There couldn’t be a better time to read Halldór Laxness’ Independent People. I’m finding the world of an Icelandic sheep farmer cooling to this mid-westerner in the throes of a prematurely hot summer. Yesterday, mowing the lawn in 90 degrees, I tried to imagine reindeer riding in order to summon wintry images. I also thought a bit about independence as it’s portrayed in the novel.
The character of Bjartur the sheepcrofter views himself as impervious to the whims of supernatural beings that populate the lore and poetry of his fellow crofters. He scoffs at the beliefs of his wife, Rosa, and refuses to allow her any acknowledgement of her superstitions. He looks at his life through one lens, that of his account ledger, and prides himself on maintaining only minimal ties to the people who surround him.
…he was only filled with the modern spirit and determination to be a free man on his own land, with the same independence as the other generations that had settled there before him.
Trouble is, that spirit and determination has cost Bjartur, but he’s unawares as of yet. I’m not quite half-way through Independent People, and it’s not a zippy read. But I’m finding that incredible sense of immersion that sometimes comes in longer novels, entry into another world that is at first wildly foreign, yet slowly begins to feel like home.
I finished No Country for Old Men late last night, a bitter wind hitting the house from the north and west. Even though the pages turned lightly, I felt such heaviness as I finished the book and trundled off to the cold bedroom. The earthy decency of Sheriff Bell, his complex simplicity (a well lit oxymoron), and his longing for times that can’t be revived, all combined to produce in me a bit of “what’s the use” sentiment. His kind of man stands no chance against an eerily logical automaton. Then, I lay down and started to think about how cleverly McCarthy uses grand metaphors. What was he really saying, amidst all the bloodshed, the inhumane expression, the greed? Could there be more to this than meets the half-closed eye?
For some reason, this winter has found me feeling older, something I’ve never considered possible. I’ve always been able to go and go without much thought as to speed or lack of it. But one night last week, I forgot three fairly important domestic tasks before retiring. A grand slam of forgetfulness. It hit me hard. Last night, while trying to pull some optimism from between the lines of No Country, I failed. I was tired, I felt old and sad, and I simply gave up and fell asleep. Maybe this is how Sheriff Bell felt, the fate of us all, the coldness that settles down in the middle years, the hint of what’s to come.