Cover Image: A Fist or a Heart

A Fist or a Heart

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Member Reviews

There was much to enjoy here, but I found I couldn't connect with it. I'd read more from this author in the future though.
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I love experiencing different cultures through the translated work of native authors, but…it may be that the Scandinavian mind is not one I understand.  A Fist or a Heart is about an older woman with a secret, a 19-year-old playwright and that’s as far as I got before I gave up. I couldn’t find anything to hold onto.
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I think I was swayed by all the prize winning references into thinking that this might be a good read for me, and because I jumped at the chance to read a women writer from Iceland, however I wasn't really drawn into the story and I found there to be too much of a disconnect between the main two characters that left me wondering what it was all about. (Beyond the obvious, a young woman writes a play, the prop maker becomes a little obsessed with her, the mother of the young woman is mentally unwell, thus their roles are reversed).

I was interested in the relationship between the young playwright and her mother, although unsure why the story is narrated from the point of view of the props maker. This novel made me think I missed something and left me not really wishing to think too hard to find out what it was I'd missed.

And that sad, shocking, unexpected ending.
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I must admit that it took me a while to read this novel, there were parts I almost didn't like and couldn't connect, but overall it was a good reading experience.

The storyline is not linear, it jumps from past to present, and from one character to another, so you'll need some time to connect all the pieces. But when you begin to connect the stories, it becomes interesting.
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Thank you to AmazonCrossing and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I did not enjoy this book. Having spent lots of time trying to work out what the plot is, putting it down in frustration and coming back to it - I finally just gave up and read through to be done with it. Although parts of it were beautifully written, they were also parts that were difficult to read because they described painful feelings and destructive behaviors. 

All in all, I found it very inconsistent and finished it feeling too stupid to understand the deeper significance.
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I was really intrigued by the premise of this story, unfortunately I couldn't really connect with it very well. It is well written and plotted, but the characters felt distant to me and I just didn't feel very absorbed by it. I do think this could appeal to big fans of Scandi noir, it just wasn't for me.
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I enjoyed this book.  For me personally, I was hooked by the ties to the theater and stage work, as that is as world in which I am deeply entrenched. Because of that connection, I think I probably got something more out of this book at the beginning than someone without those ties. However, that was not what kept me intrigued. I found the characters of Ellen and Élin to be fascinating. I devoured the parts of the story where they were both present, trying to piece together how they were tied to each other. There were parts of the story where it was hard to tell which character was speaking, but I think that was in many ways a benefit. The two women were the same in many ways and seeing how they fit into their worlds and having to figure out occasionally who was speaking only made this connection stronger. This is a book that I feel like I could still unpack more from  on a second or even a third reading. It is a novel where it feels like everything and nothing happen all at once, and I look forward to reading it again.
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This is an intriguing book from an Icelandic author that is full of atmosphere and a sense of the isolation of the country in parts. Overall, I have been interested in the culture of Iceland after having an Icelandic student as part of our local community and staying in contact with her. I find the culture quite unique, compared to traditional western cultures, even the naming of children. This book was a tough read, due mostly to the difficulty in following narrators and finding the plot. Some of the subject matter was quite intense and difficult to handle. Overall, I found the author's use of the voices in this book to be well done. This was not an easy read though.

#AFistoraHeart #NetGalley #AmazonCrossing
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Interesting, to say the least. Some parts were quite eloquent, noteworthy, profound. But almost half of the time I was left sorting out each chapter who the speaker was, what timeframe, and what was going on. Seemingly random at times, but somehow captivating in some of those times too.
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This novel is an insightful psychological study of two lonely and eccentric individuals with a tenuous grip on their sanity. The protagonist and narrator Elín Jónsdóttir, is a theatre and movie prop creator in her late sixties. One of the latest projects in which Elín is involved is the production of a new play by a teenage writing prodigy - Ellen Álfsdóttir. Ellen happens to be the daughter of a famed playwright with whom Elín was acquainted. Elín, who has spent all her life pushing people away from her, now seems strangely drawn to the disturbed teenager and starts following her. The narrative is purportedly written by the older woman, and it alternates between her reminiscences, written in the first person, and scenes involving Ellen, written in the third person and incorporating poems Ellen wrote.

The scant plot details of A Fist or A Heart (such as they are) are revealed slowly and tantalisingly. In this respect, I found the novel gripping and atmospheric. On the other hand, I cannot say I “loved” the book. My reservations were two.

The novel is built on a premise of ambiguity. It is quite clear, that Elín and Ellen are meant to be reflections of each other. Both are lonely, both had an upbringing with an ‘absent’ father, both had problematic relationships with their respective mothers. In a way, Ellen’s mother Lilya could be read as yet another aspect of one composite character. By the end of the book, however, the ambiguity is taken to extremes. As Elín becomes more and more confused, it’s not even clear whether what we’ve learnt about the (younger) Ellen or, for that matter, Elín herself, should be taken at face value. Has Elín made up everything? Is Ellen partly or completely the product of Elín’s imagination? These questions (and other, less important ones, which also remain unanswered) kept bothering me after I finished the book. I’m sure some would hold this in the book’s favour. I’m more conservative in that respect and prefer greater “closure”.

My second reservation, although less central to the novel, I found possibly more troubling. Throughout the book there are frequent references to violence and violent acts. Elín’s props are, more often than not, meant for some Nordic crime film or shocking play: the grisly list includes severed limbs, decaying corpses, scarred bodies, a doll to represent an abused minors. In what is quite a short book, there is also a chapter about quite a stomach-churning episode of sexual violence (no further details here to avoid ‘spoilers’) and a sub-plot involving an unlikely meeting with a serial killer. I’d like to think that I’m not a squeamish reader (I’ve read my share of horror stories), but I did feel that these unsavoury details were not essential to the novel.

Reservations aside, I am still pleased at the opportunity of discovering a new author in her English language debut, and (given it’s unlikely I will ever learn Icelandic) I will seek out translations of Kristín Eiríksdóttir’s other works once they – hopefully – become available.
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Elin is an aging prop-maker working in theatre and film. When she accepts a job designing props for a new play, she encounters up-and-coming playwright Ellen, the daughter of one of Iceland's greatest writers.

Elin becomes concerned about Ellen's nervousness and a seeming chaos about her approach to the play. She starts to keep an eye on her but is given a brusque dismissal. It soon becomes clear, however, that there are other reasons underlying Ellen's odd behaviour.

This a story of two fragile women, one waxing and one waning. The puzzling relationship between the two of them is gradually revealed before a very sad and affecting conclusion.
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This Icelandic Literary Prize winner was not as good as I had hoped, or rather I did not enjoy it as much as I had hoped. However, it's hard to judge  harshly a book in translation as well as one written by and set in a different culture.
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Extraordinary. Every Icelandic book I read is better than the one before, and this one depicted weird relationships so well. Keep 'em coming!
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This is the first book that I read by Kristín Eiríksdóttir and I was surprised how much I could relate to what she talked about as Elín or as Ellen in her thoughts of different characters that she developed in her story. These thoughts have also come to me with taking care of my 104 year old father-in-law. Her fears with Ellen with people in general I can see in other people and wonder if they see their world in a different light than I do. I've had several strokes and have these funny feeling when I am in particular situations. She has her characters wonder about people and has them followed by Elín. And has Elín totally lost within herself at the end of the story. I would recommend that the people in my blog read this story to see how much empathy they have with the characters.
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My feelings about "A Fist or a Heart" are all over the place. The writing is wonderful—succinct yet evocative. But the plot, such as it is, is both more obvious and more opaque than it needs to be. Having the protagonists' names be almost identical (Elín and Ellen) is a blatant way to signal the parallels between them (then again, the Icelandic title does translate to something like "Elín in Multiple"), and by the end I wondered what was the point of even introducing Ellen other than as some sort of mirror image of the primary narrator Elín. And that Elín would have, despite living an intentionally circumscribed existence, encountered such repeated traumas stretched plausibility... unless they're not all true but rather the erroneous memories of a woman with dementia? I'd definitely read more by Kristín Eiríksdóttir, but I can't unreservedly recommend this, except to those who enjoy a healthy dose of ambiguity in their reading. 

Thank you, NetGalley and AmazonCrossing, for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
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I really enjoyed reading about Elin's creation of props for films and the theatre. I was less convinced by the connection between her and the young playwright, Ellen. I thought they should have much more to do with one another. Elin has clearly spent too much time on her own, and she gradually lises it as the novel goes on. Two stars.
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Thank you NetGalley and Amazon Crossing for a copy of this book.

