101 Reykjavík : a novel /
Hallgrímur Helgason ; translated by Brian FitzGibbon.
New York : Scribner, 2003.
ix, 339 p.
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New York : Scribner, 2003.
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A Look Inside
First Chapter

Anyway. I normally try to wake up before dusk. To get some light into my day, check in, punch my card. The sun is a time clock. Even if you're not working. For the sun or anyone else. Hey. Solar system, welfare system.

Waking up never gets easier. It's like you've been buried for four hundred years and have to claw your way through six feet of mud. Every day. The light filters through the curtains. All of a sudden it's as if the numbers on my radio alarm were years. 1601. Woke up too early, not due to be born for another four hundred years. Ah well. I reach out for the Coke supply, have myself a flat one. One stale morning kiss. You should never kiss a girl the morning after, there's always that putrid smell, like she's started to rot, like she's died. Usually she's died. One shouldn't sleep around. Sleep is death. Resurrection every morning. Resurrection of the flesh. My man, always the first one up. I find the remote under my foot, haven't quite mastered switching the TV on with my toes yet.

Channel 52: interview with a German bar owner. He's pulling three steins. I want a beer. Take another sip of Coke. Channel 53: British gardening. Channel 54: recording studio in Madrid. Channel 36: an Indian singer (20,000). Channel 37: weather forecast for Southeast Asia. Looks like they're in for a sunny weekend in Burma.

I surf around. No pussy. How come there's no porn shows in the morning? Have these people never heard of a morning glory? At least there'd be something to wake up for. Breakfast porn. My little man, always the first one up. Maybe that's how they're programmed. Cos it's easier to get the rest of me out of bed once he's up. That little giant. That throatless muscle-pumping Cyclops. Has a head but no brain, or maybe he's used it all up, coughed up all his little gray cells. I refuse to get up until he gets up. I grab him by the throat and wrestle with him, but he doesn't give up until we're in the john. I milk him into the palm of my hand. Why don't fortune-tellers read wet palms instead of peering into coffee cups? There's my life mapped out for you, sprayed into my hand. Trickling down the undulating streams of my lifeline.

Cigarette. A day is like a cigarette. A white cigarette tracked by the sun as its smoldering embers vanish behind the clouds of smoke and die in the yellow filter of the night. The sun and cigarettes. Both equally hazardous to your health. It's getting dark. Hardly worth opening the curtains. I fasten my watch, chain myself to time, the rotations of the planet, the sun, the whole system: 16:16. I go into the kitchen. Cheerios. Already waiting for me in the bowl. What's going on? Is she trying to mom me up again? A bit too much. She's put too much into the bowl. The right portion is 365 rings. I shovel them down with some milk. Radio. The first song always sets the tone for the day. "Passion," by Rod Stewart. Not so sure about that.

I look Woody Allen in the eye. When is he going to enlighten me? It's bound to happen someday. That's what posters are for. I turn on the Mac. The Mac greets me. She should be home by now. 1637. Yeah. I can read the years on my wrist. Each day is a history of mankind. Christ is born at midnight, the Roman Empire passes out in a wild all-night party, and then the Vikings meet at the crack of dawn, already gang-banging by nine. The lunchtime news is read from the Sagas - "A huge fire erupted at Njal's place last night" - and then a nap after lunch, slumber, the plague, Dark Ages, until we wake up to the blast of that Michelangelo guy's chisel in 1504. The Renaissance. Shakespeare scribbling furiously to meet a 1616 deadline. The history of mankind is a long day. The Thirty Minutes War. The Six Seconds War. A long working day. It's almost seven by the time Edison sees the lightbulb. 1900: supper and news. The history of humanity has finally reached the dining table, or we've just eaten, all of us full, zonked out for another endless night in front of the box. Everyone waiting for the clock to hit 2000. I mouse on to the Net. Check my e-mail. Nothing from her. I type:

Hi, Kati.

ReykjavÍk calling. Hope you had a good day. We're getting late up here, running out of days. You know. Wintertime in Iceland. The Kingdom of Darkness. And everything Johnny Rotten. Went to the bar last night and then to some after-party. There was a girl there who'd been to Budapest and she told me about a bar called Roxy or Rosy. Do you know it?

Bi. - Hlynur.

I'm half dressed when the phone rings.

"Hlynur," says Thröstur.

"Thröstur," says I.

"How's it going?"

"Yeah, OK. You didn't turn up yesterday."

"No. Did I miss anything?"

"Nah. We went back to Jökull's afterwards."

"And what? How was it?"

"Yeah, OK."

"Any action?"

"Yeah. Lóa was there and Sóley, and two lanky model types."


"Yeah. One of them was a real Cosmo type, but the other one was more House and Garden."

"And what? Are they there with you now?"

"No, that's just the TV. What are you up to?"

"Hey, I saw your dad. We went to the Castle, myself and Marri, and there he was, he was great."

"You're bullshitting me."

"No, he was great, man, bought us a round and then invited us back to his place afterwards."

"Did you go?"

"No. He gave us conflicting addresses."

"Are you sure it was him?"

"Hey, Hlynur, I know old graybeard when I see him."

"How did he look?"

"Yeah, fine. Kind of third-dayish."

"Out of his skull?"

"Yeah. He was pretty sozzled, all right, but he was in great form. I mean he was fun and so on."


"Yeah. He spoke about your mother a hell of a lot...and you. You should look him up, you know."


"So what d'you say? How about tonight?"

"Don't know. What you have in mind?"

"Just the usual, the K-bar or just the Castle, maybe; it's a wicked place, I'm sure you'll bump into your old man there."

"What time were you there at?"

"Kind of one-ish."

"I don't know."

"OK, I'll give you a buzz."




Mom works at the Imports Office. Mom is the Imports Office. Mom's name is Berglind Saemundsdóttir. Mom drives a red Subaru. Mom comes home from work between five and six. Sometimes she brings Lolla with her and she eats with us. Lolla's actual name is ólöf, can't remember the second name. Haralds- or Hardarsdóttir. Lolla is a lesbian. Been one for ages. She celebrated her fifteenth lesbian anniversary this autumn. She's heading for a golden watch from the Icelandic Lesbian Association. Mom is the Imports Office. Mom always brings something home for me. T-shirts, Coke, a belt, a tape, popcorn, cookies. Today she comes home in the year of 1735. I hear the rustle of plastic bags, and then she knocks three times before walking in.

"Hi, darling. Wasn't sure whether you'd want these or not. Got them in Bonus's."

She throws three pairs of white underpants wrapped in noisy plastic onto the bed, as I swivel around from the computer. Then she walks to the bed, takes the underpants, puts them on the bedside table, and starts tidying up.

"How did it go today? It's a bit stuffy in here, Hlynur dear. Wouldn't you like to open the window a bit?"


"It's been a while since I washed these sheets, hasn't it? Shall I take them now? No, can't do them until tomorrow anyway. Is that a Coke bottle in your bed? I bought some more if you'd like. Lolla's coming for dinner later. How's it going, darling?"


"Didn't you say you were doing some job for Reynir?"

"There's a delay. I'm waiting for him to give me the SyQuest disk."

I turn back to the computer.

"Well, then. Think you can use these undies? Hope they fit. Only had large. Shall I bring you a Coke?"


She comes over and puts a hand on my shoulder. I can feel her breasts on the back of my neck.

"All right, darling. I won't disturb you. What, are you writing in English?"


"Oh, I'm sorry. Curiosity box."

She kisses the crown of my head and leaves, saying, "I bought some sirloin steaks and Lolla's bringing some red wine. We're going to be posh tonight."

Sirloin is my favorite. She's definitely trying to mom me up. Something's up.

I'm on the remote until they call me. A quiz show on Channel 29: What's on TV? Question: What's on Eurosport between 10 and 11 AM? Must get up earlier.

They're talking about Heidar, the beautician, when I walk in. Lolla says she likes him. I like Lolla. She's got serious breasts and she's funny. The laughing type. She might take the piss out of me sometimes, but she often comes with something to smoke and she brings nice vibes to the place. Mom's more fun when she's around. Especially if she smokes with us. It kind of moms her down a bit. They're good together even though they're different. Mom is fifty-six, Lolla thirty-seven. They met in the Faroes. Or Mom was there for some kind of committee meeting or something. Mom is kind of National Channelish, but Lolla is more cable-channel 2: I don't know her that well, I haven't watched her enough, there's more to descramble. She's an AA counselor. An AA counselor. She's full of good alco stories, especially when she's pissed. Drunken stories never sound as good when they're told sober. We live on Bergthórugata and eat in the kitchen.

Mom: "Didn't the underpants fit? I bought him some underpants today, in Bonus's."

Lolla: "Bonus undies? She'll be a happy girl who gets her hands on them. Do they have the logo of the little pink piggy on them?"

Me: "Don't know."

Mom: "Haven't you tried them on yet?"

Me: "Mom. Any cabbage left?"

Lolla: "Pricks always remind me of pink piggies."

Me: "Oh yeah?"

Lolla: "Yeah, so cute...and tasty..."

She laughs. Mom grins. I smile a JR smile.

Me: "I thought you didn't eat pork. Aren't you a lesbian?"

Mom: "Ice cream anybody?"

Lolla: "Less b than bi. But no, I was thinking more of you, Hlynur, my dear....You have that kind of piggy bank look...."

Me: "How d'you mean?"

Lolla: "Well, you know. You're always saving yourself up, aren't you? You're not exactly splashing it around. Aren't you always saving up for the one and only?"

Me: "What's this all about?"

Lolla grins at Mom, who has stood up.

Mom: "Enough of that. Shouldn't we have some ice cream and talk about something else?"

Me: "Hey, Mom, have you been blabbing to her? Whatever happened to privacy?"

Mom: "She's only teasing you, Hlynur dear. Lolla dear, are you sure you wouldn't like some more?"

Lolla: "No thanks, I'm full..."

Me: "...full of crap. Where's the paper? Maybe I should check it to see if there are any flats to let."

Lolla: "You're not thinking of moving out, are you?"

Me: "Mom, did you buy the paper?"

Lolla: "I mean, you're too old for that now, aren't you? Thirty-three years old..."

I have a sudden longing for a secluded cell where people don't knock on the door but have to ring a bell. Just me and me alone, the two of us, with our computer, TV, a sixteen-tape weekend, the entire Woody collection, away from all lesbians. There's something about these brazen women, women who are just as smart as men, pussies with their tongues in the right place. I can't take them. You never know how to talk back to them. You're paralyzed. Especially if they've got breasts as well. Then it's just like there's some kind of swindle going on. I mean. Women look a hell of a lot better than we do, I'll say that. But we were supposed to get the brains instead. And now they've taken them as well. What's left? They've got it all now. Brains and looks. And we just lie there speechless with that brainless beast in our hands, squeezing out his last few cells.

Mom belongs to another generation, before brain surgery became the standard thing. Mom presses her side up against me.

"Now, now, Lolla dear. My little Hlynsey can stay here as long as he wants."

We smoke a joint after the ice cream. Lolla rolls. Two joints. I get one of them (sulking with her has its perks sometimes). We move into the living room. The news is slightly less boring through the haze of a spliff. Normally I can't stand Icelandic TV. Talking about fish all the fucking time, and the sea this and the sea that. What smartass had the bright idea of going down to the bottom of the sea to grab a bite? Those snowbanks look quite appetizing on grass, like ice cream. Vanilla in the West. Nougat on the North Fjords. They're both out of it now and start rambling on about the underpants again. Oh no.

Mom: "But didn't you tell me you needed underpants? He always needs underpants, I don't know what he does with all those underpants, I feel I'm always buying underpants for him. Ha ha."

Lolla: "He probably leaves them around town like a visiting card when he's...It's quite common among single guys who want to avoid commitment. They deliberately leave their briefs behind, all...ha ha...pissy yellow and smelly. That way there's less of a risk of the girls ever wanting to see them again...."

Me: "Well, some girls are really into golden showers, aren't they, Lolla? And even golden flowers, too...."

Lolla: "What?"

Me: "I keep on telling you, Mom, you're the one who's always losing them."

Lolla: "Aaaah...Beeerglind...ha ha ha..."

Mom: "Ha ha. What? What do you mean?"

Me: "In the wash."

They're really getting into this underpants thing now and dare me to try them on. I don't know, maybe I'm just too stoned to stay in my clothes. Suddenly I'm standing in the living room again in nothing but my Bonus briefs. I strike some poses. They gasp and wow like two women at Chippendales. Women don't watch stripteases the way we men do. They just let loose and go straight into top gear. Men freeze into their shells and slip into low drive, become so deadly serious, swallow their Adam's apples. Lolla asks me to come closer, pulls on the elastic and snaps it, says they fit perfectly, and then adds: "In his current state, that is." And they fall about on the sofa with shrieks of laughter. The one-eyed idiot is on eye level with her and I get the feeling - even though Mom is there - that he wants to stick his head out to look her in the eye. Time to get out of there.

It's 2315 when Thröstur rings. We're well into the future by the time I turn off the TV and the Mac. Midnight approaches as I mosey on down Laugavegur. Icy darkness and snow that can't decide whether it's coming or going. Something primeval lurking in the air, from time immemorial. Certainly primitive to have to walk all this distance, my ears white and stiff in the wind, frozen, fragile porcelain ears. And when I walk into the place we're back to square one. The year 0000.

The Castle at midnight. Not exactly wicked. Despite the name, it's just a cellar. "The Dungeon" might have been more apt. You step down into the past. A dire, bluesy little piss hole: a murky cave, phony brickwork on the walls, complete with (fake?) swords and armor.


Excerpted from 101 Reykjavik by Hallgrimur Helgason Copyright © 1996 by Hallgrimur Helgason
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2002-11-01:
Dark, cold, and isolated describe both the setting of this novel (Reykjavik, Iceland) and its hero, Hlynur Bjorn. A thirtysomething who lives with his mother, he wakes up every day around 4 p.m., watches TV, surfs the net, and goes out to bars. Then, three pregnancies-that of his occasional girlfriend, his mother's lesbian lover, and his sister-force him to rethink his relationship with these women. While ruminating on females (to whom he attaches monetary value), the Pope's sex life, Icelanders' small noses, and many other things, he becomes more antisocial, attacking a girlfriend's mother and blatantly watching a couple making love. Other characters in his life include a gay pair, Rosy and Guildy; the mystic Timer, a bar regular who promises a telephone abortion; and Katrina, his Internet pen pal. He finally finds true love when he meets Katrina, and for one moment his world changes, but when she lets him know that she already has a boyfriend, he returns to his isolated ways. Winner of the 2001 Icelandic Literature Prize, this novel uses caustic and irreverent humor to paint a vivid picture of Icelandic youth ideas and culture. While the protagonist is confused, depressed, and futureless, the humor saves the book from being depressing, and there is a ray of hope at the end. Recommended for larger collections.-Joshua Cohen, Mid-Hudson Lib. Syst., Poughkeepsie, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2002-10-14:
Hlynur Bjorn is, by his own admission, a 33-year-old mommy's boy. He lives at home, spends his days watching porn and surfing the Web, and his nights at Reykjavik's nightclubs drinking and taking Ecstasy. He assigns every woman he encounters a monetary value and refuses to commit to spending even a full night with his casual girlfriend, Hofy. When Hofy falls pregnant and his mother announces that her lesbian lover, Lolla, whom Hlynur slept with on New Year's Eve, is also pregnant, he must fight to protect his selfish and shallow way of life. Hlynur tells his own story; although he is clearly intended as a slacker antihero, his humor is so forced ("Iceland is a wind-beaten asshole and Icelanders are the lice on its edge") and his fixations so unoriginal (he likes "two kinds of women: mothers and whores") that his narrative becomes tiresome. Garbled prose ("I slowly return toward the body I left behind, like a car with a running engine") doesn't help, though the translator struggles valiantly with Hlynur's endless punning. When both Hofy and Lolla inform him that he is not the father of their babies, Hlynur becomes more bitter and callous than ever. Realizing that he needs to get out of Reykjavik for a while, he travels to Europe, where he ends up embarking upon his most loathsome attempt at self-destruction yet: trying to contract HIV by having unprotected sex with a prostitute. At this point the novel falls apart. Hlynur is so thoroughly unsympathetic, his antics such a dispiriting blend of pathetic, abhorrent and banal, that the reader ceases caring what happens to him (he neither redeems nor destroys himself). As Hlynur puts it himself, "Was I funny or plain idiotic? Yeah." (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews, October 2002
Publishers Weekly, October 2002
Booklist, November 2002
Library Journal, November 2002
New York Times Book Review, April 2003
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