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Christmas Book Flood | Recommending reading

The Honour of the House

Stand-alone novel

This novel is currently out of print in English translation.

The Honour of the House was adapted for the 1999 Icelandic film directed by Guðný Halldórsdóttir (Laxness’ daughter). It was Iceland’s official Best Foreign Language Film submission at the 72nd Academy Awards in the year 2000, but did not receive a nomination. Instead, it took the prize for Film of the Year at the first Edda Awards in 1999, an accolade presented by the Icelandic Film & Television Academy.

The film poster is displayed on this page.

Synopsis

This novel tells the tale of an Important Family in a small town in (it appears) east coastal Iceland. The Deacon father and his wife have two children, both girls. Each travels abroad to Denmark in her twenties to experience the wider world.

Similar circumstances, but different personalities. Thurithur, the eldest, is gone for two years. She is impetuous, temperamental and beautiful, and her father worries that she might get into trouble. No, says her mother, her character will protect her, as ‘… in a well-bred young girl self-respect and beauty were to be found in the proper proportions.’ Thurithur returns, more temperamental and more beautiful, but still virtuous.

Rannveig, the younger sister, is a homebody, who excels in the hand arts and doesn’t desire to travel. She has a calm, reliable disposition, and has the deepest care and love for poor people or those in trouble. ‘A peculiar trait of hers was this: that she should not only be incapable of living at odds with anyone but rather need to spread her love over all.’ Rannveig goes to Denmark as well but returns early. She inexplicably begins to put on weight around her waist.

The chapters in the book show Laxness in his typical fashion, seducing the reader with lyricism and beauty, then forcing the reader to acknowledge that alongside beauty lies pain, loss, and death.

Reviews (of the film)

‘A slow-moving but subtle drama about jealousy and sibling rivalry destroying a family, Honour of the House is a deeply moving and captivating film. Its sombre look and mood does not bode well for box office success, but upscale arthouses and the fest circuit should take note.’ Variety

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