‘The Blue Fox’ by Sjón


Fiction – paperback; Telegram Books; 112 pages; 2008. Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb.

In recent years it’s been hard to move around the blogosphere without stumbling upon a review or mention of Sjón’s The Blue Fox. It won the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize — the Nordic equivalent of the Booker Prize — in 2005 and was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2009, but I suspect part of the reason it’s attracted so much attention lies in the author’s credentials — in 2001 he was nominated for an Oscar for his lyrics for the film Dancer in the Dark, is a long-time collaborator with songstress Bjork and is a well regarded playwright and poet in his native Iceland.  

I was intrigued enough to add it to my wishlist and recently borrowed it from my local library.

19th century Iceland

The story, which is set in Iceland in January 1883, is divided into four parts.

In the first, a priest, Baldur Skuggason, is hunting the enigmatic — and beautiful — blue fox across a snowy landscape. In the second, a naturalist, Fredrik B Fredriksson, is building a coffin and preparing the funeral for Abba, a woman with Down’s Syndrome, whom he rescued from a shipwreck and employed as his assistant for many years. In the third, the priest is trapped in an avalanche, where he has a surreal encounter with the fox, and in the final instalment, a letter, written by Fredrik B, reveals the (unexpected) connections between all the characters.

Essentially, the story is a fairytale, but it also contains elements of the adventure story and the mystery-thriller.

A novella with perfect pacing

And while it is just 112 pages long, it’s not a story to race through but one to savour.

This is helped in part, not only by the beautiful, highly evocative writing, but the layout of the book in which the first 50 pages often only contain one paragraph or sentence per page — “The night was cold and of the longer variety” (page 17) and “The sun warms the man’s white body, and the snow, melting with a diffident creaking, passes for birdsong” (page 21). This invites you to slow down and to read each page carefully, almost as if you are reading stanzas in a very long poem — and it also helps create the delicious, spine-tingling feeling of being out on a hunt, where every movement is tracked and each second feels like a lifetime.

Sjón has crafted a rather exquisite, highly nuanced novella, one that is cleverly plotted and expertly draws together what seems like two divergent threads into one surprising conclusion.

12 thoughts on “‘The Blue Fox’ by Sjón

  1. Yes, saw that on Twitter earlier… I suspect Campbell Newman is not a reader. It mirrors the situation in the UK where funding for the arts got slashed as soon as the Tories got into power…


  2. I too saw this around the blogosphere a lot a while back and was therefore intrigued and also slightly put off. This review has reminded me that I really wanted to read it especially because of the unusual way it seems to be written as it starts. Though I did initially misread your post and thought the whole first fifty pages were one long sentence and paragraph hahaha.


  3. I read The Blue Fox last year and have just finished From the Mouth of the Whale. While I thought both books were perfectly executed, I was surprised by how different they are in style.
    The Blue Fox is easily my favourite of the two. I love the way Sjon maintains such tight control over the narrative, using his words so sparingly to create such a haunting and poetic little book. This is one I will re-read again and again.
    By contrast, From the Mouth of the Whale is a rambling, enthralling, stream of consciousness narrative. I found it striking, enjoyable and extremely memorable, but too exhausting to read again in the near future!


  4. Interesting to hear your thoughts on From the Mouth of the Whale, which is getting a lot of attention at the moment, mainly due to its longlisting for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. I’ve added it to my wishlist.


  5. I vove Per Peterson’s writing, I think he could write about a brick wall and I would find it moving. This sounds like my kind of read and I love venturing into other cultural perspectives and storytelling.
    I am sure you have read about it, but ‘The Snow Child’ is a wonderful read and one you might enjoy, definitely my favourite this year, brilliantly executed and a compelling story. Thank you for bringing this one to my attnetion, I hadn’t read of it before now.


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