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Once two swans flew overhead, eastward.
The world is like a stage where everything has been set up for an extravagant musical: the fragrance of birchwood in the lava fields at Þingvellir,2 cold gusts of wind from Súlur, violet light in the Esja sky, the azure deep and cold over Skjaldbreiður, but darkness no longer descends. Nightlessness and insomnia in all directions.
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Written when he was 25 Laxness's first major novel as it happens was The Great Weaver from Kashmir. In some respects it's an odd book and I feel obliged to warn potential readers that the first half of it or so meanders about a lot--the second half brings everything into very sharp focus though and is where maybe Halldor first really finds his voice as one of the greatest novel writers of the 20th century. Going into this I had a limited (and still do actually) idea about Halldor's biography. Referencing Great Weaver we find in Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature these comments--'[Great Weaver]-is about a young man who is torn between his religious faith and the pleasures of the world'. Right afterwards it mentions Laxness aftterwards going to the United States where he turned to socialism. Onward to Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia which comments further--'As a world traveler, he discovered Expressionism in Germany and Surrealism in France, both of which influenced his work, and he was converted to Catholicism in Luxembourg.' Mention is then made of the Great Weaver as 'reflect(ing) his spiritual turmoil and the discontent that led him to the church. A meeting with Upton Sinclair during a visit to the U. S. caused another conversion, this time to communism.'I reference these sources because I think it's useful in order to understand the motivation behind his first major work. Anyway one might conclude that Laxness was drawn to spiritual and social justice issues--a kind of liberation theology before its time if you will. Anyway the hero if you will of Great Weaver Steinn Ellidi is a young Icelander poet who in the first parts of the book lives a somewhat debauched existence. Even so there is physical attraction and love for the young and much more innocent Dilja who is completely unaware of Steinn's carousings. Steinn goes on a journey for several years staying out of contact with friends and family. A series of epiphanic moments and events however changes the course of Steinn's life. A discussion with a Catholic monk on a train journey about the existence (or not) of God temporarily gets shunted to the back of Steinn's brain but with time and the disastrous direction his life seems to be moving in that conversation begins to obsess him more and more. Feeling at the point of suicide he tracks down the same monk in a monastery in Belgium. In the meantime Dilja--not having heard from Steinn in years marries Steinn's cousin Ornulfur. It is not a happy marraige. Steinn more or less at this point has decided to dedicate his life to Jesus Christ and to enter the Benedictine order. He longs to return to Iceland one last time though and is given permission. Upon his return--he is surprised that Dilja who had made promises to him has in the meantime had married Ornolfur. Not withstanding all the years of his non communication he feels a bit betrayed. His family as well is non-plussed by his reappearance and really don't know what to make of his conversion to Catholicism--odd for an Icelander--in any case they are all respected Lutheran business people who have never taken their religion all that seriously--Dilja as well has been brought up that way. Steinn's confrontational manner and his obsession at bringing his conversion and beliefs into practically every discussion puts a lot of strain into every conversation when he's among them. And meanwhile Dilja despite all that and despite her marraige unhappy as it is--is drawn towards Steinn and in truth Steinn as well is drawn towards Dilja--and so a struggle literally for Steinn's soul takes place between the more secular happiness life with Dilja offers and the spiritual happiness that the church offers. Dilja has no idea what she's up against. She is wrestling with the wind. Thinking about her dilemna a song comes to my mind--a Canadian band Cowboy Junkies--'Misguided angel, hanging over me--Heart like a Gabriel, pure white as ivory--Soul, like a Lucifer--black gold, like a pi