Reply to a Letter from Helga
(Svar við bréfi Helgu, 2010)
Bjarni Gíslason – the narrator of this slim, epistolary novel – is a man out of time. History, folklore and nature are all weaved together in his visions of the beloved countryside where he has lived his whole life, tending to the farm of his forefathers.
In the twilight of his life, the aged farmer – alone and widowed – sits down to finally answer a letter from his former lover, Helga, which has haunted him these many years. To do so, he must face the decision he made that sealed forever their brief time together; a period of his life that shines in his memory with a clarity that dulls all else. In his recollections of their illicit love affair, his deeply sensual language is steeped in nature. Gradually, their lost love becomes one with the land it grew in. As his narration carries him closer to the life that he chose to forego, he must do his best to rationalize his decision to himself as well as the ghosts of his past.
Much of early twentieth century Icelandic fiction has to do with the loss of Iceland’s farming society, when people in the countryside began to flock to the capital region and settle in new, urban settings. Bergsveinn’s novel, which was published in 2010, is an ode to Iceland’s rural past but still manages to address the impossibility of returning to that simpler time.