When you see a book, there must be some spark that takes you in and makes you want to read it. The fact that the author is Icelandic and that the cover is so beautiful were definitely the two sparks for 'A Fist or a Heart'.

When you start reading, the characters intrigue. You get thrown some pieces of history from the author and that works both confusing and stimulating, as you really want to learn more. The problem lies in the conclusion of the story, because at that point you are still confused and not completely able to pinpoint exactly what you have been reading. The words you have been reading are a means for the author to express the mental illness that rules the world of the characters. It seems that reality is far gone at some points in the story and that probably resembles the way the  characters feel.

There is no doubt about it, Kristin Eiriksdottir can write. She uses words to express, not only to tell the story. Some moments it feels like the story is not even important and you just need to enjoy the reading. The placements of the words and the rhythm in them takes you in and is in a strange way almost enchanting.

'A Fist or a heart' is a very small story, depicted in an artistic way, but it leaves you dangling with a lot of questions after finishing. You never truly get to know the characters, although you get to feel them. It is certainly not a book for everybody, but if you like out-of-the-box-reading you must give it a try.
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Dry, soulless writing (possibly a result of poor translation), jarring syntax and punctuation, highly unlikable protagonist. Nordic Literature has better creations to offer....
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I received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  			
From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸.			

The past returns with a fury for a woman coming to terms with her life in this award-winning novel by an acclaimed Icelandic author making her English-language debut.

Elín Jónsdóttir lives an isolated existence in Reykjavík, Iceland, making props and prosthetics for theatrical productions and Nordic crime flicks. In her early seventies, she has recently become fascinated with another loner, Ellen Álfsdóttir, a sensitive young playwright and the illegitimate daughter of a famous writer. The girl has aroused maternal feelings in Elín, but she has also stirred discomfiting memories long packed away. Because their paths have crossed before. One doesn’t remember. The other is about to forget.

Soon they’ll discover all they have in common: difficult childhoods, trauma, and being outliers who have found space to breathe in creative expression. Yet the more Elín tries to connect with the young woman and unbox painful memories, the more tenuous her grasp on reality becomes.

Winner of the Icelandic Literary Prize, A Fist or a Heart is a gripping, artfully interwoven novel of power, secrets, and isolation by one of the most bracing and original voices of the author’s generation.

Iceland is my bucket-list trip and I  enjoyed the scenic background of this novel taking place there as it makes me save even more money for said trip. This is not the type of easy-breezy book that you might look to read at the beach- this is a deeply serious book reminiscent of a mediaeval Edda and its Yggdrasil.  (a Yggdrasil is also called the World Tree or Tree of Life because it contains all the worlds and represents the cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth. Yggdrasil is an important element of Norse mythology as the eternal ash that contains the nine worlds of the cosmos.)

Did I enjoy this book? Well, it was well written BUT the story is INTENSE. This is a serious, literary read on par with Salinger, Orwell or Huxley. Do not expect to whip through this in less than a week - I am a super speed reader and it took me a very long time to get through this book --- I kept having to go back and re-read sections. (not a translation issue, just an "am I really enjoying this book or is this supposed to be an education that I am not appreciating aside from the location of the book" kind of issue!)

The book was good but I did not enjoy it... I said that I would be honest!	I am giving it a middle of the road 2.5 stars rounded up to 3 --- if you like SAGAS and LITERATURE you would like this book.

I wanted to see what others had written about this book but they were in Icelandic so I could not even guess what they had written.  Oh, well - maybe I can find a review in French, Spanish and Italian that I could understand!/Mig langaði til að sjá hvað aðrir höfðu skrifað um þessa bók en þeir voru á íslensku svo ég gat ekki einu sinni giska á það sem þeir höfðu skrifað. Ó, vel - kannski get ég fundið frétta á frönsku, spænsku og ítölsku sem ég gæti skilið!

p.s. did you know that in Iceland, traditionally, your name has been after your father? So you can all have different last names..
My dad is Neil WillIardsson
Dad is Fay Golwinsdottir
Brother is Doug Neilsson
I am Neilsdottir and I am married to Kevin Johnsson and our babies are Luna / Peaches Kevinsdottir
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