Saturday 10 August 2019

Book Review — Storytellers by Bjørn Larssen #HistoricalFiction @bjornlarssen

By Bjørn Larssen

In March 1920 Icelandic days are short and cold, but the nights are long. For most, on those nights, funny, sad, and dramatic stories are told around the fire. But there is nothing dramatic about Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith who barely manages to make ends meet. He knows nobody will remember his existence – they already don’t. All he wants is peace, the company of his animals, and a steady supply of his medication. Sometimes he wonders what it would feel like to have a story of his own. He’s about to find out.

Sigurd – a man with a plan, a broken ankle, and shocking amounts of money – won’t talk about himself, but is happy to tell a story that just might get Gunnar killed. The blacksmith's other “friends” are just as eager to write him into stories of their own – from Brynhildur who wants to fix Gunnar, then marry him, his doctor who is on the precipice of calling for an intervention, The Conservative Women of Iceland who want to rehabilitate Gunnar’s “heathen ways” – even that wicked elf has plans for the blacksmith.

As his defenses begin to crumble, Gunnar decides that perhaps his life is due for a change – on his own terms. But can he avoid the endings others have in mind for him, and forge his own?

“There is a story you might enjoy. It’s a good one… I think.”

A bag full of money and a story in exchange for temporary shelter would seem like a fair deal to some. But not to Gunnar, who prefers the company of his dog to that of society. Still, the money will come in useful, and Sigurd is a good storyteller. And besides, Sigurd would be gone from his home as soon as his ankle had healed. It was only a temporary situation.

However, this is no ordinary story that Sigurd is telling. This is a story about love, hate, jealousy and murder — a heartbreaking tale where evil seemingly triumphs. But worse is yet is to come in this enthralling narrative, for this is a story that has yet to have its ending written.

As Gunnar struggles with his dependence on alcohol, he finds himself in the very midst of Sigurd’s story. He is no longer listening to the story. He is participating in it. The only question is, will Gunnar survive to tell the tale?

Set in Iceland in the 1920s, Storytellers by Bjørn Larssen, is one of those books that is not only shamelessly compelling but one that is utterly captivating and it does not let go of you until the very last full stop.

Storytellers was everything I wanted it to be, and then some. It is the kind of book that is next to impossible to put down. One more chapter was not enough — I had to read on. I had to find out what happened next. It is addictive to the extreme. This is the kind of book that will keep you reading long into the night. Storytellers is Larssen’s debut novel, and he deserves to feel justly proud at what he has written.

Storytellers is actually a story within a story. We follow Gunnar’s life, but we also follow those that are in the story that Sigurd weaves, which I thought was very well done and made this book something very special indeed.

Larssen has a wonderful novelist eye for human detail, and this insight, this understanding of human nature is beautifully portrayed through his interpretation of Gunnar. Gunnar is an unlikely protagonist. He is a recluse. He cares not for personal hygiene. He is selfish and bad-tempered. He also has an alcohol addiction and has to endure the demons that come with that. There is nothing, on the face of it, that suggests that he could be the hero of this tale, and yet he is. Gunnar is forced into situations in which he feels totally out of his depth, and more often than not, he turns to the bottle to help him through this. However, there is a deep longing inside of Gunnar to do the right thing. To stop drinking. Through Gunnar, Larssen has shown his readers exactly what human frailty looks like. Larssen also shows how much courage is needed to defeat your demons. Kudos, Mr Larssen.

Sigurd is the antagonist of this tale. He is manipulative, devious and cruel, and yet at the beginning, he had my sympathy — who would want to find themselves in a louse and flea-infested house with a man who cares more for his horse than he does for himself? But, through Larssen’s fabulous narrative, we discover that Sigurd is not what or who he seems to be. The development of Sigurd’s character is gradual — he keeps everything very close to his chest. He is a very private and secretive person. But Gunnar naively takes him at face value, and Sigurd exploits that. I thought this was incredibly effective and worked really well.

The historical detailing in this book has to be commended. This era has been painstakingly researched, and it shines through in Larssen’s writing. The realism in this story is almost tangible. I cannot praise this book enough. I loved every syllable, every word, every sentence. Storytellers is a real treat.

If you are looking for a tense, powerful and compulsive historical thriller, then look no further than Storytellers by Bjørn Larssen.  

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

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Bjørn Larssen

Bjørn Larssen - writer, blacksmith, mathematician, graphic designer, model (not all at the same time) was made in Poland. He is mostly located in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one. Since then his short stories and essays were published in Rita Baum Art Magazine, Writer Unboxed, Inaczej Magazine,,, and Holandia Expat Magazine. He is a member of Alliance of Independent Authors and Writer Unboxed.

Bjørn used to speak eight languages (currently down to two and a half). His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland, even though he hates being cold. He has only met an elf once. So far. 

Connect with Bjørn: WebsiteTwitterGoodreads.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx