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The Boston Globe


Book Review

‘The Whispering Muse’ by Sjón

In Denmark, 1949, a retired Icelandic eccentric is invited on a cruise. He’s an honored guest, or so he believes, and is seated at the captain’s table, where he and his fellow passengers are treated to a nightly tale from the second mate, a tale that grows increasingly fantastic as the voyage progresses. Before long, the boundary between the mate’s story and the passengers’ experience, as well as between reality and myth, is worn thin, and the elderly voyager returns home a changed man.

From its basic outline, “The Whispering Muse” sounds fairly simple, but that simplicity is deceptive. Its author, who goes by the single name of Sjón, is also a poet and a lyricist, having written songs with his Icelandic compatriot Bjork. In this short novel, he employs a similar mix of imagery and allusion to create a credible alternative world that draws heavily on the seafaring myths of that island nation, and on the works of Ovid and Euripides. People — especially that second mate — are not what they seem, and everything is capable of change.

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