Your Absence Is Darkness

Icelandic author Jón Kalman Stefánsson is relatively unknown in the United States, despite years of international success, including a Booker Prize nomination for Fish Have No Feet. With Your Absence Is Darkness now available in English (via translator Philip Roughton), Stefánsson offers a weighty yet light-saturated novel sure to leave a lasting impression. It is poetic and elegant, employing an unexpected structure that layers short sections in the way a sound engineer combines individual audio tracks to create a cohesive song. And it all starts when a man wakes up on a church pew and realizes he doesn't know where--or who--he is.

The residents of this remote town in northern Iceland know him, however, and easily slip into telling him their stories. He is, it seems, a writer, one with an uncanny ability to stop time and access family histories that demand to be recorded, urging him on: "Write. And we won't forget. Write. And we won't be forgotten. Write. Because death is just another name for being forgotten."

Music provides a throughline for this novel, found in both the lively musicality of Roughton's translation and in the repeated references to popular songs, collected as Death's Playlist. It's also present in the way the novel plays with form, with headings that feel like song titles, and the way elements recur like a familiar refrain. Readers will recognize themselves in the various ways the characters embrace fate and chance, regret and loss, sex and--yes, always--love. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian

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