The Whispering Muse

Author of Review: 

The Whispering Muse

(Argóarflísin, 2005)

In this slim and delightful novel, Valdimar Haraldsson, a peevish elderly academic obsessed with the connection between the superiority of the Nordic race and their pescatarian diet, is invited to partake in a cruise on the Black Sea with the Danish merchant vessel MS Elisabet Jung-Olsen.

On board, he is introduced to the ship’s misfit crew, including the first mate Caeneus. It turns out Caeneus was one of the famed Argonauts who served under Jason, son of Aeson, aboard the legendary Greek craft Argo on its maiden voyage in search of the Golden Fleece. At dinner, night after night, the first mate regales the crew with surreal yet matter-of-fact tales of the famous voyage and his latter adventures – continually obstructing Valdimar’s own intentions of delivering a lecture on the benefits of the Nordic diet. However, it appears that there are far more legends in play, as the many grasping threads of Caeneus’s tale combine folklore and myths from across the world into a Campbellian vortex.

In the cantankerous voice of Valdimar, Sjón has found the perfect counterbalance to Caeneus’ narration. What follows is a storytelling stand-off that breathes new life into the otherness of these ancient stories and feels as if Calvino’s Old Qfwfq and Emily Bronte’s Mr. Lockwood are trying to outdo one another in grandiloquence.