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International Socialism, Summer 1962


Theo Melville

Iceland and the Bomb


From International Socialism (1st series), No.9, Summer 1962, p.32.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Atom Station
Halldor Laxness

This novel comes under the category of native and is good middlebrow stuff. The story takes place in Iceland and its heroine, as the blurb says, is a country girl from the north – she represents the spirit of the Sagas – who comes to work as a maid in the house of her Member of Parliament. The political theme revolves round the setting up of an atom base on Icelandic territory and the surrender of national sovereignty to the Americans. Throughout there are appropriate remarks on the phoniness of Parliamentarians, Communists, sophisticated bourgeois, etc. But the dialogue is frequently on a commonplace level as in the following – ‘He is really a very honest man. At least when he is tipsy. In actual fact, no man is honest when sober; in actual fact, you cannot believe a single word that a sober man says. I wish I were drunk myself.’

Sometimes one longs for the monotony of the usual ‘witty’ remarks about sex to be replaced either by Rabelesian dissolvents or lyricism, and intelligent satire by a touch of genuine bitterness.

There are remarks which, one assumes, the author rejects – about the world being a garden after an Atomic War, and returning to a rural civilisation – is this satire?!

Criticisms of a novel such as this, where the author seems to have the right sentiments, disrespect for humbug etc., can seem harsh to other readers, but somehow most novels, however well intentioned, seem quite unable to approach the grandeur and tragedy of our epoch. Even satire must to some extent do that.

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Last updated on 11 March 2010