The Swan

Author of Review: 

The Swan

(Svanurinn, 1991)

In his 1991 classic The Swan, Guðbergur Bergsson immerses himself in the consciousness of a child; an anonymous nine-year-old girl who is sent to work on a farm in the Icelandic countryside, supposedly as punishment for shoplifting.

Cast adrift from all familiar surroundings, away from her family and the life she knows in the city, the young girl tries to use her meagre tools of perception to understand her own actions as well as those of the adults around her. Eventually, she gives up on the cold and harsh world she finds on the farm, choosing instead to retreat into myth and imagination. Although the prose uses third person rather than first, the child’s perspective is reflected in the book’s imagery and language – her sensory experience of nature and the strange people that she meets on the farm. The novel applies a sparse yet lyrical language to describe her world as she tends to the animals and interacts with the other residents; a reading experience that unveils the ongoing development of her physical senses as well as her sense of morality.

This slim novel makes for a rewarding read that, according to Milan Kundera, “breathes the Icelandic landscape from every line.” In 2017, the book was adapted to film, the directorial debut of Icelandic filmmaker Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir.