“All things change – nothing perishes” Sjon – ‘The Blue Fox’

Sjon’s highly acclaimed The Blue Fox (2004) begins with Baldur Skuggason, an Icelandic priest, in keen pursuit of a rare blue fox. I must admit, my heart initially sank as I started reading, as I thought I was in for a Hemingway-esque battle of wits between man and beast, and I wasn’t in the mood for something gory. However, the prose dazzled with stark beauty and evoked such a vivid sense of place that I could almost smell the snow and the story unexpectedly turned into something magical, steeped in fable and folklore.

The novel is set in the Icelandic Winter of 1883. Despite the risks of hunting at such an unseasonable time of year, the priest is obsessed by the fox, and determined to get the better of it at whatever cost. It becomes evident that considering he is a priest, Baldur is obsessed with winning this battle, and earning well from the luxurious pelt that such a catch would bring. The fox is clever, outwitting the priest again and again, yet eventually its luck runs out and the steely-eyed priest, lying in wait, pulls the trigger.

Left hanging as to the fate of the fox, the novel shifts back in time a few days to the house of a herbalist, Fridrik B. Fridriksson. He is pre-occupied with arranging the funeral of Abba, a young woman with Down’s Syndrome that has recently died. Fridriksson had rescued her many years before when she was found in great distress, shackled to a shipwrecked ship. Angry at her harsh treatment by those who should have been loving and compassionate, he tenderly pays Abba respect, and finally lays her to rest.  Turning, he sees in the distance, the tiny figure of the priest with his rifle heading north on his hunting mission.

The novel returns to the hunt.

The shot fires off. It blows away the divine peace of the wilderness like a scrap of paper. A shower of sparks bursts from the barrel. The gunpowder crack shouts: ‘HEAR THE MAN!’

The vixen is thrown up in the air with a pathetic whine.

As Baldur crams the limp body of his conquest into his coat, the universe responds to the gunshot, unleashing a powerful avalanche which carry priest and fox at speed, trapping them in a glacial cave. The fox springs back to life, preens herself and even argues with the priest about electricity. The priest becomes increasingly delirious and takes the vixen’s life a second time, consumes its heart and climbs into its pelt. However, rather than defeating the fox, he has transformed into it, his animalistic nature having risen to the fore has quashed any humanity left in him.

There is yet another unexpected twist to this tale that is revealed at the end, that ties the lives of all the characters together, but I feel I have already revealed too much of this intriguing tale. I can’t recommend this quirky, richly evocative novel enough. The story is magical, and the writing is simply spell-binding!