*I received a free ARC of this book with thanks to the author and Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources blog tours. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: In March 1920 Icelandic days are short and cold, but the nights are long. For most, on those nights, funny, sad, and dramatic stories are told around the fire. But there is nothing dramatic about Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith who barely manages to make ends meet. He knows nobody will remember him – they already don’t. All he wants is peace, the company of his animals, and a steady supply of his medication. Sometimes he wonders what it would feel like to have a story of his own. He’s about to find out.
Sigurd – a man with a plan, a broken ankle, and shocking amounts of money – won’t talk about himself, but is happy to tell a story that just might get Gunnar killed. The blacksmith’s other “friends” are just as eager to write him into stories of their own – from Brynhildur who wants to fix Gunnar, then marry him, his doctor who is on the precipice of calling for an intervention, The Conservative Women of Iceland who want to rehabilitate Gunnar’s “heathen ways” – even the wretched elf has plans for the blacksmith.
As his defenses begin to crumble, Gunnar decides that perhaps his life is due for a change – on his own terms.
But can he avoid the endings others have in mind for him, and forge his own?
Storytellers is about stories and the people who tell them. Not just the stories we read in books or tell around a fire, but the stories people tell each other to create drama and spread gossip, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to get through each day and rewrite ourselves as heroes of our lives.
It is also about mental health and covers a whole range of issues, from addiction and withdrawal, through hallucinations and mood swings, to full-blown and severe depression with obsessive and suicidal thoughts. These depictions are so natural and some of the most realistic I have ever read, even when they manifest as talking kettles.
The main plot is split into two threads: the tale of Gunnar the introverted blacksmith who rescues an injured stranger and is then horrified to be stuck with him for a while, and the tale that Sigurd tells Gunnar as payment for his care (along with the vast wodge of actual payment) – a story within a story.
Gunnar’s tale is one of bleak isolation, loneliness, depression, addiction and grief. He desperately wants to change his life, but thwarts himself at every turn and recoils in horror from any offers of help. The story Sigurd tells is a saga of love and violence, temptation and betrayal, within a small community.
It very quickly becomes clear that the two threads are linked by more than just the teller. Both plots are driven in a large part by the setting: the bleak, cold beauty of Iceland and the darkness that can lurk in a small, closed community when isolated by such geographic wilderness. The characters are, for the most part, drawn in broader strokes, with the notable exception of Gunnar.
Gunnar is a masterpiece of characterisation. A lonely, depressed alcoholic who rebuffs all social contact and is, quite frankly, rather dirty and smelly. And yet, and yet. Larssen shows us his howling loneliness and grief, and how he fights against them daily with no ammunition and very little motivation. He shows us his love and care for his animals and how he is loathe to upset anyone, even when they rudely intrude upon his personal space and criticise his treasured possessions. We see how incredibly difficult it is to break the pattern of addiction, and yet how someone can still change and grow even if they struggle to make the specific changes they would like.
Storytellers opens a window into a detailed and intricate, affectionate portrayal of private hardships and personal survival in a beautiful and unforgiving landscape. And, of course, it is about the stories we tell.
Gunnar walked out, muttering to himself. Sigurd’s feverish gaze followed. He was now warm, relaxed to the point of nearly falling asleep, his ankle pulsating with heat rather than pain. How traditional, he thought, accepting his coffee. A lot of things have changed in the last thirty years, but stories were still being told by the fire on the cold nights when there was nothing else to do…
– Bjørn Larssen, Storytellers
Storytellers is available on Amazon right now!
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