his former Old Norse world-view, dominated as this must have been with gods like Odin and Thor and experiences of invisible creatures and forces, such as land-spirits, elves, dwarves, and the Norns that were weaving his fate. This Old Norse way of experiencing life Jacobsen ignores. Which of is too bad.

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