Set in Reykjavík of the 1960s, The Lodger is steeped in the politics of its time, namely the opposition to Iceland’s inclusion in NATO and the presence of armed forces at the U.S. Navy station in Keflavík. As such, it is interesting to note how the book’s social criticism has warped through time without losing any of its sharpness.
“One’s position is so insecure when one is a lodger” exclaims the anonymous protagonist at the outset of this modern fable. She and her husband, young people, starting out in life, live together in a rented apartment while their future home is under construction. One day, their household is invaded by a strange man who simply walks in, puts his suitcase down and begins rearranging their furniture and making himself comfortable. Not knowing how to deal with this obtuse invader, the protagonist places her faith in her husband, trusting that he will have the unwanted houseguest out on his ear, but is aghast when her husband actually welcomes the man into their home with brotherly camaraderie. As the protagonist tries to adjust to this new presence in their home, her husband becomes ever more distant and the two men seem to bond together against her with effortless, unspoken ease. They even begin changing physically, resembling one another more and more and growing larger or smaller depending on the level of confidence shown by the protagonist.
At the time of its publication The Lodger may have been interpreted as an obvious critique of the Icelandic government’s kowtowing to US foreign policy but what will remain apparent to modern readers is the novel’s depiction of the anxieties and frustrations of a woman’s precarious position in the household. Even so, The Lodger contains a hopeful message about the importance of speaking up and claiming your space in the world.