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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


101 Reykjavik

Hallgrímur Helgason

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To purchase 101 Reykjavik

Title: 101 Reykjavik
Author: Hallgrímur Helgason
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 331 pages
Original in: Icelandic
Availability: 101 Reykjavik - US
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DVD: 101 Reykjavik - US
101 Reykjavik - UK
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  • Icelandic title: 101 Reykjavík
  • Translated by Brian FitzGibbon
  • 101 Reykjavik was also made into a film (2000), directed by Baltasar Kormákur

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Our Assessment:

B : clever, sharp, wordy

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 7/11/2002 Heinrich Deterings
The Guardian A- 15/6/2002 Julie Myerson
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 17/10/2002 Aldo Keel
The NY Times Book Rev. . 27/4/2003 Sam Lipsyte
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 4/11/2002 Stephan Maus
TLS . 31/5/2002 Carolyne Larrington
World Literature Today . Fall/1997 Kirsten Wolf

  Review Consensus:

  Often amusing, not entirely successful

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hlynur ist ein Stand-up-Comedian in der Waagerechten, ein Oblomow auf Speed, ein Possenreißer, unter dessen Zoten ein scheues Herz schlägt. (...) Weil es aber so rasant beginnt, ist am Ende die Enttäuschung doch beträchtlich. Denn Hlynurs Tragödie erweist sich zunehmend auch als die seines Textes." - Heinrich Deterings, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "It goes almost nowhere, but it is a total, laugh-a-minute joy to read. (...) But what this writer is doing -- being current, being new, shaking up notions of literariness with naughty terrier teeth -- is something I so admire. He has done the best thing possible: found a new way of telling. It is a kind of pop prose which looks easy, but is far from it." - Julie Myerson, The Guardian

  • "(W)onderfully lewd, occasionally brilliant, often frustrating (.....) The best bits in general are unprintable, and this is unfortunate, because Helgason is capable of breathtaking arias of profound filth.(...) (A) desolate howl from an in-between decade and an in-between land. Hlynur and Helgason both seem to want it all to mean something, and maybe someday it will, but for now it's just too damn cold inside." - Sam Lipsyte, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Hlynur is a hard hero to like, or even to put up with over 370 pages. Almost as misanthropic as he is misogynist, as tough on himself as on everyone else, he expresses his thoughts in an inner monologue which is as uncompromising as any of Hamlet's soliloquies, and the reasons for his melancholy are similarly obscure.(...) 101 Reykjavik is outstanding at evoking the ennui of a small town where everyone has slept with everyone else, where there is nothing to do except drink and take drugs(...) The novel is also a celebration of mother-love, in all senses" - Carolyne Larrington, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Hallgrimur Helgason's 101 Reykjavik grounds itself within the desperately aimless nonculture of "Generation X" (fashionable construct though it may be), cleverly shaped in the novel's rich lexicon of nonce words and contemporary slang. The Net-surfing, bar-hopping, drug-friendly, "me"-invoking microworld of the novel, though well crafted, becomes somewhat overdrawn" - Kirsten Wolf, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       101 Reykjavík is narrated by Hlynur Björn Hafsteinsson, born in 1962 and thirty three when the book begins just before Christmas, 1995. The title of the novel refers to the postal code area of Reykjavík were most of the action takes place: the centre of a very small city in a very small, isolated country far away from pretty much everywhere else. The rest of the world makes its presence felt: on TV, via the Internet (Hlynur has a Hungarian chat-room pal), in the music that is played, but the real world still seems fairly far away. For Hlynur, especially, who isn't a particularly ambitious type.
       He's on the dole, he lives with his mom, doesn't do much in the outside world beyond get drunk at bars and parties, and though sex-obsessed he isn't much of a Casanova. Sex is a major obsession for him: every woman (and an animal or two) he mentions is ascribed a monetary value -- how much he would be prepared to pay for a night with the woman in question; conveniently, a complete 'price list' is provided as an appendix. (A 'couch potato mother' is the lowest ranked one, at barely over a dollar, while the Virgin Mary, Madonna, and Pamela Anderson hold the top spots (the latter at just over fifty thousand dollars).) The rating system has gotten to be a hard habit to break, and it's a constant reminder that he's not really able to see these women as people at all.
       A profound mother-complex (exacerbated when mom's lesbian lover moves in) doesn't help much. Meanwhile, he also runs as fast as he can from any girl that shows any affection or that she might be willing to put up with him for a while -- as Hofy does.
       Hlynur understands that he's not the world's most impressive specimen, and that he hasn't really come very far:

I'm pathetic. With year-old condoms and a two-month-old E in my pockets. When will I start to live ?
       Escapism remains the easier solution: he doesn't let anyone get too close, pisses off some who are nice to him (including his family), and keeps to himself. Sex, if he can manage it at all, inevitably isn't very satisfactory or brings more problems with it. There's a fair amount of sex in the book, but the thrill isn't there: by and large Hlynur is going through the motions. It's love he wants, of course, but the rare times he might be willing to reach out and grasp for it it doesn't work out either.
       101 Reykjavík is a fast and dense book: Hlynur doesn't linger over much (except for his mom he pretty much seems to want to leave everything behind him as quickly as possible). He doesn't have a way with the ladies, but he does with words: 101 Reykjavík is full of clever (and unrelenting) wordplay (admirably -- though one imagines often very loosely -- rendered into the English in what must have been a very challenging bit of translation). The dead-pan approach, devastatingly honest self-portrait, and the constant references to contemporary culture (music and media, especially) -- only slightly dated now -- are also very effective
       Hlynur's misadventures are entertaining enough, but it gets to be a fairly long (and too-often drug-addled) trip. There are some very funny scenes, and a few poignant ones (as well as some nice character portraits), but Hlynur's intense journey of reluctant but desperate self-discovery gets to be a bit much.
       A decent, solid read, but requires a bit more patience than it should.

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101 Reykjavik: Reviews: 101 Reykjavik - the film: Hallgrimur Helgason: Other books by Hallgrímur Helgason under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Icelandic author Hallgrímur Helgason was born in 1959.

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© 2005-2011 the complete review

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