Miss Iceland by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Set in the 1960s, Miss Iceland tells Hekla’s story as she tries to become a successful writer in a male dominated industry. Having been brought up on a farm, caring for the animals and land at all hours, she’s a strong and determined young woman which Ólafsdóttir cleverly uses to contrast Hekla to the whimsical and passive male writers that she comes across when she moves to Reykjavík.

Her poetry and short stories have already been published in certain papers/journals but she’s always used an alias that publishers and readers assumed was male. Will she ever be able to publish under her own name?

As she begins a relationship with a librarian who writes in his free time and dreams of his success, Hekla is unsure if to tell him her aspirations are the same. In the end, she chooses to hide her work and only type when he’s sleeping. Deep down she knows this is not good for her relationship and whilst her secrets remain hidden, cracks appear on the surface of their relationship. The cracks are multiplied by Hekla’s continued friendship with her childhood friend; Jón John.

Her boyfriend is threatened by their close friendship, which he shouldn’t be, as Jón John is gay… but alas this is the ’60s when others don’t fully comprehend people’s sexual preferences. As Jón John continues to bring Hekla books and clothes from his journeys as a sailorman, and asks for Hekla to pretend to be his girlfriend to the other sailors, things become tense and confusing.

Alongside Hekla’s and Jón John’s coming-of-age journeys, Ólafsdóttir includes a third key character – Ísey. Ísey has done everything the traditional way: she’s married, she has two kids and spends her days looking after her children and home. I wondered if Ísey was included in the story to show the comparison between those that fall into stereotypical categories and those that don’t? Although I’m not 100% certain, as in this tale only Ísey falls into the stereotypical category and she’s MISERABLE. It seems unfair to portray all housewives as unhappy with their choices in life, so perhaps what Ólafsdóttir was trying to get across is that we are all individuals and if we don’t utilise the skills we’re naturally talented at or live the way that we truly want to, we won’t flourish.

What’s the title all about then? I knew you’d ask… and I’m not going to reveal the specific details of how it fits into the plot but reflect on what the title means to me now I’ve finished the book.

For me, it reminds the reader that opportunities are always in front of us, but that not all of them should be taken. As we grow as people, we have to decide what is right for us and what isn’t. Sometimes we make our decision based on learning from others but often we just have to trust our instincts and follows our hearts.

Miss Iceland will cocoon you in its words and transport you to Iceland; to its breathtaking landscape, and to the past. Ólafsdóttir’s writing is sharp and thoughtful, not to be missed!

Miss Iceland is out today in paperback and eBook versions from Pushkin Press, I was very kindly gifted a copy by the publishers – thank you!

Until next time, stay safe, Chloé x

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