The Ambassador

The Ambassador, by Bragi Ólafsson, translated by Lytton Smith, Open Letter RRP$15.95, 298 pages

Everyone in Iceland is either a musician or a poet, observes a character in Bragi Ólafsson’s gentle satire on the literary life. It’s certainly true of this book’s author: as well as being a playwright, poet and (on this evidence, rather good) novelist, Ólafsson is best known as the bassist of Björk’s former band The Sugarcubes.

The ambassador of the title is Sturla Jón Jónsson, a fiftysomething poet from Reykjavik, who manages to combine acute sensitivity with breathtaking self-absorption. Chosen to represent Iceland at a poetry festival in Lithuania, he is enraged when – in an echo of Gogol’s famous story – his expensive overcoat is stolen from a restaurant. Meanwhile, Sturla is accused of another kind of theft: the wholesale plagiarism of his cousin’s unpublished poems.

A shaggy-dog story that at times reads like a sort of minor-key, Scandinavian rewrite of an English campus novel: charming, funny and strange in equal parts.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.