Porunn Valdimarsdottir. Hviti skugginn.
PORUNN VALDIMARSDOTTIR is one of Iceland's most prolific writers. Since 1986, she has published three biographies, four novels, and one collection of poetry. Her latest novel was nominated for the prestigious Nordic Literary Prize.
Hviti skugginn (The white shadow) is Porunn Valdimarsdottir's fifth novel. The protagonists are Solveig, Kristrun, and Johannes. All three are in their forties and have in common the fact that they seek absolution for sins committed in the past. Solveig, an artist, read as a child her own fortune in a game of cards, which predicted that she would die in her forties. Because of her childhood prank, she now lives in constant fear of death. Kristrun, who works for an advertising company, had an abortion as a young student without telling her husband-to-be. Because of the abortion, all her later efforts to become pregnant have failed, and she has no confidence that the latest attempt at in-vitro fertilization will be successful. And Johannes, a psychiatrist, one night strangled his wife in a moment of insanity caused by intoxication and violent anger at her cheerful announcement of having another sexual partner. Solveig, Kristrun, and Johannes join the Society of Truth, which offers group therapy for people with a troubled past. At meetings of the society, the three present their individual cases and are encouraged to discuss matters further with other members on the Internet. Solveig, Kristrun, and Johannes immediately take a liking to one another, and as the three get to know each other through messages and letters on the Internet, the reader gets insight into their lives. They eventually agree to meet one evening; Solveig and Kristrun both fall in love with Johannes, and both end up having a secret affair with him. Kristrun becomes the winner in the fight over Johannes, though under somewhat unusual circumstances. After she has just lost her eight-week-old baby through a spontaneous abortion, her husband returns home and announces that he has been seeing another woman, who is now in her sixth month of pregnancy. Kristrun is devastated and decides that only Johannes can console her. She drives to his apartment, but walks in on Johannes and Solveig in the middle of sexual intercourse. She returns home, sends Solveig an e-mail, and decides to commit suicide. The next morning she is found by Solveig, who is out walking her dog along the beach by her house. Solveig immediately calls 911 and also phones Johannes, who arrives within minutes and leaves with the ambulance. It is not until then that Solveig reads Kristrun's e-mail, and she promptly decides to leave the Society of Truth, though she never stops pondering the question: "The death in the game, was that him [i.e., Johannes]?" The answer is not given until two years later, when at a cafe she meets Johannes and Kristrun, now a couple with a four-month-old baby. Her strong feelings for Johannes take her by surprise, and she rushes out the door and across the street without seeing a car driving at high speed. "Do not ask Death. You might get an answer."
Porunn Valdimarsdottir is an imaginative and original writer who has mastered the art of suspense. Although the plot of Hviti skugginn seems somewhat strained and not very convincing, Paorunn Valdimarsdottir manages to hold the reader's attention until the final page.
Kirsten Wolf University of Wisconsin, Madison